"No thanks, my voice is tired."
The sun had only just slid behind the horizon on a clear April evening. Only a few scattered clouds dotted the sky, which was beginning to dye an energetic pink. Gakupo and Luka saw this from a window in the practice room; the two had just gone over a duet they had already covered a few times. Repetition kept it in their memory, and this was one of the songs they didn't want to forget anytime soon.
"All right," Luka sighed, in part because of the view of the sunset and also because she would have liked to sing for a little while longer.
"I might have sung 'Kokyuu' too many times today," Gakupo admitted, starting for the door. The two had been standing, as always, to reach for their deepest breaths.
"At least a bedtime song," Luka implored, although there was a smile on her face.
Gakupo hesitated for a moment. He would have liked to get to sleep early, but another tune wouldn't take too long to sing. Besides, calming songs didn't stress his voice at all. He turned back towards Luka. "'Cacophony' it is."
She was evidently more pleased with that answer as she paused to find her pitch, and then sang out the wordless starting note. Instinctively Gakupo followed with his, complementing the noise perfectly. After Luka counted in quietly, the music flowed quietly. For the most part, Gakupo had the harmony, although the rhythms were the same as his partner's. He didn't mind much, though; lower notes were easier for him to find immediately, and he didn't have trouble finding a tune behind a higher one in a song.
The words were slow and the tune repetitive, but Gakupo still enjoyed the song to the end. Despite the name, it was actually calming both to sing and to listen to. Once silence had fallen into the room once more and he had almost opened the door, he asked Luka, "Remind me again who came up with the title to that song?"
"I don't remember." Her tone suggested that she had found the question entertaining, but she appeared too tired to show it all that much. "Probably you."
"No way!" he protested with a playful grin, making sure the hallway was empty before proceeding. He couldn't tell whether the other Vocaloids had gone to sleep or anyone had stayed up. Instantly Miku came to mind; she had a tendency to retire late and sleep late, probably thanks to her bubbly personality.
He heard Luka close the door behind him. Stretching out his arms, he told her, "I'm going to turn in for the night. See you tomorrow morning."
"Good night, Gakupo."
He didn't move until Luka had vanished into a room farther down the hallway. It was the same parting phrase she said just about every night, but he still listened to it as if it was a new announcement each time. That sort of thing wouldn't change for a while, he told himself, as he slipped into his own room.
The light hadn't faded from the sky entirely, though that wasn't much of a judgment given the time of year. Somewhere in the back of his mind he reminded himself that sometimes the sun didn't set until nine-thirty more towards the middle of the summer. Ensuring that the curtains were closed, Gakupo stepped in front of the mirror near the door and reached to the back of his head. Within a few seconds he had wound his fingers around today's ribbon and gently pulled away, letting his hair fall away far beyond his shoulders. The same routine as every night before he went to sleep; it would get too tangled if he didn't bother to take it down. That would create more problems than it solved. It was sometimes a pain being so fluffy, but he liked it and Luka liked it and it kept him warm when the nights got cold. At least he wasn't one of those ancient, real samurai who had to shave their foreheads.
He was about to stop pulling his fingers through the strands and flop down onto the soft covers when he heard a voice: "Can you hear me?"
At first Gakupo jumped and wondered who it could be; then he recognized the tone and froze. "Yes, Kaito, I can hear you."
"I'm not Kaito."
That was odd. Now that he thought about it, the strangely disembodied-sounding voice did have a different underlying noise than Kaito's. It sounded considerably smoother, younger, more unrestrained. Gakupo told himself he must just be hearing things. Maybe he was already dreaming. Still, he didn't respond for a while. Deciding that it didn't matter much, he slid into the warmth of the comforter. "Who is it?" he inquired sleepily, only half serious.
At first there was no answer. Just as Gakupo was starting to think it had just been his imagining, it spoke up, "Yuuma."
"Yuuma?" Gakupo echoed. Weird name. He'd never heard of anybody like that. "You're in my head, aren't you?" Might as well ask.
"I'm not," the voice insisted. "And my real name is VY2, but that's more difficult to say."
Gakupo closed his eyes. Surely he had to be dreaming. The only other explanations were that he was going crazy (which he might be, but that was rather unlikely) and the home the Vocaloids had lived in for so long had ghosts (which was equally unlikely). This was why he wasn't anxious. Nobody was outside; nobody would be able to hear him talking to himself anyway. If he didn't respond, the voice would go away.
He focused on his own breathing and soon bored himself to sleep.
Whatever his dream was, he didn't recall it; the morning arrived quickly enough. A quick glance at the clock told Gakupo that it was time to get up.
Today is... April the twenty-first, he told himself sluggishly, eventually able to rise out of bed. Normally he was good at getting right to it, but sometimes he transitioned slowly to prevent anything like head rush.
As he dressed into his usual hakama and haori and returned to put his hair back up, he remembered the voice encounter from last night. Initially he flinched at the memory, but it only took a moment for him to brush it off as a weird dream. It wasn't unusual to have a strange dream every now and then. Relatively calm for now, he brushed out the last of the mats in his hair, tied it up with another ribbon (blue today), and exited into the hallway.
When he came into the kitchen, surprisingly no other Vocaloids were there. Gakupo thought that he might have gotten the time wrong and he needed to go back to sleep; then upon further inspection the room wasn't entirely empty. Fire Flower was awake – she was a rockhopper penguin Len had somehow found on the street and named after a song he was working on at the time. Rin hadn't been serious when she told him he could only keep it if he taught it to talk, but evidently Len hadn't picked up on that. The bird could understand speech and say a few fragmented sentences herself, and she was also surprisingly good at dancing. Heck, she even cleaned up after herself – an impressive feat given that she was a bird. Fortunately, Len had yet to impose the responsibility of taking care of the penguin on anybody else.
"Good morning," Gakupo told Fire Flower absently. He still hadn't adjusted to the presence of a bird in the house, and would be surprised if anybody else had.
The penguin replied with a soft cluck that might have been expected from a chicken. She gave a nod of her wide, crested head before proceeding to scan her surroundings. Flower seemed particularly interested in the refrigerator, but she made no effort to open it.
Still nobody else was here. "Did you hear anything weird last night?" he asked the penguin.
She responded with a skeptical glance, and then shook her head politely. Thankfully she didn't appear to suspect that he might have been going crazy.
In that case, he might as well get something to eat. He was about to start deciding when he heard footsteps behind him, followed by a high voice: "Good morning, Gakupo."
He knew who it was almost before he turned around. "Hi, Len."
The fourteen-year-old gave a smile and a wave before stepping past Gakupo to scratch his bird's head feathers. "Fire Flower gets up early."
"She does," Gakupo agreed absently.
The penguin watched anxiously as Len opened the door to the freezer and produced a frozen fish. Flower voraciously took it in her beak and swallowed it whole.
"We're running out," Len observed a moment before feeding his bird another fish. "We're going to have to go to the store again today."
Gakupo almost rolled his eyes. "Between you and Luka, we can never have enough fish."
This actually got a chuckle out of Len, but he didn't respond in any other way. Gakupo continued: "Just don't take the road roller again if you can help it. Maybe have Meiko drive you or something."
"That's a good idea. She might have something she needs to pick up as well."
Fire Flower gave a quiet squawk as she danced out of the room. According to Len, she sometimes got songs stuck in her head and couldn't get them out any other way. It was a laughable sight trying to watch a penguin dance when she didn't have a specific routine.
Len hastily followed the bird, leaving Gakupo alone again. Despite the rest of the day being relatively uneventful, he was left in a good mood by the time evening came along again. Then he remembered the voice of VY2 when it spoke again.
"Tomorrow is the twenty-second," the masculine voice sighed, almost as though its owner was sitting across the room.
"What's so important about that?" Gakupo mumbled into his pillow, wondering why ghosts decided to torment him now.
"The twenty-fifth is my birthday."
"You don't have a birthday," Gakupo scoffed. "I bet you're not even real. Go away."
"But I need your help," VY2 blurted. Again, he sounded as though he was just on the other side of the bedroom. "Your name is Gakupo, right?"
This was getting a little bit more interesting. "It is. Why?"
VY2 sighed again. "To make a long story short, I'm a Vocaloid like you, but I wasn't made with a physical self."
"How is that possible?" Gakupo couldn't imagine what sort of physics were involved in creating a Vocaloid with a voice but no body.
VY2 didn't answer, so he voiced another question. "How are you even a Vocaloid, then?"
The answer came without hesitation. "I can sing. Here's a song you know…" A short pause for what Gakupo assumed was a breath, and then: "Why is there an ocean sunfish dying behind my house?"
"Miku enjoys that song," Gakupo reflected aloud.
"She sings it so often I've learned just by listening."
"Mm." Gakupo waited a few moments; VY2 didn't say anything, so he inquired: "What is it you need help with?"
"Well, my problem's sort of obvious, I guess," he responded awkwardly. "I'd like a physical self for my birthday. It's just a little bit short of impossible, but with all the craziness that goes on in the world I'm sure this sort of thing can be managed."
Gakupo blinked (which made him realize he was staring at the ceiling). "It sounds… hard."
"It is. My idea was convincing somebody that I actually existed, which I supposed would make me exist."
"That sounds farfetched."
"Not really. Have you heard of kotodama?"
Gakupo rolled the word around in his mind, and it sounded vaguely familiar. Still, he couldn't place it. "What's that?"
"Simply put, it's the belief that if you say something, it becomes true. That was what I was imagining."
"Oh." Gakupo buried himself farther into his bed. "Maybe. But do you really think just one of us will do?"
VY2 hesitated. "I asked you first because I knew you would be the least likely to ask others about it. I didn't want to cause any trouble in the house."
"So they wouldn't think the place was haunted?"
"Something like that."
More silence. Gakupo closed his eyes. "I'm getting tired," he murmured. "I'll keep working on that kotodama."
He waited for some sort of response from VY2, but it never came. Gakupo slipped easily into a pleasant slumber.
The next morning was April the twenty-second. Three days until Yuuma's birthday. Gakupo wasn't even sure he was really hearing these things, but the date still made him a little bit edgy. Judging by his voice, if Yuuma did have a physical self it would probably not be much older than Len. That was somewhere to start, but what would determine what Yuuma actually looked like if he were to exist? Would it be him, or would all hopes be on Gakupo? Hopefully it was the former – Gakupo wasn't fond of pressure.
Still, just to be sure, that night after everyone else had gone to sleep Gakupo asked Yuuma to sing some more. VY2 quietly performed a few lines from several songs Gakupo had heard from the other Vocaloids before. Over this time Gakupo tried to imagine what sort of Vocaloid would be singing in this style – VY2 had a unique inflection that definitely showed through in the simpler songs. All this thinking quickly tired out his mind. VY2 seemed to notice, and fell silent as Gakupo slipped noiselessly into sleep.
The twenty-third. Since VY2 had sung it last night, "Meltdown" was ceaselessly playing through Gakupo's head, and he kept finding himself humming it between practicing other songs. It finally was usurped by "Kokyuu" once he decided to practice one of his own songs, but Gakupo had to stop himself from singing too much in case there was a special number he would perform for Yuuma's birthday.
Gakupo put himself to sleep going over VY2's songs once more. Tomorrow was the day before Yuuma's birthday; he briefly wondered if there was anything he needed to do to prepare, but he left the waking world behind when he decided there wasn't much he could do even if he wanted to.
The twenty-fourth. Now Gakupo wondered whether anyone would notice how anxious he was for tomorrow. Fortunately, when he got out of bed only Meiko was in the kitchen, and the smell of various ingredients wafted into the hall.
When Gakupo entered the room, it was evident why. Meiko had set about making a cake, and the first thing he thought was that she was making it for VY2's birthday tomorrow. But surely she couldn't know who VY2 was… unless he spoke to her, too. Gakupo would have to see if she said anything about it.
"Good morning, Meiko," he began, giving a gentle wave of his hand as he leaned against a wall.
"Oh. Hi, Gakupo." Meiko glanced up from her work for only a moment. "You're up early."
"So are you. Did you have trouble sleeping?"
She hesitated. "No, I just wanted to get this finished."
Gakupo decided to cut to the chase; Meiko didn't usually worry about things this early. "Is it for Yuuma's birthday?"
Now she really looked at him. "How did you know?"
Gakupo shrugged. "He told me. He didn't say he told you too, though. He did seem worried about making everyone think the house was haunted or something, though."
Meiko waited again. "We don't have to say anything to the others. We can just have a cake."
A short while passed in silence. "Has he said anything about a physical self?"
"A little bit." Meiko sounded distracted, so Gakupo left the room, once again humming "Meltdown" to himself.
He caught a few glimpses of Meiko chipping away at the cake. Rin, Len, and Miku were all interested in the dessert-in-progress, and even Fire Flower was standing on the tips of her webbed toes trying to get a spot in the excitement. Meiko smiled and assured the others that the cake would be ready tomorrow. The whole scene made Gakupo smile – he wasn't usually as energetic as the younger Vocaloids, but it still amused him to watch them get excited over things.
That evening made his mind race. VY2 didn't say anything, but Gakupo wasn't sure he would want to talk anyway; he felt that pressure was on him to make this birthday work out.
Apparently Yuuma sensed his worry, because he finally spoke up when the outdoors was pitch-black. "You know, if it's too stressing, you don't have to worry about me."
Gakupo sighed. He really didn't know how to respond to that statement, but at least it put him to sleep trying to visualize some form of VY2 standing in the room.
He awoke frequently to silence, but when he was asleep he tried to make himself dream of Yuuma's voice as though it would help such a thing exist in the physical world. Of course, it didn't really work, since it was just about impossible to consciously control his own dreams.
And so the night slipped past until Gakupo woke to somebody tapping on his forehead with one finger. At first he refused to open his eyes – who would be rude enough to march in here and pester him like this, anyway?
"Gakupo, wake up."
That voice was familiar. For the first few seconds Gakupo was still too tired to think, but when he recalled who it was he was instantly awake. He flinched slightly as his gaze was met by a pair of bright crimson eyes, but he soon relaxed.
"That's you, Yuuma?"
The eyes backed away, revealing a smile on a round but defined face. "Yep, it's me!"
Gakupo sat up, observing the Vocaloid. So that kotodama stuff must have worked, even if it sounded crazy. Maybe Yuuma had just wanted to exist hard enough that he gave himself a physical body. The world was a bit strange sometimes, but not always in a bad way.
As Gakupo had thought, Yuuma didn't look more than a couple of years older than Len. He had silvery hair that fell over his eyes in the front but was shorter in the back. His shape was trim but not thin, with long limbs. Like Gakupo, he wore a haori, but the rest of his clothing was casual, and it was all some shade of gray trimmed with either red or orange.
Yuuma grinned, resting one hand on his hip. "It's my birthday today!"
April the twenty-fifth, 2012: VY2's first birthday.
It was still a little unusual having another Vocaloid appear out of thin air in his bedroom, but Gakupo would have expected as much from an ethereal companion who mostly spoke to him and nobody else for several days.
After Gakupo had spent a few minutes putting his hair back up (as well as checking the clock to make sure Yuuma hadn't woken him up ridiculously early), the two left the room simultaneously and headed down the hallway.
Gakupo wasn't surprised when Meiko met them at the entrance to the kitchen, but Yuuma appeared briefly startled. Before Meiko could react, he regained his composure and greeted her with a "good morning."
She responded with a warm smile. "Good morning, Yuuma. Glad you could make it."
Yuuma gave an odd laugh at the comment, as though it embarrassed him somehow, but he quickly shrugged it off. "What will you say to the others?"
"They won't mind meeting someone new. Trust me." Meiko didn't appear flustered by the question.
This apparently allowed Yuuma to relax considerably. A short while passed in silence with Gakupo anxiously watching the hall before Len appeared in the entrance to the room, Fire Flower at his heels.
He turned towards them but stopped abruptly when his sky-blue eyes fell on Yuuma. He looked as though he would turn around, but the opposite happened: instead Len shuffled up to the new Vocaloid and looked at him curiously while the penguin clucked softly around Yuuma's feet.
The red-and-silver Vocaloid looked as though he might protest, but he kept his mouth clamped shut until Len stepped away, though the fourteen-year-old's gaze hadn't moved.
Len evidently thought for a moment before he spoke. "Hi there! My name is Len, and this is Flower." He started to gesture towards his feet, but she was still interested in Yuuma, so instead he made a hand motion towards the other Vocaloid's ankles.
"I'm Yuuma," VY2 replied almost unnaturally quickly, and gave a rushed bow. "Pleased to meet you."
Another few seconds passed before he glanced down at Fire Flower, who had just stepped backwards to observe him from farther away. "She's quite friendly, isn't she?"
Len chuckled quietly. "She hasn't met anybody new since she got here, so I suppose she's pretty excited."
The penguin gazed up at the new Vocaloid delightedly, and then leaned on her toes as she cried out, "Yuuma!"
VY2 seemed incredulous for a moment, but then he laughed youthfully. "I didn't know penguins could talk."
"She sings a little, too, and she likes to dance," Len informed him contentedly, evidently uplifted that his bird entertained the newcomer.
Over the next half hour or so the rest of the Vocaloids filtered into the room, each offering a greeting to Yuuma. He was evidently relieved that his sudden appearance was so well received by the others.
Before all of them could fall into an awkward silence, Yuuma decided to address the group. "I know I haven't said anything yet, but today is my birthday!"
Rin and Miku immediately started applauding, and the others joined in quietly until it faded out. Kaito smiled gently as his blue eyes wandered the room, but then he silenced himself abruptly. "Where's Meiko? She was just here."
"And I still am."
All heads turned towards the kitchen as Meiko re-entered the room carrying a formidably sized chocolate cake. Everybody watched in anticipating silence as she set it down gently on the dining table. Clearly everyone wanted to eat immediately, but nobody was bold enough to say anything.
She turned her eyes to them, looking startled. "What, nobody's going to come eat birthday cake?"
Murmurs escalated into jovial comments as each Vocaloid admitted that they were all tempted, and they gathered themselves in seats around the table. Yuuma, of course, was particularly bouncy. He had only just sat down when Fire Flower leaped up onto his lap – evidently the bird had taken an instant liking to the new Vocaloid. She peered over the table with a look that clearly meant "this seat is taken."
Yuuma grinned amiably at the penguin. "I enjoy the company, but I can't eat cake while you're perching there, Flower. Why don't you sit next to me?" He pulled a vacant chair up next to the table invitingly.
Fire Flower initially looked disappointment, but she shrugged it off as she slid onto the chair as comfortably as if it was the surface of the ocean. She rose to her feet quickly – if she did anything similar to sitting down, she wouldn't nearly be able to see over the table.
Across the room, Yuuma picked up Len laughing to himself. It was comforting to know that Len didn't mind his own bird being next to someone else for the time being.
Gakupo situated himself contentedly next to Luka, not far from Yuuma. Now that VY2's biggest problem was solved, he was a lot more relaxed – in fact, he felt as though he could perform Kokyuu multiple times before his voice got too tired to sing any more. He brushed Luka's fingers with his own to let her know of his presence before turning his full attention to Yuuma.
The Vocaloids sang to the newest member of their group and enjoyed finishing off a carefully prepared chocolate cake. (Fire Flower didn't have any, since it could easily make her sick. She was fine with that, though, as long as she got to sit next to Yuuma and watch him enjoy it.) As the last of them cleared their plates, conversation started up around the table. Yuuma found himself repeatedly receiving the same question he couldn't answer, so he waited for everyone to calm down a bit before he rose from his chair.
"Excuse me," he began, loud enough for even the Vocaloids on the far end of the table to here. "It seems that a majority of you would like to know where I lived before I got here."
A moment of silence to make sure everybody had noticed that he was talking. "It's a complicated story, but the truth is I've always been here … I'm just a little odd in that I wasn't given a physical self in the year that I've… existed." The wording with such a tale was difficult for him to manage, but hopefully he didn't sound too wimpy. "So even though it is my birthday today, I have all of you to credit for welcoming me here and allowing me to live among you like the standard Vocaloid. Thanks very much."
He sat down, feeling a prickle of stage fright when the room remained quiet. Gradually the other Vocaloids started to applaud again, but he raised a hand to halt them; he hadn't meant to give much of a speech, and he could feel the heat rising in his face at such a response.
"Now then," he started again. "If we're all finished, I'd say it's time for some musical demonstration."
Now the others all clapped their hands in delight. Yuuma rose from his seat and led them back to the living room, where the seating was more relaxed and far less awkward for a performance. Miku quickly checked to make sure the sound system was functioning properly before she took her seat.
The room was quiet with anticipation as to what the newcomer Vocaloid would sing first. The moment he broke out into the energetic "Yuma Yuma Epic Night", the other Vocaloids were filled with excitement. Yuuma himself was clearly struggling not to dance too vigorously and thus upset the cake he had just eaten. Gakupo noticed that most of the song was highly reminiscent of Lily's version, "Lily Lily Burning Night." At first he started to delve deeper into this, but then he shrugged it off. Yuuma had only just appeared here this morning; he shouldn't be bothered about how similar his songs were to those that already existed when he probably didn't have the spirit to compose too many of his own beforehand.
The upbeat song ended abruptly and transitioned into something else. Gakupo instantly recognized the next number from when he had heard it a few nights before. He glanced over to Rin; she, too, had taken notice of the tune, and hurried up next to Yuuma to sing along. VY2 clearly didn't think she was stealing the spotlight – he smiled as she entered the makeshift stage and started the first verse of "Meltdown" alongside him.
This performance was also quite energetic, with a sliding tune that would change notes suddenly, seemingly almost always on an off-beat. Nevertheless, neither Vocaloid singing appeared to have trouble with the rhythms, even when they recovered from a long rest and the background into which the background pitches had almost completely dropped out. Then the song grew suddenly slow and dark, as though it had switched completely; from hearing Rin perform it herself so many times, though, Gakupo knew that this was just a transition into the last few verses. The final, wordless note faded out, and the audience applauded enthusiastically when total silence returned. Rin and Yuuma both bowed gratefully – however, the latter rose from his oddly quickly and looked purposefully at Gakupo.
At first he wondered why Yuuma would be staring at him like that, but he soon got the message when VY2 tossed his head slightly behind him. The next performance evidently was going to be something Gakupo could sing along to as well. He was curious as to what it could be, running through titles in his mind as he stepped up next to Yuuma.
Honestly, Gakupo was a bit nervous to be performing like this in front of the others, but he tried not to show it as he inhaled deeply and focused his ears.
Fortunately, the beginning of the song was immediately recognizable. With a quick glance to the side to ensure that Yuuma and Rin were doing so as well, Gakupo began the dance – "Iroha Uta", the Fragrance Song, was quite enjoyable to sing and the motions weren't terribly vigorous, so none of the trio was worried about upsetting his or her stomach. Gakupo was particularly content with the way the first hand twists felt to his wrists; not only did the initial several measures look elegant, but they were also great for stretching if practicing another dance the day before had made him stiff.
At first Gakupo worried about the lyrics to his version of the song being slightly different from the ones Yuuma and Rin were singing, but he relaxed as he realized that his voice fit in perfectly with the other two and the words didn't sound exceedingly busy. He tried to keep his eyes open and aware as he slipped easily through the song – fortunately he had rehearsed several times before when Rin was also doing so for her own purposes. Yuuma appeared to know the dance perfectly; Gakupo guessed that he had somehow observed them before he had been able to practice alongside them.
Gakupo greatly enjoyed performing with Rin and Yuuma, and was actually a little bit disappointed when the song was finally over and applause once again rose from the audience. He couldn't help but laugh quietly to himself out of sheer elation as he gave a bow. He was about to return to his seat when Yuuma raised a regular speaking voice.
"Thanks for singing with me," he told Gakupo and Rin before turning to everybody else. "That was fun… now, let's go with one each and every one of you should know. Feel free to come up and dance, if you don't mind."
Gakupo had little trouble predicting what song was next. Yuuma sank into a robotic, artificial-looking pose, and the other two Vocaloids adjacent to him quickly followed suit. Then the music began, prompting joyous singing first from Yuuma, and then from the other Vocaloids as they caught on:
"Po ppi po ppi po po ppi po…"
The same odd two-syllable phrase repeated several times over as the Vocaloids' dance grew more energetic with each measure. When the song transitioned into a crazed shout, the Vocaloids running around the room in a random frenzy promptly collided with each other, resulting in forgiving giggles from everybody. Miraculously each Vocaloid rose back into a relatively organized position once the singing started again. The main topic was the awesomeness of vegetable juice; indeed, each and every Vocaloid in the room knew the song by heart, and had no trouble keeping up with the words or the dance.
"The best," Yuuma insisted, his opinion contradicting that of everyone else except Fire Flower, "is the red juice!"