Lock and Key
Sugao Saitou was not prone to fits of swearing. However, on this particular day, he was happy to make an exception.
His recording studio was located on the top floor of one of Tokyo's more formidably-sized buildings, and after having reached his car—currently located in the lowest level of the parking garage beneath said building—Saitou realized that he had forgotten his keys.
He sighed as his stomach gave a rather loud rumble. It had been a tiring day, especially since his top star seemed intent on doing anything besides work.
Daydreaming during meetings, humming when she was supposed to be recording, and her cell phone always in her hands, her thumbs busily tapping away at the keypad—Aino Minako had been acting less like the professional singer that she was, and more like a young girl in love.
…Could it be?
Saitou punched the button for the elevator and stepped inside, mulling over that last thought. When it came down to it, Minako was indeed still a young girl, compared to many in the idol business. She wasn't a child anymore, that was certain, but in even in her early twenties, she was barely a woman grown. Besides, when on earth would Minako have even found the time to fall in love? Her schedule kept her very busy; he knew she didn't see the few close friends she possessed nearly as often as she would have liked, particularly the young beauty who worked at Hikawa Shrine, Hino Rei.
He smiled to himself, a plan forming in his head. Rei and Minako were very close, that much Saitou knew. Perhaps the young priestess had an insight as to whether or not his hunch was true. He could certainly ask her the next time she came around the studio. Even if Minako had sworn Rei to secrecy, Saitou suspected he might be able to trick the answer out of her. Minako wasn't the only one in the studio who was excellent at acting, after all.
Saitou glanced at his watch and sighed again as the elevator continued to climb. Next time, he thought, he would build a studio in a shrine, surrounded by nature and greenery—but wait, most shrines had a great deal of stairs and no elevator to speak of. He envisioned trying to transfer a grand piano and recording equipment up a mountainside path and winced.
Perhaps the skyscraper wasn't so terrible after all.
His thoughts drifted back to Minako and the identity of her secret lover. Saitou was sure now that that was the reason for her odd behaviour, having seen similar symptoms in others in the past—as well as having spent a great deal of time watching dramas through the years. If Rei proved to be stubborn in keeping the secret guarded, Saitou resolved that he would simply confront the source itself, and demand an honest answer from Minako.
Guilt would likely be the best tactic, given that Saitou was her long-time friend—practically family—how could she possibly keep something so momentous as her first love from him?
There, that was perfect.
Especially since Minako often used the same tactics on him to get something she wanted—usually food or sweets.
That was a possibility as well, actually, using food, Saitou thought as the elevator doors opened (finally) and he wandered down the empty corridor toward his office. The office door was wide open of course, given that in order to lock it, he'd need his keys, but strangely, they were not sitting on his desk as he'd previously thought.
He rifled through the drawers for a moment before he recalled that he'd gone directly from the recording sound booth to his car after the final session with Minako had ended for the day. He'd been so frustrated that he must have left his keys right beside the mixing board. He had barely nodded in response when someone had greeted him as he'd stalked onto the elevator in a huff.
Saitou's stomach rumbled again while he hurried towards the recording booths down the hall, hoping he was right.
He pushed open the door to the mixing room and was about to flip on the light switch when he realized that there were two people on the other side of the soundproof glass—people he knew very well—who were deep in conversation as they sat on the stools next to the recording microphone. Saitou ducked down behind the soundboard, hoping he hadn't been seen. The two continued talking, unaware of his presence.
Saitou's conscience gnawed at him over what he was about to do, but he tried to ignore it as he surreptitiously flipped the microphone switch on.
"—ugao-san's not mad at me, is he, Minako?" Hino Rei's voice, clear and lovely echoed through the mixing booth. Why, oh why didn't that girl have any idol aspirations?
"What? No, Shacho thinks the world of you, Reiko! Why would you think that?"
Saitou wondered the same thing as Rei shrugged her shoulders. He also grinned at the idea of the stoic young priestess being the willing recipient of such a cute nickname.
"He—he just didn't seem very happy with me when I came here today is all. He barely even blinked when I said hello to him by the elevator earlier."
A dangerous glint appeared in Minako's eyes and Saitou swallowed, suspecting he was in for it later. He'd had no intention of insulting the idol's best friend. He felt his insides twist with guilt. He'd have to find some way to apologize later for the slight.
"Don't worry about it, Reiko." Saitou noticed for the first time that the two young women were holding hands. "He was probably worn out from putting up with me all day. I was so excited about seeing you that I couldn't do anything right."
A rosy blush, one like Saitou had never seen before on her, covered Minako's cheeks. If that weren't surprising enough, a similar one was covering Rei's as well.
"Okay, well—I-I was just wondering what I might have done to offend him, but if you say it's your fault, then I guess I can relax."
Saitou had to bite his fist to keep from roaring with laughter at Minako's expression—he'd forgotten momentarily that he was in a soundproof booth and wouldn't have been heard.
"I thought maybe he'd found out," Rei said in a low voice. "Like he couldn't even stand the sight of me."
"Oh, Reiko, no. He wouldn't do that."
Saitou was utterly perplexed by these remarks, but his curiosity was piqued. He leaned forward, as if that would help him hear their conversation better.
"So then why haven't you told him yet, Minako?"
The idol sighed and leaned against Rei. Saitou began to feel as though he was intruding on a very private moment, but he just couldn't bring himself to switch off the microphone and leave. He shushed his conscience again and continued eavesdropping.
"I-I guess one part of me's still a bit scared. I mean, I think he'll be okay with it, but I still can't be sure until I actually come out and tell him. And then besides that I'm worried about who he might tell. I mean, he used to be a journalist, right? This is, as they say, 'quite a scoop.'"
Saitou's heart began pounding erratically. He was sure they had to be discussing Minako's mysterious lover—whoever that was—although he felt a twinge of hurt that Minako feared he would immediately blab the story to the news outlets. Even when she'd been plagued with a strange illness as a girl—which had inexplicably disappeared without a trace overnight—Saitou had not breathed a word about it to another soul. He had wondered sometimes if even her family knew how desperately ill she had been…
He shook his head to clear it, still listening to the conversation at hand.
"I understand, Minako." Rei had shifted her position, having released Minako's hand in order to sling an arm across her shoulder and hug her close. "I guess I haven't told my elders yet for similar reasons."
Minako gave a wry laugh. "After everything we've faced together, this is what inspires fear in us?"
"Facing down a friend can be a lot harder than facing down an enemy," Rei murmured.
"Yeah." Minako smirked. "New subject?"
Saitou mouthed 'no' frantically, biting back a growl as Rei returned the smirk and nodded.
They hadn't even mentioned the name of Minako's lover, and Saitou was more confused than ever, especially since it seemed Rei had a big secret of her own.
He tried to ignore the growing sting of hurt and frustration as he switched off the microphone and leaned back, belatedly remembering he'd come to the booth to collect his keys. Despite the darkness, he spotted them resting next to the sizeable soundboard, but before he could reach for them, the occupants of the recording booth had inadvertently grasped his undivided attention again—and answered all of his lingering questions in one fell swoop.
His star performer, Aino Minako, was indeed in love, he had been right about that, but never in a million years would he have guessed who she had fallen in love with.
There could be no doubt as to the emotion behind the kiss he was witnessing.
"Oh my god," Saitou breathed. He instinctively ducked down again as the—he swallowed—lovers broke apart and smiled at one another.
How long had this been going on? This was huge! Was it serious? Oh, god help him, his hand was reaching for the microphone switch of its own accord—
"—vote we continue this discussion in my dressing room. Sound good?"
Saitou blinked and hurriedly switched the mic back off. He still couldn't pull his eyes away as Rei, who always struck him as being rather quiet and shy, grinned deviously and stood to help Minako out of her seat. Hand in hand, the two left the recording studio, turning off the light as they left.
Saitou sank to the floor, letting out the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. He waited several minutes before finally leaving the sound booth, pointedly avoiding the corridor where Minako's dressing room was located, and hurried towards the elevator.
He and Minako definitely needed to have a conversation about what he'd just witnessed but—oh god, how would he even bring up the topic without sounding like a complete and utter pervert? He buried his face in his hands after the doors had closed, his hunger forgotten.
Japan's beloved idol, treasured singer, gifted actress…was in love with another woman.
The press was going to eat them both alive when they found out. Especially Rei. How someone who hated the limelight so much had Aino Minako as her best friend—no, her lover—was beyond Saitou's comprehension.
What in hell was he going to do about this?
"I need a drink," Saitou grumbled as the elevator doors opened to the parking garage. When he reached his car he realized just how much merit the idea had.
His keys were still in the recording studio.
Author's note: There is more to come. It's actually all written, but because I'm a giant jerk (or rather a super-neurotic individual who feels that the later chapters could stand some more polish but this part may actually be fit for human consumption), it's getting posted in portions. Feel free to point out any quirks, quarks, quacks and quibbles. Or just a thumbs up or thumbs down. I'm not picky.
Thanks to all who read. Every hit makes me happy. …that makes me sound like a junkie. Oh, let's face it. I kind of am. For reviews. ~ G