A New Hope
by Naia Zifu

"As this graph clearly shows, your popularity amongst eight- to
twelve-year-old girls is up more than fifteen percent since the
premiere of your new anime, 'Lightspeed', and sales of Alien Idol dolls
and video games has gone through the roof!" the toy company rep said,
indicating a display of dolls of the long-haired, blue-skinned
characters we voiced. "We're even negotiating with Mattel to release
the toys overseas, to co-incide with the anime's dubbed release in
America next fall."
"You mean we have to do it all again in Eigo?" Yaten asked, not
looking up from examining his long ponytail for split ends.
"Of course not," Hiro, our manager, replied, "they're dubbing
with Amerika-jin actors."
"Then what about our songs?"
"Being rewritten as we speak," he replied. "The dubbing
company wants to hire their own singers, but you're popular enough in
America now, if we can show your Eigo's improved enough in time, I
think we can change their minds."
"But our Eigo is perfect!" Yaten protested, and tried to
demonstrate, "The lain in Supain stay mainly in the prain."
I couldn't suppress a small giggle, at which Yaten glared
daggers.
"I've got you scheduled with a dialogue coach first thing in
the morning," Hiro said, in a voice that left no room for argument.
"Speaking of your popularity overseas," the toy company rep
said, excitement in her voice, "now keep in mind these are only
prototypes-- we haven't even finalized the deal yet-- but. . ."
She took three dolls from her briefcase and passed them down
the table to us.
"Say 'hello' to 'Three Lights, Friends of Barbie'!"
I took my own doll and passed the others to Yaten, who made a
face as he examined his own, and poked Seiya in the head with his
lookalike doll until he woke up.
"Hmm?" Seiya said drowsily, taking the doll Yaten waved in his
face. "Hey, it's me!"
"Looks pretty good, eh?" the toy rep said.
"We've got moulded hair and real ponytails," Yaten complained.
"Well, yes, but that's how Mattel--"
"Moulded hair and real ponytails!" he ranted on. "Why can't
we be Jenny's friends instead? Jenny would let us have real hair!"
The toy company rep gave up.
"I'll look into having that changed," she conceded. "Anything
else?"
"Well, I didn't want to complain," I said meekly, "but my eyes,
they're actually violet, not brown."
"And we're all better-looking," Seiya added.
"I'll just. . . write this all down," she said, scribbling on
a yellow pad.
Yet, somehow, I doubted most of our suggestions would ever make
it to the toy designers.
"Unfortunately," the record company rep piped up, "while your
popularity amongst little girls has risen steadily, amongst teens, I'm
afraid, it's steadily plummeted."
He held up a graph showing a steady decline in teen-aged
listeners over the years, and a sharp decline just in the last few
months, since our anime premiered.
"What, so now we're on a kids' show, they think they're too
cool to have anything to do with us?" Seiya assumed.
"More than that," he said, "I think they're just bored of your
act entirely."
"Bored?" Seiya repeated, in shock. "They think we're boring?"
"No offence," he began, "but look at yourselves-- ten years and
you're still wearing the same boring suits, singing the same tired old
music-- is it any wonder fans are bored?"
"Does this mean we get to go shopping?" Yaten asked, eyes
aglow with anticipation.
"New clothes, new look, new sound, new moves, the whole works,"
Hiro replied. "We've hired an image consultant to work with you on
everything, starting Monday."
"But I like our sound as it is," I protested.
"And whatever you do, you are not touching the pony, no matter
what," Yaten said, holding it protectively.
"But if making a few changes will get us more fans, I think we
should do it," Seiya argued. Remember, more fans means more chance she
might hear our message."
"About that," our agent said, "we think, after a decade, that
whole 'secret message' gimmick has pretty much played itself out.
We're getting rid of it."
"Nani?" we all cried at once.
"Whoever 'she' is, I'm afraid if she hasn't turned up before
now, she's probably not going to," Hiro said. "It's time to move on."
We left the meeting in shock, and I drove my friends back to
their shared apartment in utter silence. I knew no words of wisdom nor
reassurance for such a situation. They wanted us to forget about our
princess! If not for that slim hope one day we still might find her,
what did we have left to live for?
"Chichi!" a tiny voice cried as I entered my own apartment.
"You're home!"
I plastered on a smile for her benefit, and scooped up my
three-year-old daughter in a hug.
She'd clearly dressed herself today, judging by the yellow
polka-dot dress she wore over purple paisley slacks. Her pixie-cut
brown hair was decorated with several daisy-shaped clips arranged
randomly, and a long strand of green beads hung around her neck.
"Have you been a good girl for your mother while I was gone?"
I asked.
"Uh-huh," she replied, nodding vigorously. "I dusted stuff,
and picked up my toys, and made Haha peanut butter sandwiches for
lunch!"
"My, you have been helpful," I agreed. "I think I might have
something in my pocket for my good little girl. Why don't you see?"
Her chubby little hand dug in my jacket pocket until it found
the green gummy candy I'd hidden.
"Apple-- my favourite!" she squealed, and kissed my cheek.
"Arigato!"
Then she wriggled free from my arms and ran off.
"Aki-chan, what did I say about running indoors?" her mother
scolded from the next room.
"Not to do it," Aki replied.
"Then don't. Now be a good girl and go set the table for me;
dinner will be ready in just a few minutes."
"Okay, Haha."
I entered to find my wife lying on the sofa with her feet up,
wearing a white dress with pink and blue baby blocks, and an exhausted
expression. Her eyes were closed behind her glasses, which had been
knocked a bit askew. Her short blue hair was in a state of total
disarray.
"Rough day?" I asked as I began to rub her swollen feet.
"You wouldn't think," she said wearily. "All I did was the
wash, a bath for Aki-chan, and starting dinner, but when you're as big
as a house. . ."
"Only a little one," I teased with a wink.
Ami laughed. "You're lucky I haven't the energy to beat you
for that."
"You're supposed to be taking it easy," I said. "Let me help--
I'll beat myself."
"No, just keep rubbing," she said, resting her head on the arm
of the sofa, "that feels wonderful."
"Our anime is doing well," I reported as I continued rubbing.
"The toys are practically flying off the shelves, and if we work on our
accents, Hiro-san says we may get to sing for the American dub as
well."
"That's great!"
"That's the good news. Bad news, our numbers with teen girls
are way down. Hiro-san's bringing in an image consultant to make us
more attractive to today's teens."
"Sounds like a good idea to me. So what's the problem?"
"Well, firstly, they want us to change our sound. . ."
"I can see that."
"Whose side are you on?"
"I just meant. . . well, I'm not saying you should go country
or anything, just maybe spice it up a bit. You just need to bring
your act into the twenty-first century, that's all."
"I like what we're doing now."
"No offence, but you're not exactly the hippest person to be
making that decision, dear," she pointed out. "Your musical idol is
Buddy Holly!"
"I don't want to sacrifice our artistic integrity just to
attract a few teen-agers."
"But if the fans you're attracting are all under the age of
ten, they won't appreciate the beauty of your lyrics, anyway."
"I guess you're right," I said with a sigh. "I just don't know
if I can write any other kind of music."
"You're a great writer, Kou. You can do any kind of music you
set your mind to."
"But if that image consultant gets his way, we'll have to shout
twice as hard from our minds if we've even a chance of her hearing
us-- we won't be allowed to write songs about her anymore."
"I can't believe you're still talking like that, after all
these years," she said, tears shining at the corners of her big blue
eyes. "I thought you were happy here, with us, but even now all you
can think of is finding that woman and leaving."
"You don't understand-- she's our princess!"
"And I'm your wife, Kou, of five years, who happens to be
carrying your second child," she snapped. "Or does that not count for
anything in your own little warped view of the world?"
"I haven't forgotten that," I said gently, placing a hand on
her very pregnant belly. "You know I would never abandon you or our
family. I just assumed--"
Suddenly, a loud crash emanated from the kitchen, followed
closely by the sound of crying.
"Sounds like your daughter needs you," Ami said, a bit coldly.
"You'd better go check on her."
"We'll talk about this later," I promised.
I found Aki on the floor amidst the shattered remains of a
plate, tears streaming down her little round face.
"What happened here?" I asked gently.
"I tripped and fell down," she replied between sobs. "I didn't
mean to break it, I promise! Are you gonna punish me?"
"Oh, honey, it's only a plate-- we've got plenty more," I said.
"All that really matters is if you're okay. Come on, let's have a
look."
I set her in a chair and checked her over for injuries-- barely
a scratch. So I set myself to the task of cleaning up the broken
shards of china instead.
"Are you and Haha having a fight?" the little girl asked.
"Of course not," I tried, but looking into those big,
perpetually sad violet eyes, I just couldn't lie to her. "Maybe a
little."
"Doshite?"
"Well, you know I come from somewhere far away, right?"
Her eyes grew wide with panic.
"You're not gonna leave us and go back there, are you?"
"Never," I promised, hugging her. "I could never leave you and
your mother."
"Then are me and Haha going with you?"
"We'll talk about that when we come to it," I said. "None of
us are going anywhere for a long time now, I promise."
"I can't believe you're on their side!" Seiya cried, shoving me
against the elevator wall on the way up to meet with the image
consultant. "You want us to forget about her, too!"
"I never said that, exactly. . . You've just got to realise I
have other priorities," I said. "I have a family to think about."
"And whose fault is that?" Yaten snapped. "I sure as hell
didn't ask you to marry that Earth girl, and having kids together--"
Seiya silenced him with a glare.
"Look, I know your family means a lot to you," Seiya said, "and
I admire that. But you've gotta remember, we can't effectively send
our message without you. If you won't do it for us, at least think of
our princess. You think she would want us giving up like this?"
"It's been ten years since we defeated Galaxia," I said. "If
our princess hasn't shown up by now, she's probably dead."
"Don't say that," he said in a quivering voice, tears in his
eyes. "Don't ever let me hear you say that again!"
"She's not dead," Yaten insisted. "I would've felt her star go
out if she were."
"And as long as Yaten says she's still alive, we keep singing,
no matter what."
The elevator doors slid open, and we started down the hall
towards the boardroom where the meeting was to be held.
"No matter what else this guy tries to change about us, there's
one point we're not budging on," he reminded us.
We all replied in unison, yet very differently:
"Our music!"
"Our message!"
"Our ponytails!"
"Ponytails?" Seiya and I repeated.
"Well, it's important to me!" Yaten protested.
"We make our stand on the message," Seiya ordered as we reached
the conference room door.
But all that went right out the window the moment we entered
the room.
"Our research shows country and hip-hop are the fastest-growing
musical styles in the world today," the image consultant said. "Now,
I'm not suggesting you change styles completely, but if you could just
infuse the music with a hint of one of these emerging styles--"
"You mean like rockabilly?" I asked.
Yaten scoffed, "Only you could think that's a good idea,
Taiki!"
The consultant stroked his goatee thoughtfully.
"Actually, that could work," he decided. "You've got the right
look for it already. . ."
"Like I said, a great idea!" Yaten backpedalled.
"Or maybe R&B/hip-hop," he suggested. "Your Seiya certainly
has the right kind of voice for it."
"All right!" Seiya cried. "Sugoi urban clothes and sexy
videos!"
"Sounds great to me!" Yaten agreed.
"Let's not get too carried away," I reminded them. "We're not
getting a whole new musical style, just trying to spice up our own."
"The urban look," Yaten said dreamily, seeming to have missed
every word I'd just said, "think I should get my eyebrow pierced?"
"Facial mutilation may be going a bit far," I opined.
"Hey, at least he didn't say 'nipples'," Seiya said brightly.
"That's a bit far, even for me," Yaten said, making a face.
"Of course, the 'mullet' haircuts won't quite work with the
R&B influence," the consultant said.
"Who're you accusing of mullets?" Seiya snapped.
"Can I change my vote, then?" Yaten wondered.
"We could hold a press conference," the consultant said, "make
the cut live on national TV! Great for ratings!"
"But our ponytails are our trademark," Yaten protested.
"They're an important part of who we are!"
"We could donate them to children with cancer," Hiro suggested,
"show Three Lights care and get good ratings all at once!"
"I'll do it," I volunteered, drawing disbelieving stares from
my friends, "for the children."
"Figures the parent of the group would fall for such an
obvious trick," Yaten muttered.
"Count me in, too," Seiya said.
"All or nothing," our manager said, eyeing our last holdout.
"No way," Yaten insisted, holding his ponytail protectively.
"Think of the children!"
"Yeah, those poor little bald kids who would give anything to
have shining, beautiful, silky hair like yours," Seiya said, stroking
Yaten's hair.
"Well, I am lucky that way," Yaten said, seeming to soften a
bit.
"And it'll grow right back, no big deal."
Wrong thing to say!
"No big deal? I've been working on this all my life!" he
snapped.
Seeing any hope for agreement quickly vanishing, I stepped in.
"But you wouldn't want to become a relic, either," I said, "the
kind who's stuck in the same fashion rut for twenty or thirty
years. . ."
"Well, that's true. . ."
"So, it's settled, then," the consultant said, leaving no more
room for argument. "I'll have the press conference set up right away,
and by this time next week, I guarantee you'll be all over the
headlines and entertainment shows again."
I couldn't bring myself to even mention those plans to my wife
all evening, but she could tell something was bothering me, and asked
about it repeatedly. I tried to deny any problem each time, and after
a while she backed off.
"When you're ready to talk, I'll be here," she said soothingly.
That night, with blinds and heavy curtains tightly drawn so no
neighbours or paparazzi could peer in, I changed out of my suit and
the masculine body I spent my days in. I slipped a silky red night-
gown over my natural feminine form and untied the ribbon from my long
brown ponytail. I picked up my brush and, as had been our routine for
five years, gave it to my wife and sat down beside her on the bed.
Humming softly to herself, she began gently brushing my hair,
starting, as always, at the ends to best work out the tangles.
"We met with the image consultant today," I said at last.
"Honto? Well, what did he say?" my wife asked.
"He wants us to add an R&B/hip hop influence," I complained,
"into every part of our image."
Ami laughed. "Not exactly you. . ."
"Well, no, but I was out-voted," I said. "I guess the lure of
urban clothes and eyebrow rings was just too strong for my friends to
resist."
"I'm thinking a nosering might suit you better."
"I'm not planning on getting anything pierced, myself," I said.
"Facial mutilation for the sake of popularity doesn't appeal to me."
"Then you can always have my name tattooed on your neck," she
said, giggling, as she walked two fingers down the side of my neck.
"Feeling possessive today?"
"Just a reminder to all those young, skinny groupies that
you're taken," she answered.
"Not to worry," I teased, "I prefer my women old and fat."
Ami laughed and lightly tugged my ponytail.
"You know, if that consultant has his way, you won't be able to
do that much longer-- he's planning to have them cut off in a
nationally-televised press conference," I said. "Now, I know I
shouldn't have agreed without consulting you first, but they said it
would go to help children with cancer, and--"
"It sounds like a wonderful idea."
"You're not upset, then?"
"Of course not! I married a person, Kou, not a yellow suit and
a ponytail," she said. "Besides, I know I'm not quite the woman you
married, either; I might never get my old figure back after two
children, and dirty old T-shirts are starting to outnumber dresses in
my closet. . ."
I turned around to meet her big blue eyes with mine.
"None of that matters to me in the least," I said, stroking her
pretty blue hair. "To my eyes, you're even more beautiful now than the
first time I saw you."
"I notice you're not wearing your glasses."
"I'm going for that just out of focus 'romance scene' effect."
Ami giggled and caressed my cheek.
"Aishiteru," she whispered, blushing a little.
"More than words can express," I replied.
We were caught in the midst of a passionate kiss when a tiny
voice called from the doorway, "I peed my bed. Can I sleep here with
you?"
"Of course you can, sweetie," Ami replied. "Just let your
father wash you up and get some dry pajamas on you first."
"Chichi," the little girl asked as I undressed her and put her
into the tub, "are you a girl or a boy?"
It wasn't her first time seeing my real form-- it was our
policy never to hide anything from our daughter-- but still the
question came as a surprise.
"Anou. . . well, honestly. . . I mean. . ."
My daughter cocked her head to one side, looking at me
quizzically.
"Well, I am a girl, but sometimes it's just. . . easier for me
to be a boy instead, like at my work," I tried to explain, "so I change
back and forth."
"Is that normal?" she asked, in shock.
I laughed. "Well, it is where I come from, at least."
"Doesn't it hurt?"
"It feels a little strange at first, but you get used to it."
"Can I do it, too?"
"Probably not," I replied, "since your mother's from here, but
we won't know for sure until you're older."
"I hope not," she said, making a face. "I wanna be a girl all
the time."
"Me, too," I said, helping her out of the tub. "Now let's get
you dried off and ready for bed. You don't think you might do the same
to our bed as yours while you're there, do you?"
Aki shook her head.
"I think I'm all finished."
"Good," I replied. "I'm in no mood for those 'fish in an
aquarium' dreams again tonight."
Ami set aside her novel and glasses as we returned, and turned
off the bedside lamp, leaving the room only barely lit by her seashell-
shaped nightlight.
I helped Aki into bed beside her mother before lying down
myself.
"Oyasumi, Aki-chan," Ami said, kissing her forehead.
"Oyasumi, Haha," Aki replied, kissing her cheek, "and Chichi,"
she awarded me a kiss as well, "and little baby brother or sister," she
finished, kissing her mother's abdomen.
Then the little girl snuggled between us and promptly fell
asleep.
"Look how packed this place is," Seiya said at the press
conference Friday. "We must not be as over as Hiro-san thought."
"They're just creepy fetishists here to get off on the
scalping," Yaten said with disdain.
"We're holding a press conference," I pointed out. "You
shouldn't be surprised when the media show up."
"I don't think I can go through with this," Yaten said. "I'm
starting to feel faint."
"Just take slow, deep breaths and try to calm yourself down," I
said, patting his back. "You'll be fine."
He did, and was, until the charity's spokeswoman brought out
Kyoko, a six-year-old leukemia patient in a well-worn, synthetic, brown
bob wig.
"Arigato," she said in her squeaky little voice, hugging us
each in turn.
That was when Yaten really broke down.
"Let's do this thing," Seiya said with a smile to Kyoko, as he
stood and almost eagerly went first.
His long, dark ponytail was gathered in red elastic a couple of
inches below the nape and sawed at with what must've been the dullest
shears in the city; it took nearly ten seconds to get through even so
fine a ponytail. Finally free, it was brandished first for the cameras
before being handed back to Seiya for the moment.
His smile faltered a bit as he took in the size of it, while
his free hand moved to feel what remained. But, ever the professional,
he recovered quickly enough, and was soon beaming for photos, holding
it aloft.
"One down," he said, looking to us to see who might go next.
"May as well get this over with," I said with a sigh, and
volunteered myself next.
The diminutive woman stood on a stool to fasten mine with the
yellow elastic.
"Ready?" she asked.
'It's for the children,' I reminded myself, glancing back at
Kyoko.
I took a deep, cleansing breath, closed my eyes, and nodded.
I listened to the crunch of dull shears for what felt like
minutes, holding my breath, until I heard a final, loud "snick". My
eyes flew open like windowshades to see the woman dangling a severed
length nearly as long as she was tall. I accepted it quietly, with
none of Seiya's fanfare, and went to stand beside my friend.
A brief hug for Kyoko, and Yaten tried to pull himself together
for his own turn.
His long white ponytail was bound in blue elastic, and tears
streamed down his face as it was sawed off, seeming to take twice as
long as the rest of us. Finally it came free, to be brandished for the
cameras before being handed to Yaten, who clasped it tightly to his
chest like some sacred object.
"You gonna be all right?" Seiya asked as Yaten came to stand
beside us.
Yaten nodded, sniffling, and Seiya gave him a reassuring pat on
the back.
We posed for the benefit of the media holding the severed
ponies aloft, comparing the length of mine to Yaten's diminutive
height, Seiya holding his up to his bottom like a tail. . . Then we
returned them to the charity's spokeswoman (reluctantly, in Yaten's
case), and left for an appointment at one of the trendiest and most
expensive salons in the city.
The final results wouldn't be revealed to our public until the
release of our new single and its accompanying video the next month.
My family, however, needed only to wait till evening.
"Two red spaces," my wife's voice said from the next room as
we entered the foyer, "one. . . two. . . oops, Cherry Pitfall! Looks
like I have to stay here until I get another red card. Your turn,
sweetie."
But the moment the three of us entered the room, the game was
forgotten.
"Chichi, I saw you on TV!" Aki cried, fairly leaping into my
arms. "Yaten-oji-san was funny."
"Go on, make fun of my misery," Yaten said bitterly.
"Well, I think it turned out well nonetheless," Ami said,
looking us over. "So this is what they're wearing in America now."
"So they tell me," I said with a sigh.
"Like it?" Seiya asked, executing a little spin.
Aki giggled. "Your panties are showing."
"They're not panties," Seiya protested, "they're briefs by
Mr. Tommy Hilfiger-san, and I'll have you know, this is how they wear
them in America!"
"Eew!" she said, crinkling her little nose. "Panties showing
all the time? I'm glad I don't live there!"
"Again with the panties?" Seiya feigned anger.
Aki burst into giggles and squirmed free from my arms as Seiya
tickle-attacked her, and soon they were rolling around, roughhousing,
on the floor.
"Careful," I warned, "you'll mess up those clothes before your
public even sees you in them."
"Nah, I'm just making them look a little more lived-in," he
protested. "It's baggy jeans and a jersey, not a concert suit-- it's
supposed to look worn!"
"I'll just. . . take mine out and run over them with the car a
few times," I said.
"I think I'll just leave well enough alone," Yaten said.
"Fine, then," Seiya said, "be a freak."
Aki jumped up and ran off, calling, "You can't catch me!"
Seiya leapt up and tried to follow, but his oversized jeans
fell down around his ankles, and he fell flat on his face.
"Seiya!" Yaten and I cried, rushing to his side. "Are you all
right?"
"Fine," he replied, looking a bit dazed, "but these clothes are
really gonna take some getting used to!"
I was glad when I could finally get out of my own ridiculously
oversized costume that night. I dressed my female form in a simple
black cotton cami and shorts, not feeling very sexy at the moment, and
climbed into bed.
Ami returned from changing herself a moment later. Wordlessly,
she handed me the brush and perched herself on the edge of the bed.
"Our new tradition?" I guessed.
"After five years, I think I'm entitled to a turn, don't you?"
she replied, "now that yours won't be taking nearly so long."
"I guess fair is fair," I said, sitting up and placing a kiss
at the nape of her neck.
Singing softly, I brushed her short, sapphire hair until it
seemed aglow with brilliant blue highlights.
"You're so beautiful," I whispered into her ear.
"As are you," she replied, leaning back to meet in a slightly
awkward kiss. "I know we could both do with hearing it right around
now."
"I'm beginning to think this world is determined to get me into
one silly costume after another," I said with a sigh.
"Says a woman who habitually wore skimpy black leather back
home. . ."
"Now you're just poking fun."
"I was making a point," she replied. "If finding out my crush
was a woman didn't scare me away, what difference do you think one bad
haircut and a pair of giant overalls will make?"
"Is it really so bad?" I asked self-consciously.
Ami turned and took the brush from my hand for the now rather
brief task of setting my hair into order.
"You're still just as beautiful," she said, "no matter what
they do to you."
I leaned in for a proper kiss, but just a few seconds into it,
my wife let out a surprised little yelp and drew back.
"What's wrong?" I asked urgently.
"I think this one's going to be a gymnast," she said, placing
my hand on her belly.
It felt like the baby was turning flips in there, so excited
was the movement I felt!
"At least we know she'll be healthy," I said.
"Now, if only she were normal," Ami said with a sigh.
"She is normal!" I protested, deeply hurt.
"You know what I mean. . . As it is, we'll be lucky if we can
convince the doctors not to lobotomize the poor thing!"
I nodded. Aki had been kept in the hospital over two weeks,
herself, while puzzled doctors tried to find out what that extra organ
was above her lungs, and whether it would be worth the risk to remove.
Fortunately, we managed to talk them out of that surgery, but
ultrasounds of this child showed she'd inherited my third brain lobe
and six-chambered heart. We could expect at least a month, I supposed,
of pleading with doctors to leave this one intact.
"I'm having my tubes tied after this one," Ami decided. "I
just can't bear the thought of putting yet another child through so
much, not after this."
"If that's what you feel is best," I said, "but there is an
easier way; so long as we refrain from more. . . traditional. . .
sexual relations. . ."
Ami smiled faintly.
"I'd like to keep both options open, if at all possible."
"Contraceptives?" I tried weakly.
"We tried that already, Kou," she said, patting her belly.
"It didn't help."
"If you're sure it's the only way. . ."
"Well, we've got another six weeks before this one is due," she
said. "I guess I can hold off on making any decision until then."
There were only four weeks until the release of our new single
and video, however; four weeks full of rehearsals, photo shoots, and
retakes, last-minute preparations leading up to the day we would debut
our new song and image live on national television.
Yaten hogged our dressing room mirror, perfecting his make-up
and moussing his short, choppy bob to hold the proper messy look,
while Seiya tried on absurdly large medallions, and I fastened on my
pair of baggy overalls.
"Which do you think," Seiya asked, "the giant gold dollar sign
or the Batman insignia?"
"You do the dollar sign and I don't know you," Yaten said.
"Dollar sign it is."
Seiya fastened the hefty chain around his neck and changed out
his usual small, silver hoops for larger ones in gold to match.
Suddenly, there was a knock at the door, and a young,
bespectacled man with a mobile phone in hand peered in.
"Taiki-san?" he said timidly, "Phone for you-- I think it's
your wife."
I took the phone calmly.
"This is Taiki."
"It's time," Ami's voice said from the other end.
"Time?" I repeated, taking a moment to absorb its meaning
before. . . "Time? But we've still got two weeks yet! Are you sure?"
A sudden cry of pain from the other end answered my question.
I panicked. "Do you need to hire a cab or will you be all
right until I can get there?"
"It's all right-- I'm still in early labour," she said. "I've
called my mother to take me and watch Aki-chan while I'm there. You
can do your premiere and just come down when you've finished."
"But I thought you said second children always come faster."
Ami laughed. "Not quite that quickly, dear. I'll be fine,"
she reassured me. "I'll be watching you from my hospital bed."
"I'll be singing right to you."
My friends were gathered around staring at me as I turned off
the phone.
"What's going on?" Seiya asked.
Yaten wondered, "Is she having it?"
"She's having contractions, but she said she's still in the
early stages. She's getting her mother to take her," I said.
"Well, shouldn't you get your ass down there?" Seiya asked.
"She says it could be hours. I'm going down after I finish
here."
"Is she sure?"
"Well, her mother's a doctor-- I'm sure she would know when you
needed to be there," Yaten pointed out.
"Let's get this over, then," Seiya said, "before that baby gets
impatient and comes without you."
I was amazed how many people showed up for our debut-- it was
almost like old times! We modelled the new image for their benefit,
to thunderous applause, though clothing aside, the difference was
hardly even noticeable from the front.
"Thank you for coming on such an important occasion," Seiya
said. "I know you came expecting a big build-up for the debut of our
new single, but we've got a more important debut to get to, so we'll
try to keep this short."
"We'll never stop singing to that one special woman," Yaten
said, "and never give up hope of finding her, but tonight we'll be
singing for another reason-- to welcome the birth of a new star."
"So join us tonight in congratulating Taiki and his wife, Ami,
on the impending birth of their second child," Seiya said, adding
with a wink, "Name it after me, okay?"
I laughed. "Not on your life."
It was nearly two hours after my wife's call when we finally
arrived at the hospital. Seiya spent the entire drive there worried
he'd made me miss the birth.
"If only we hadn't done that second encore," he kept saying.
"Baka," Yaten said, thumping his ear, "one four-minute song
isn't going to make us miss a birth."
"Well, if the baby's half-out when you get there, give your
wife my apologies."
We found Ami's mother calmly catching up on paperwork in the
lobby, while nearby Aki put her Barbie through the early stages of
labour.
"Walk around-- it'll help get the baby in the right place to
get born," she urged, while Barbie let out a howl and cried, "I think
the tractions are getting closer together!"
"How is she?" I asked.
"Chichi, guess what? Haha's making the baby right now!" Aki
cried. "I'm gonna be a big sister!"
"I know. Are you excited?"
"Yeah, but it's taking so long! I wanna meet the new baby
right now!"
"Well, why don't I go up there and see if I can do anything
to help that?" I said, mussing her hair.
"She's up in maternity," Ami's mother said, "fourth floor,
room seventeen."
"Arigato."
"Call me when my baby brother or sister gets here!" Aki called
after me before returning to her game.
I could hear poor Barbie's cries of pain all the way to the
elevator.
My wife was in somewhat better shape, having received her
epidural pump already. She'd brought her nature sounds generator,
currently emitting ocean sounds from the bedside table, while on the
other side of the bed the rapid, steady beeping of the fetal monitor
kept time with the baby's heartbeat.
"Turning our child into a dope fiend already?" I asked.
Ami laughed. "You wouldn't want to be in the room with me
right now if they hadn't, believe me!"
I leaned over the bed to kiss my wife, and lovingly stroked her
hair.
"Did you catch our debut?" I asked, noting the television was
off.
"Most of it," she replied. "I'm afraid I missed the beginning,
getting signed in."
"Then I'll have to ask Seiya to re-enact it all for you later,"
I said. "We dedicated the show to you."
"I know-- I felt your message."
"Five centimetres," the nurse said. "You're coming along just
fine."
"Looks like you could've stayed for another encore or two."
"Funny," I said, taking her hand, "I was just thinking how
sorry I am to have missed even this much."
It was just past five when I stumbled back into the lobby,
finding Aki soundly asleep in her grandmother's arms.
"Aki-chan," I whispered, nudging her, "your sister's here."
Her large violet eyes fluttered open only halfway, and she
asked drowsily, "Nani?"
"Congratulations-- you're a big sister!"
Her eyes popped wide open.
"Sister?"
I nodded. "You can come meet her now, if you'd like, but you
have to be gentle, all right? She's just a newborn."
Aki wriggled free of her grandmother's arms and slid to the
floor with a loud "click" of her black patent Mary Janes. She'd just
succeeded in waking the rest of our party.
"What time is it?" Seiya asked, rubbing his eyes.
"Almost ten past five," I replied.
"In the morning?" Aki balked. "Babies sure take a long time to
get born!"
"That's what you think," Yaten said, trying to set his hair
back in order. "We were here all day when you were born!"
"So what's she look like? Is she kawaii? Can I hold her?"
"Maybe it's best if your mother holds her for now," I said,
"but you can see her and judge for yourself whether she's kawaii or
not."
Of course she was, our tiny pink bundle, with her chubby cheeks
and fine blue hair that stood up a bit at the crown.
Ami's hair was standing similarly at the moment, as she lay
there dead tired, sweaty, but glowing with happiness as she held our
new baby.
"Ooh, she's so little!" Aki exclaimed.
Apparently this startled her sister, who cracked her blue eyes
open suddenly and began to cry.
"Aww, don't cry, little baby, it's just me!" she said, "I'm
your big sister, Aki!"
And, as if she'd understood, the baby immediately stopped
crying.
"I like her," Yaten said. "She's so well-behaved!"
"Is it my imagination," Seiya whispered, "or does that little
red mark on her forehead look like--"
"It does," Yaten agreed, examining the blossom-shaped
birthmark.
"It's called an 'angel's kiss'," I explained. "They usually go
away in a few days."
But even I had to admit the resemblance. . . maybe, somehow, a
sign?
"So what are you planning to call her?" Ami's mother asked.
Ami smiled. "We were thinking of 'Nozomi'."
©2003 Naia Zifu, all rights reserved.
Taiki Aki and baby Nozomi are of my own creation, but all Three Lights,
Ami, and Mrs. Mizuno are SM characters I don't own rights to. As
always, I'm not trying to make money off anyone else's ideas.
Well, this is going to have an interesting crossover audience. . .
*blushes* Totally unintentional, but it seemed the logical progression
of the fic, so I just went with it. Hope I'm not pushing it too much!
Yes, it's an AU :-P . I know I never write those, but this was for a
contest, and it seemed like a good idea. Just don't ask me how this
one fits into my other fics' continuum. *sweatdrops* I don't think it
can at all.
Aki-chan's kawaii, though, isn't she? *wonders if she might recur*

Originally written for a contest, a version which included (slightly
altered) lyrics from Billy Joel's "Baby Grand". I didn't like it, so I
removed them prior to posting here. If, by chance, you encounter that
variant. . . just try not to laugh, all right? It was required in the
rules :-P .