Chapter 9: Handymen and Princesses
When the cat's away, the mice will play, or so the saying goes. This is equally true when the "cat" happens to be two entire entertainment troupes who went off to a concert, leaving their trusty sidekicks, the backstage help, to be the mice.
And play they did.
Tsubaki had to cover her mouth to keep from bursting out laughing in anticipation. She and Yuri were concealed just around the corner from the room assigned to the members of HEAVENS, lying in wait for their victims.
"Tsubaki, hush!" Yuri hissed, noticing her friend's amusement. "They're coming!"
Both girls froze in place, listening carefully. They heard footsteps approaching the door, and Yuri risked a quick look. Nagi, she mouthed, a mischievous sparkle in her eye.
They waited with bated breath, hearts pounding. Any second now. Any...second...
Unable to contain themselves anymore, Yuri and Tsubaki fell to the ground, laughing hysterically. A now-soaked Nagi appeared, his peach-blonde hair matted down, dripping on the carpet. He looked like a drowned rat. A very angry drowned rat.
"Oh, Mikado-san," Yuri forced out through the giggles, scrambling to her feet. "We didn't see you there. What on earth happened to you?"
As she fought not to make any kind of unattractive snorting noise through the giggles, it was obvious that she and Tsubaki were behind the conveniently-placed bucket of water on the rickety, high shelf just inside the door. After the flower crown incident, they made no effort at all to hide their malice.
"You're going to pay for that," Nagi threatened, trying to wring out his sleeves. "Just you wait. I'm going to-"
Suddenly, Tsubaki squeaked and tugged at Nagi's damp sleeve, pointing frantically behind him.
"What?" he asked, huffing in annoyance as he turned to see what she was so weirded out about. Unlike hers, Nagi's face split into an amused smile when he saw who it was.
"Ah, Kira," he said smoothly, nodding to the tall raven-haired man, who regarded him with a raised brow. He looked like he had just come back from somewhere, as he had a jacket on and his hair was somewhat windswept. He slowly gestured to Nagi's soaking wet clothes, silently questioning their origin.
"I don't want to talk about it," Nagi snapped, jerking his thumb at the girls to incriminate them. Yuri and Tsubaki conveniently stared off in other directions, ignoring him. Still, Yuri watched the mysterious Kira out of the corner of her eye.
They boys had been here several weeks, and still she had rarely heard him speak more than a few words. He seemed to be good at everything he did, particularly some of the more difficult prop creations. While Eiichi had some semblance of artistic vision and Nagi wasn't a complete disaster with a paintbrush, Kira was the one who would spend hours hunched over a table, surrounded by tools and materials, and eventually come up with something magnificent. Just the other day he had engineered a pair of prop torches that used miniature fans and tinted light bulbs to flicker and dance like real flames.
Still, the fact that he had such an imposing stature and didn't often speak made him a bit disconcerting. His striking golden eyes gave Yuri the chills, like they could stare straight through to her soul. That was silly, and she knew it, but she couldn't help but be a tiny bit unnerved by the man.
Today, Kira didn't seem so intimidating, though. The corners of his eyes crinkled up in amusement, as he nodded and shoved his hands into his pockets. "Eiichi?" he questioned softly, his serious voice an attention-grabber even when he wasn't being loud.
Nagi shrugged. "Beats me, I haven't seen him," the little brat replied, as he began to shiver. Being soaked to the bone was not something he liked. Nagi was like a cat, he wanted things done his way, when and where and how he wanted, and he hated being wet.
Half-smiling, Kira casually removed his jacket and dropped it across Nagi's shoulders. The boy scowled at him, not appreciating the obvious charity, but he couldn't help but tug the jacket tighter around himself. He was so small in comparison with Kira that Kira's jacket was practically a blanket.
Tsubaki and Yuri traded looks. For such dastardly villains, these two were some kind of confusing. One minute, Nagi was threatening to make them pay, the next, he was curled up shivering in a jacket-blanket? Well he was younger than everyone else, they reasoned, and from what the boys of STARISH had told them, he was probably a spoiled rich boy before he became a famous pop star. That pout could just as easily be one of his tricks.
"Where have you been, anyway?" the spoiled brat demanded of Kira. The taller man, remembering, reached forward and removed a small paper bag from the pocket of his jacket. He was glad he hadn't forgotten and left it with Nagi.
"We needed loose pin hinges," he said calmly, pulling one of several small metal hinges from the paper bag, which bore a hardware store logo.
Tsubaki's eyes lit up. "You mean for the trap doors?" she asked, excited. The hinges on the stage's trap doors had finally become so rusty and unreliable that the company had been forced to temporarily refrain from using them. They hadn't had time to get it fixed yet, and it had become a source of much irritation with the cast and crew.
Kira nodded, dropping the hinge back into the bag. He mumbled something about having to get back to the stage and help, and quickly took off for the auditorium.
Nagi growled in frustration.
"That Kira," he grumbled. "He's always working late, it's so boring."
He glared at Tsubaki and Yuri, then 'hmmphed' and (checking for any more precarious water buckets) vanished into his room. The door slammed behind him, and the two girls couldn't help but high-five. They had finally managed to teach that little snot that they were a force to be reckoned with.
The moon rose high above the Imperial Theater, casting its light across the capital city. STARISH and the Flower Division had returned and retired to bed. One among their number, however, had waged a war against sleep.
Why did he have to have such a smooth, drawling voice? Why?! He didn't even have to sing, and she knew that if he did, it would be all over for her resolve. It was truly unfair, to curse her with the most ridiculous lout she'd ever met, and then to give him the one thing she couldn't resist.
Kanzaki Sumire had the most expensive and luxurious bed money could buy, but that had never kept her from tossing and turning, lost so deep in her thoughts that sleep was impossible. The moonlight streaming in through her window seemed brighter than ever before, and each tick of the clock on the wall was loud as a gunshot.
Sumire balled her fists around the edges of her blanket, yanking it up to her chin and huffing. She was never going to get to sleep like this, and it was all his fault. Him and his sultry voice, and his soft, conditioned locks. That stupid way he ran his fingers through that hair when he was stressed out. Those hands, so gentle he could have handled delicate blown glass, attached to arms strong enough to wrap around her and hold her tight even in the worst of her moods. His tenacity, which rivaled her own. His devotion. The way he wasn't afraid to love openly and strongly.
It was so unbearably hot in her room, Sumire couldn't stand it a moment longer. She got up and opened the window next to her bed, reveling in the cool night breeze. Remembering the last time she stood at this window when it was open, Sumire glanced up at the rooftop where she had listened to him play. It was the most honest she had ever seen him, to be sure, but in an almost mocking kind of way.
You did tell him he was a fake, a liar, that nasty voice in her head said. He showed his true colors, just like you wanted.
Sumire sighed, her face heated even standing in the open window.
"I didn't mean to fall for him," she grumbled to herself. Was that what this was? Lust? Or love?
Kanzaki Sumire didn't love. She wasn't meant to love. She was meant for other people to love her, she was a shining diamond made only for admiration. Love had never been in the cards. She loved theater, and acting, but had never felt much of a desire for it to be real.
That was the difference between being a sniveling little girl who wished she was a princess, like Sakura, and actually being one, like Sumire. She didn't have to wonder when her prince would appear, because she already had everything she needed. Men are so boring, Sumire had always said. I'm a princess. They don't deserve me.
Those words came back to bite her, in the form of a strawberry-blonde, saxophone-playing popstar. Any minute now, pigs would fly overhead to let her know that the world was ending. She had claimed for so long to be a princess, so the powers that be had laughed, clinked their glasses, and sent her a prince.
Sumire flopped onto her bed, rolled over and screamed at the top of her lungs into one of her fluffy down pillows. It made her so angry, having to square with all of these feelings she was never supposed to have. This went against everything she had ever said, and if it came out that she had feelings for him, Sumire would be humiliated beyond belief.
That was how she knew it had to be painfully, horribly, irreversibly real.
Sumire wasn't the only one awake. A few doors down, the very same moonlight shone brightly through Maria's window. This window, too, was open, and the breeze stirred at the sheer curtains, making them roll and billow, casting shadows upon the walls.
Maria's blue-green eyes watched the dancing shadows, wondering if the calm she felt was like the calm before a storm. On the one hand, the altercation may have given Hijirikawa and Jinguji the opportunity to vent their rage, releasing it from them. Or it could have simply made them burn hotter. A hardened warrior, Maria found relaxing in the face of such situations difficult.
She lay on her side, the sheets drawn up under her arm, draped across her chest. Her shoulders (and the rest of her) were bare, due to her dislike of entangling fabric, which led her to sleep as lightly clothed as possible.
A strong, heavily-tanned hand settled on her arm, radiating the heat of the sun itself.
"You're overthinking it," Kanna mumbled, half-asleep. While the tall Okinawan could sleep anywhere, she had discovered that her quiet lover had much more trouble with it. It was a nightly game, to see who would win, Maria's insomnia or Kanna's determination.
"What?" Maria answered softly.
"I don't know," Kanna replied, her voice muffled by her pillow. "But whatever it is, you're overthinking it." She rubbed her calloused palm up and down Maria's arm, sending shivers up the Russian's spine. "Go to sleep."
Maria didn't respond. She simply drew her legs up, curling herself into a ball, scooting herself ever so slightly closer to her source of warmth. Kanna took the hint, and wrapped one of her powerful arms around Maria's waist, dragging her close to her chest. Maria didn't usually like spooning, and Kanna had learned to respect her wishes, but on some rare occasions like tonight, it became clear that even the famous Kazuar sometimes wanted to be held tightly and protected. Kanna smiled to herself.
"What did you say to him?" Maria asked quietly, and Kanna sighed.
"I told him the truth, that Jinguji's an idiot and that he's going to have to speak plainly if he wants to get through to him," the karate master replied simply.
Kanna chuckled, using her free hand to smooth Maria's soft, blonde hair.
"I think they'll be okay," she said honestly. "From what I could tell, neither of them wants to end anything. They just have to figure out how to hear each other when they talk. They'll learn. Just give them time."
She felt Maria nod, but the tension remained in her shoulders. That was another thing that might or might not disappear with time.
"Thank you, Kanna," Maria whispered, closing her eyes. She focused her energy on breathing slowly, and deeply, hoping that she could court sleep at last.
Again, Kanna laughed softly.
"Hey, they're my boys too. All you had to do was ask."
Masato was strangely absent from breakfast the next morning. Seeing no one else particularly concerned over the matter, Syo decided to satisfy his morbid curiosity and find the solitary bluenette to make sure Jinguji hadn't killed him and dumped his body in the lake.
Imagine his surprise to find Masa alive and well in one of the theater's practice rooms, sitting at the piano in yesterday's clothes.
Masa stood up, startled, when Syo entered. He blushed furiously, embarrassed by his attire, and the complete transparency of his actions.
"What are you doing?" Syo asked suspiciously, crossing his arms.
Masato resumed his seat and sighed exasperatedly.
"I am songwriting," he replied carefully. "What does it look like I'm doing?"
Syo leaned over to see what Masa was working on, but the quiet man snatched his music sheets protectively out of sight.
"Let me rephrase," he said icily. "I am songwriting, and it's not for STARISH, so it's none of your business."
Syo's temper arrived at a speed that could have bested even Sumire's.
"You don't always have to be cold and unfriendly, Masa!" he shouted, his face red. "It's no wonder Ren doesn't want to talk to you if all you ever do is push people away!"
He huffed and dramatically stalked from the room, taking extra care to make sure that the door slammed closed behind him.
The pianist simply stared after him, completely shocked. Syo was always one for loud volume, but this was the first time he had gotten so worked up over Masato. Usually it was Natsuki or Ren who brought out his howling temper.
Masa dismissed the thought, and returned his sheet music to its proper place. He had more important things to worry about right now than one of Syo's tantrums. There was something wrong in the chorus of his song, something that had been driving him crazy almost all night. Most of the music flowed smoothly, just the way he wanted it to, but this one little piece was determined to ruin him. It had become such an obsession, to overcome this challenge, that Masa hadn't even stopped to shower or change his clothes. This particular song was more important.
Just as Masato was about to nearly break the piano in frustration, the door opened a second time.
Syo had returned, dragging a very confused Haruka by the wrist. She was babbling incoherently, asking Syo what was going on, and trying to figure out why Masa was writing a song at all.
With all the attitude he could muster, Syo thrust the stuttering Haruka at Masa. He wouldn't meet his friend's eyes, but his eyebrows were sharply angled in irritation.
"If you're songwriting and you haven't even changed clothes, you must need serious help," Syo muttered. "Don't say I never did anything for you."
He didn't wait for any kind of response, or bother to explain anything to Haruka. He simply turned on his heel and left, a scowl on his face.
Haruka turned to ask Masa what was going on, and found his face as flushed red as Syo's had been.
"You're writing a song?" she asked tentatively, leaning over to see Masa's music as Syo had done. Only, in this case, it seemed that Masa was too lost to snatch it away. He just stared, open-mouthed, as Haruka read over the sheet music.
After a moment, she looked up, a bright smile on her face.
"This is for Jinguji-san, isn't it?" she asked. Masa nodded.
"It's wonderful," Haruka added, placing the sheet music back where it was supposed to go, in front of Masa. "I know Jinguji-san will love your song."
Masato shook his head.
"No one will love it if it is not complete," he mused. "There is something wrong, but I cannot for the life of me discover how to fix it."
"I saw you had left some parts blank," she said ruefully. "But maybe if we work on it together, we'll be able to finish it!"
She joined him on the piano bench, and they played through the song a few times, so Haruka could get the feel of it. She offered a few suggestions and tips, most of which Masa very much liked. As they worked, the song improved and improved, until only the chorus remained. It was technically playable, but both Masa and Haruka still felt that there was something missing.
"Jinguji-san is very important to you, isn't he," Haruka said quietly, staring at the sheet music.
Masato did not answer, but they both knew what he wanted to say.
"I think," Haruka said slowly, "If this is a song about two different people, it should have two different parts. At least in the chorus."
Her companion raised his brow, but Haruka just smiled at him.
"When you think of Jinguji-san, you write low notes," she explained, pointing to the music. "So right now, you have a low part that reminds you of him, and a high part that reminds you of yourself. But I think it needs something in the middle."
Haruka scooted over, and placed her fingers on the keys, playing the part Masato had written with one hand, and almost mirroring it with the other, in a middle octave. However, she changed just a few of the notes, making them complementary, the way she would for a duet.
Hesitantly, Masa joined her, adding in the low register he had written, and was pleased at the result. Now, their parts were not as different as he originally planned. Haruka's middle part sounded more like Jinguji than Masa's low part did. The low part supported them both. It wasn't what he'd had in mind at first, but that was the magic that was Haruka. He liked the song much better with her touch. It was perfect, now.
"Haruka," Masa breathed when they finished. "You truly are remarkable. This is perfect."
Smiling, Haruka covered his hand with her own.
"I am glad you like it, Hijirikawa-san," she said kindly. "And I know Jinguji-san will too."
When Ren went back to his and Masa's room to shower and change after dance rehearsal, he found a homemade disc on his bed, like the ones Haruka made when she wrote new songs for them. This one, however, did not have Haruka's handwriting. Instead, it bore only one word, written in Masato's calligraphy.
A chill raced up Ren's spine. He should have known, he realized, that Masa would choose to use music rather than words. That wasn't entirely unusual. Masato was even more dependent on music than Ren was. Ren made music because he loved it, he enjoyed it. Masa made music because it was all he had. It had always been a source of tension between them, but Ren had come to understand it.
Sighing, Ren decided to get it over with. He retrieved his portable CD player from his messenger bag and slipped in the disc. Laying back on his bed, so he could look at the ceiling, he pressed play.
Immediately, he was greeted by a slow, deliberate piano tune. It was a serious tone, which was unsurprising for Masato. Still, it was gripping. It grabbed Ren's attention with no trouble.
Soon, Masa's serene voice joined the piano.
You don't want to hurt me,
But see how deep the bullet lies.
Unaware that I'm tearing you asunder.
There is thunder in our hearts.
So much hate for the ones we love?
Tell me, we both matter, don't we?
Ren was speechless. This was one of the most heart-wrenching songs Masato had ever written. It held a degree of sadness that made even the very masculine Ren check to make sure he shed no tears. The song was full of sadness and guilt. He could feel Masato's grief over the dissonance between them. It was so apparent that it drew forth Ren's own feelings. He was overcome.
And if I only could,
Make a deal with God,
And get him to swap our places,
Be running up that road,
Be running up that hill,
Be running up that building,
If I only could...
A bolt shot through Ren's heart when he heard that voice. He sat up quickly, his headphones falling into his lap. He was breathing heavily, and had to blink several times before he could fully focus his attention on his best friend.
"Masa," he choked out, refusing to meet his friend's eyes.
In a swift motion, Masato moved to sit next to Ren, concerned by the look on his face. He looked ashen, as if he was struggling to remember how to breathe.
"You wrote this," Ren whispered, stunned.
"Nanami helped," he added as an afterthought. "But yes. The song is mine."
Ren forced himself to look Masa in the eye.
"It's incredible," he said hoarsely.
"I'm glad to hear that," Masa replied quietly.
Ren drew his knees up to his chest and buried his face in his arms. The pressure made his black eye sting, but Ren ignored it.
"Masa, I'm sorry," he murmured, the tears he had fought to hold back now running freely down his cheeks. He would never let anyone see him cry but Masa. It was such a rare occurrence, and in all his years, the only person he had ever met who deserved such a personal experience was his best friend.
"I don't know what it was I did," Ren said quietly, fighting to keep his voice as even as he could, "But you have to know that I would never attempt to hurt you intentionally. Not you. You have to know that."
Masato shook his head.
"You deserved to know how I felt, and I could think of no better way than physical force," he confessed, his voice softer than Ren had ever heard it. "It is I who should apologize to you. Had I spoken sooner, we could have avoided much unpleasantness."
He reached out and placed a hand on Ren's shoulder. It shook as he fought to breathe without giving way to racking sobs. Such a small motion on Masato's part, but Ren knew it for what it was. Physical contact was always an extreme with Masa. He respected and valued the sensation of touch above almost all else. A hand on Ren's shoulder was of the highest esteem.
Without lifting his head, Ren reached up and grasped Masato's forearm.
"Tell me we're done with this," he rasped pleadingly. "Masa. I need...I need my friend. I need you."
Masa nodded again, giving Ren's shoulder a squeeze. He blinked, feeling the beginnings of tears in his own eyes.
"Yes. We're done."