When she came to, her phone lay right where she dropped it, flipped open with its screen dark. When she checked the time, she realized she had only been out for a minute. When she finally gathered the nerve to call the producer, her hands were trembling as she pressed the buttons on the keypad. Carefully, she picked herself up off the floor and listened to the digitized ringing through the earpiece. One ring. Two rings. Three rings. A click.
"Hello?" the producer answered. He sounded pained, although the panic from before had receded. She noted this immediately, and unconsciously, she began to relax as well.
"Hello, producer," she responded. Indeed, there was nothing to stress over. It was a baseless rumor, falsified facts, and someone had clearly been stalking them, so a few arrests and lawsuits were in order. Even as she thought this, however, a strange pang ate away at her heart, one that she couldn't quite see the reason for (No, she knew the reason for it, but she refused to think of it). "I saw the text."
"I see. Are you alright?" he asked, nervous. She could picture him wringing his hands together in a bad habit of his, and despite the severity of the situation, she allowed a small smile to grace her lips.
"I am fine," she told him. "It... It was a shock, but nothing I shouldn't have expected considering the nature of the idol industry."
He seemed hesitant to respond. "While... that is true, this article is quite extreme and I've never seen so many accusations and assumptions and falsified images targeted at idols before. To get the news stirred up to this degree is an even stranger occurrence."
Somewhere in the background, she heard a rather indignant and girly "Pigs! The lot of them! I bet this is Kuroi's fault!".
"Iori, c- calm down!" another high-pitched and feminine voice pleaded. Yayoi, Chihaya realized.
"Producer, is everyone at the office right now?" she asked, curious at the explosion of noise following Iori's outburst. Through the poor quality of the phone, she could make out Ami and Mami's telltale outbursts, and then Makoto's strong voice pierced through the resounding chaos calling for silence. After a few seconds, they obeyed.
"Almost everyone," the producer admitted. "Ritsuko stormed out earlier to the police station. We're pressing charges against the photographer."
"I see." Her voice came out monotone. A moment passed before a thought struck her in the head. "Is Haruka there?" she asked, a vague sense of dread clawing at her heart. The uneasiness she had fought off now returned tenfold and, immediately, she didn't know what to do or how to feel anymore.
"Yes," the producer answered, sounding troubled. "Do you want to speak... with her?"
Did she? She recalled, with a hard swallow, the sheer happiness and peace she felt with Haruka that night at dinner, where she was at home and safe and loved in some way. Then in a swift flash, she saw the newspaper, its heading large and bold and offensive, and the images (those private images that no one should have ever seen) of their dinner together and the other images that were falsified and vulgar, offensive to the point where she had flushed furiously at the stray thought of "what if that was really Haruka and me?" Could she bring herself to speak to her friend even when she thought of such inappropriate feelings between them and wished for them to be true?
That was the problem, she realized now. She didn't care one bit about the public so long as she could continue singing. What she did care for, however, was what Haruka thought about the implication, the mere implication, of a relationship between them because that would tell volumes about what she really felt for Chihaya. She was torn between wanting to know and being too afraid of the truth to find out.
The simple urge to hear Haruka's voice won out over the jumbled arguments swimming around her mind, and she answered, "Yes, if you could please. I want to talk with her."
She did not expect the long wait that followed and the answer she eventually received.
"I'm sorry," the producer apologized. The chatter of the other idols had disappeared a while ago, and the silence in the background was disconcerting, she thought. Then her thoughts slipped away with his next statement. "Haruka... She... Doesn't want to talk with you."
The world blurred before her eyes and she gripped the edge of the nearby counter to steady herself, the words threatening to knock her off her feet. "Why?" she asked, fighting to keep her voice from betraying the torrent of emotions that flitted through her mind. Hurt, sadness and anger: she couldn't decipher which one it was or if she was capable of feeling all at once. The underlying sentiment, however, was confusion.
There was another pause, and then, "She won't say. I don't know what's wrong."
She was at a loss. What could be wrong? Surely... Surely Haruka, bright and happy and ever steadfast and strong, surely she wasn't feeling uneasy at the rumours? Haruka should know, out of all people, that they were false! And Haruka, of all people, wouldn't be uncomfortable with her simply because the rumours claimed they were in an illicit relationship with one another. She wasn't prejudiced in the slightest. She had too much love for that.
"Chihaya? Chihaya, are you still there?" the producer asked.
Her breath came out shallow and faint. The counter underneath her fingertips moved of its own accord and, following the movement, her hand began to duplicate itself. Blinking rapidly, she tried to control her breathing and focus her vision on a small scratch on the counter, all to no avail. If anything, the spinning increased in velocity, and with one more shuddering breath, she bent over to the side and threw up.
Hearing her retching, the producer's voice shouted in a panic, "Chihaya! Chihaya, stay calm. I'm coming over right away!"
She tried to answer, but more bile rose up her throat when she opened her mouth and she forgot about him and anything that didn't pertain to reaching the bathroom and preventing more of her floor from being stained with acid and half-digested chunks of food.
Someone was pounding heavily on her door, she tiredly realized, moving from her slumped position on the bathroom floor to weakly grasp the sink and pull herself up. Her reflection mocked her from the mirror, and she noted with disgust her pallid and sickly color and frazzled hair sticking up at odd angles. The pounding increased in frustration, and someone was shouting through the door now, so she pushed the bathroom door open, exited the cramped quarters and made her way to the entrance of her home, leaning dependently on the wall along the way.
She fumbled with the lock upon reaching her destination, listening to the incessant pounding, opened the door, and swung it impatiently inward. Through her blurry vision, she almost didn't react in time with the fist that came flying at her face. She let out a small squeak of surprise and instinctively stepped backward, tripping over her feet in the process and falling on her bottom, thereby avoiding a potentially broken nose.
Luckily nothing felt damaged save for a sharp ache in her rear end, and in the few tense seconds of silence that followed, she looked up to see the producer, shock written all over his tired face. Someone else, however, reacted when neither of them moved.
"Chihaya!" a familiar voice called. To Chihaya's surprise (and relief and anxiety and panic and joy), a mop of brown hair and concerned green eyes pushed past the producer's black suit and rushed to kneel down by her side. Her breathing was erratic, Chihaya noted, and her flushed and sweaty face spoke volumes about her worry, but she couldn't swallow the feeling of rejection she had felt over the phone less than an hour ago.
A wave of nausea hit her once more, and the rejection quickly vanished from her mind to be replaced with silent cursing and discomfort. With nothing left to vomit, she started to dry heave painfully on the floor.
"Chihaya, oh gosh, Producer, can you help me get her into her room?" Haruka's voice sounded muffled even though she knew that the girl was right next to her, barely a foot away, her warm hand on Chihaya's cold and shaking shoulder. Her vision was going black, she noted distractedly, the room fading in and out of her vision, then all the noises she heard began to echo and fade into the far off distance, a gentle darkness descending like a cloud over her head.
The next hour or two was difficult for Chihaya to recall. Two pairs of arms encircled her body and carried her off to bed, then as soon as she was tucked under the covers, she felt Haruka's soft fingers pry open her mouth and make her swallow a couple pills with some water. There was simply a nothingness that followed.
When her eyes finally fluttered open, small rays of sunlight streamed through her window and casted a golden glow around her sparsely decorated room. The time, she gathered, was very early morning, or rather, she was witnessing the sunrise which in turn meant that she had slept through all of yesterday afternoon and the entire night. Or, she frowned, she had slept for more than a day and remained unconscious for quite some time, although that option was unlikely. In any case, time aside, she felt awful. Her throat burned from the retching, she thought back with a grimace, and her body felt devoid of energy despite the long rest she had had.
A faint groan caught her attention, shaking her out of her mental self-examination, and she looked down the side of her bed to see Haruka stirring sleepily from where she laid on the covers. Had she, Chihaya wondered, spent the night sleeping in that position?
"Oh, my neck," Haruka sleepily muttered, a hand moving slowly up to rub the aforementioned area. The girl's obvious stiffness answered Chihaya's question, and a small bit of sympathy wedged its way between the hurt and confusion she continued to harbor.
As gently as she could manage, she opened her mouth and called out, asking, "Haruka?" She expected the girl to be startled, but instead, Haruka turned her head on the bed and beamed a sideways smile at her, the sunlight casting a radiant glow about her body. Her green eyes sparkled and met her own brown ones with unwavering strength, strength that held her in place and forbade her to do anything but burn the sight into her memory.
"Good morning, Chihaya," she greeted, moving a hand to playfully wave at her. Finally sitting up in her seat, the girl yawned and stretched her arms above her head, pressing her petite chest forward and stretching the fabric of her t-shirt against her slim stomach. Cheeks burning, Chihaya averted her eyes to the side, body too weak to turn her neck. "Did you sleep well?"
"I think I did," Chihaya quietly answered, closing her eyes. She was actually exhausted, but she didn't want to worry the girl any more than she already was. When she next opened her eyes, Haruka's face was hovering mere inches away from her own and her heart jumped up her throat in response. Their eyes locked on once more, though this time neither of them dared to break the contact. She could really do this forever, Chihaya thought, stare at those green irises and those soft cheeks and alluring lips and thin eyebrows and brown bangs and the small curve of delicate nose–
A strange gurgling rumbled from the depths of her belly, destroying their connection while simultaneously sending Haruka backward into a small fit of giggles. Chihaya was far from amused, by contrast, and instantly missed the intimacy they shared mere seconds ago.
"Hungry?" the ribbon-adorned girl asked.
"Not particularly. This feels unpleasant," Chihaya grimaced, laying a hand over her stomach. "I'm not sure what I'm feeling right now."
"Maybe those are butterflies in your stomach?" Haruka asked, eyes sparkling with mischief.
Chihaya blinked. "What?"
"Nevermind," Haruka sighed, spurring Chihaya to crease her eyebrows together in cluelessness. Shaking her head to herself, she straightened up and stood up, stretching at the waist and working out the stiffness in her bed. "Your tummy's probably reacting to the medicine I gave you," she told the bedridden girl between stretches.
"Medicine?" Chihaya remembered being fed pills, of course, but she was more preoccupied with the previous comment about butterflies than wondering why she needed the pills in the first place. Nonetheless, she devoted a portion of her brain to find out. "Why did I need medicine? I'm guessing this is related to why I suddenly vomited all over our apartment."
"Our apartment?" Haruka repeated, staring at Chihaya with an unplaceable emotion.
She twitched under the safety of her covers and, quickly realizing what she had said, flushed a light shade of red and turned her gaze to the ceiling. "Y- Yes, our apartment," she forced out meekly.
Eyes fixed on the blue-haired girl in the following awkward silence, Haruka pondered for a few moments and, upon seeing that Chihaya would speak no more, forged bravely forward. "A- Anyway, um, if you haven't figured it out yet, you food poisoned yourself with your attempt at cooking that chicken stir-fry yesterday. I had a gut feeling that was what happened when the producer ran into the lounge, panicking because he heard you throwing up over the phone," Haruka sheepishly explained. "You should always wash your knife after handling raw meat before moving on to cut the vegetables, Chihaya; how many times do I need to tell you that?"
To her defense, she thought she did, but knowing that it would be better to apologize without putting up a fight, she muttered, "I'm sorry." Though Haruka didn't look angry, Chihaya knew that she was, at the very least, mildly disappointed in her; mildly only because she was paying the consequence for her mistake and very painfully so.
"As long as you don't do it again, but I don't think you'll be trying for a while," Haruka said dryly, cracking a small smile to show that she never originally intended to withhold her forgiveness.
"Why won't I be trying?" Chihaya asked.
"Well, we're both going to be stuck here until the–" Haruka cut herself off and turned as white as a sheet, quickly turning the atmosphere thick with tension.
Until the newspaper incident is handled, Chihaya finished in her mind. "Nothing to be done about that," Chihaya softly murmured. "Nothing at all." She bit back what she really wanted to say, the accusations she wanted to hurl, the hurt she wanted to express.
They remained, unmoving, and watched dust particles float on beams of sunlight.
"I'll go fix you something to eat now. You haven't eaten or drank anything for a couple of hours," Haruka said, hurriedly walking out. Chihaya watched her go, wrestling with the turmoil inside her chest as she contemplated the past two days and Haruka's strange behavior.
When the green-eyed girl later returned with soup and a glass of water in hand, Chihaya was passed out on her pillow, a troubled expression etched onto her face.
"Why are you here?"
Back turned, the short-haired girl's shoulders stiffened in surprise and turned to face the bedridden girl. "What do you mean?" Haruka asked. She hadn't expected her to wake at such an odd hour, although, she mused, Chihaya's sleeping schedule had been tremendously thrown off after her food poisoning fit. She observed Chihaya's hazel eyes, which were startlingly aware considering the amount of hours the girl had slept. "Isn't this our apartment?"
"Sure, it's our apartment, but," she growled quietly, "I wondered why you came here to see me if you didn't even want to talk with me over the phone."
It took a second for Haruka to remember what Chihaya was speaking of. "Oh," she said. "Oh. Well..."
Bright, pale moonlight flowed from the window, casting a dark shadow over Haruka's face as she turned her gaze to the wall beyond Chihaya's head. Silence so familiar to both of them dominated the room as she fought to come up with an explanation, her face contorting in darkness.
"I–" she started before swallowed the lump in her throat. "I was afraid."
"Afraid?" Chihaya asked. This revelation was unexpected; her eyebrows shot up to her forehead.
"Yes," she meekly confirmed. "Then when you seemed like you were seriously sick, I forgot everything else and rushed over here."
"Hold on," she frowned, shifting herself up into a sitting position and leaning towards the window, "You were afraid? Afraid of what?"
The thick, choking silence forcefully entered once more, and Chihaya burned with frustration and contented herself with staring a hole through the window and into the moon, her mind spinning in circles and churning out absurd thoughts. How wonderful it would be, she gathered, to be one amongst the billion stars and not having a sentient mind to cope with, to simply be a ball of burning gas made to look pretty in the night sky. As an idol was. Treated as some sort of unreachable brightness on a dark stage, refused permission to be human.
The words were so quietly said that Chihaya almost didn't catch them through her net of mad ravings. Then the confusion hit her so hard that she physically recoiled and bumped her head against the wall. "Your what?" she asked, hope crawling its way up through some dark recess of her buried heart. She forced the hope back down, however, once she noted its presence, telling herself that it couldn't be that, wouldn't be that, was definitely everything but that.
Haruka shook her head. "W- Wait, before I say anything, can I ask you something?" Her face was ashen with fear.
"Yes?" She watched Haruka bite her lip and cross her arms protectively around her chest, shifting her stance stiffly and uncomfortably.
"The article in the newspaper... does it bother you?"
There it was, the question they were both wondering and had been too afraid to touch, laid open in the air between them and hung suspended without answer.
"Not really," she answered truthfully. Squirming underneath blankets, she closed her eyes and sighed. "It doesn't matter what people believe or don't believe about me, as long as I can keep singing."
"As expected from you, Chihaya." Haruka gave a weak smile which quickly vanished as soon as it came. "You're always focused on your dream, so determined to continue on your path, and," she softly uttered, almost inaudible, "I've always admired you for it."
Her heart leapt up her throat, her mouth ran dry, and she licked her lips nervously several times before allowing herself to look at Haruka's still white form. The hope she thought she'd killed returned, and she tried to remember how to breathe normally under normal circumstances. This was it, she thought. This was her chance to make everything right. She wasn't stupid, but she was terrified, gut-wrenchingly fearful of the consequences of her impending actions.
But she couldn't go through life without taking chances, and she didn't think she could go on living without taking this particular risk.
"Your admiration for me, is that the feeling you've been afraid of?" she forced out.
Haruka's green eyes glowed in the moonlight when her head turned up to face hers.
"Yes," she whispered. There was so much pain in her pale face, so much anguish and confusion and fear and terror and uncertainty, so much of... so much of what Chihaya had been feeling that she almost found it laughable how their feelings mirrored each other's. All of their feelings mirrored each other's. Happiness exploded in her chest and she fought to keep a stupid grin from spreading across her face.
"You didn't need to be afraid," she croaked. She was right, she had to be right, there was no other way of interpreting the situation.
"But! But I'm not supposed to have these feelings! I'm not supposed to tell you them! It's not fair to you if I burden you with them–" She stopped suddenly, newfound horror dawning on her face. "I just told you them..."
She couldn't help it; she giggled. Haruka turned to her in surprise, eyes wet with unshed tears, sniffing twice. "Haruka," she said, reaching a hand out toward the girl and waiting patiently for Haruka to move for it.
"Your overexcitement has always been something I loved about you," Chihaya smiled softly. "It's unbearably cute."
"Chihaya?" Haruka repeated herself dumbly.
"Come here, Haruka," Chihaya commanded, not unkindly. Slowly, Haruka moved to action, taking the few steps to land next to Chihaya's bed. Once she was within range, Chihaya leaned forward and grasped Haruka's hand, beamed up at her, and lightly tugged her to sit down. She obeyed without question.
"Chihaya." This time her name was spoken with an unplaceable emotion, simply her name and just her name.
"If I'm correct," Chihaya started, pulling Haruka closer so their faces were within a couple inches of each other, "then our feelings have been running on parallel tracks and neither one of us knew it." She leaned forward just a bit more and placed her forehead on top of Haruka's, gazing deeply into green, sparkling irises. They were muddled with confusion, but gradually, they became clear with understanding, the understanding giving way to disbelief, the disbelief changing into happiness.
"Does this mean...?" Haruka was too petrified to finish.
"I think so," Chihaya laughed.
"Really?" Haruka inhaled sharply.
"C- Can you–"
"Haruka." Chihaya used her free hand to cup the girl's cheek tenderly and affectionately. "I like you."
Chihaya's face flushed as she confessed; however, Haruka's flushed an even deeper red than hers. A few incoherent stutters followed soon after. Then:
"I- I like you more!"
Chihaya's blush deepened to match Haruka's, and she found herself laughing at Haruka's confession with a carefree attitude she didn't know she was capable of. The laughter quickly died once they both returned to reality, their close proximity turning them back to serious contemplation.
Their eyes closed. Their hearts beat rapidly in their chests, ribcages bursting with every pulse. Their minds were alight with turmoil, but the heaviness of their thoughts abandoned them to leave them light headed and giddy again. Their breaths intermingled. Then Haruka's lip turn downed in slight disgust and the girl pulled away. "Chihaya, you haven't brushed your teeth in quite some time," she told her, half-amused, half-disappointed.
Chihaya, for her part, flushed. "It's not my fault."
"But it actually is. You gave yourself food poisoning," Haruka pointed out. Her voice was meant to be stern, but she couldn't help the giggle that escaped her a mouth not a second later, giving way to laughter as Chihaya flushed an even darker shade.
Almost as if on cue, a loud growl came from the bedridden girl's stomach and she groaned. "I never did eat, did I?"
"I'll be right back," Haruka told her, laughter dying. "Let me go reheat your soup, and after you've eaten, we can get you to the bathroom to clean yourself up."
Haruka stopped. "Yes?" An ear-splitting smile was fixed upon her face, and Chihaya froze at how happy the girl was before she realized that an ear-splitting smile was on her own face as well, their joy mutual. She shook her slightly.
"Nevermind, we can talk later," she told her finally. "I feel fairly weak, but–" She brought Haruka's hand, having never let it go since she grabbed it, up to her mouth and placed a chaste kiss on her knuckles. "I hope this is enough to make up for my, um, breath," she blushed, her breath hot on Haruka's skin.
"We have plenty of time to make up for everything," Haruka blushed. "Plenty."
"Can you confirm the rumors about the true nature of your relationship?"
"Are the pictures featured in the article real?"
"How long have you two been living with each other?"
"What does your production company have to say about this?"
"Have there been any other illicit idol-idol relationships that you two know of amongst your friends?"
"One at a time!" the producer shouted, holding his hands out against the crowd of reporters that surged at the table on the stage. Chihaya looked nervously over at Haruka, but the girl was smiling brightly and emitting a confident, unwavering aura, a complete contrast to Chihaya's own timid stature slumped in her seat.
"I don't think this press conference was such a good idea," she whispered into Haruka's ear, leaning so that her hair brushed Haruka's shoulder. The second she did so, however, a flash of bright light hit her out of the corner of her eyes, and she shut them in pain, bright stars dotting her vision.
"Hey, no pictures!" the producer yelled, snatching somebody's camera.
"Actually, I wanted to do this," Haruka said. Chihaya stared at her.
"What? Why?" she asked, horrified. By now, she had tuned out the chaos of the crowd in front of her and focused on trying to hear Haruka's voice over the clamour of the war against the reporters that their producer was so valiantly trying to fight.
"Hey! You! Where's your pass!?" the producer roared, pointing at someone in the crowd.
"Watch," Haruka darkly smirked, a look so terrifying that Chihaya felt her blood run cold in her veins. Not even two days into their newfound relationship and she was already cowering under Haruka's command. The ribboned girl cleared her throat into the microphone on the table, wincing slightly as a sharp tone of feedback echoed over the crowd, silencing their rowdiness as she caught their attention. "Excuse me, but Chihaya and I have only one thing to say. The true nature of our relationship is nobody's business, and we are simply idols trying to be idols. And with that said–"
Haruka grasped Chihaya's chin, turned her head to face her own and laid a passionate kiss on her lips.
The crowd and the producer stared, stunned, silent for approximately five seconds before all hell broke loose. On Chihaya's part, she was terrified, but then she shrugged her shoulders, closed her eyes, and grabbed the back of Haruka's head, threading her fingers through soft brown hair and deepening the kiss. They separated with a small smack.
Chihaya turned to the chaos and smiled, grabbing the microphone. "We're just friends," she told them, laughing. "Just friends, of course."
Then Haruka grabbed her again and they were running their way off the stage, into the back hallways, and out for the exit.
A/N: And it's done. Huge thanks to Nishizono who took the time to really go through all the details and carefully PR this. Thanks, Bro.
I FINALLY FINISHED SOMETHING BEYOND A ONESHOT. This is a milestone for me. Also, this is double the length of the first chapter, but whatever. Who said I was good at pacing?
The amount of line breaks in this disgusts me, but I couldn't think of anything else to do that wouldn't bump this up another 1000 words, and I really didn't want to do that.
Hope you enjoyed.