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Phantom Duets

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A certain karaoke establishment in Shinjuku, in addition to the gratuitous alcohol and resulting gratuitous making a complete ass of oneself, nonetheless provided an excellent opportunity for unwinding from their varying commitments. Even though said commitments had started to branch off considerably from their secondary school days and Futaba naturally required somewhat more prodding, a certain Friday night was perfect for such an outing. Famous as their exploits may have been in another world, here, no one paid any extra attention to a gathering of early 20-somethings, save for the one employee who, for whatever reason, simply did not seem to belong.

Of course, he'd had a couple of drinks already, but it scarcely mattered to Akira whether the liquor was the source of the unusual warmth at his core or the woman on stage with him- kind, genuine, caring Ann Takamaki, he still could not help but be illuminated by her very presence after all this time, let alone her smile. Not even the weird, rat-pack asshole at the bar on the other side of the room occasionally staring at him could dampen his spirit. At Ryuji's prodding, the couple had accepted the suggestion to start, staying in line with the theme night of duets.

"Okay!" chirped Ann, sapphire eyes fixed dreamily on her lover. "Not too thrilled with my singing voice, but we're going to be doing something special! Our song, if you will."

If she had audibly sighed in exasperation, it would not have surprised Makoto in the least, knowing she was in for a few minutes (at least) of aggravation as the track started, piano backing very apparent, not helped at all given the three extremely-important exams on Monday for which she was currently studying. At Ann's part in the duet, Makoto rolled her eyes at the woman's (false?) humility, throwing back the contents of the glass in front of her, taking care not to spill the liquor on her notes.

So it wasn't enough that she was a completely stacked, blue-eyed blonde who got the amorous attention of men (and she was reasonably sure her friend Shiho as well) effortlessly, but she had to have the singing voice of an angel too, wondered Makoto irritably. Hell, the woman's part in the duet almost seemed bragging about her relationship ("The stars above light the way, only for you and I!") with the man!

Fine, let the slut have her singing voice too, the overworked prodigy thought savagely. SOME of us actually have to use our brains to get somewhere in the world.

If there was some kind of god or deity, Makoto was starting to get the impression that he/she/it really fucking hated her.

("Just be strong, and you're sure, to find the one, the one, the one!"Bull-fucking-shit, Akira, Makoto thought even more venomously. Unless you want to start thinking the head on your shoulders instead of the one in your pants, that is.


Needless to say, it was a relief, both for her focus and her blood pressure to find the lovers' duet at an end. Then again, Makoto was not exactly doing either any favors by pilfering Ryuji's drink as well. Not that he actually paid it much notice. "Ever wondered what Yusuke's singin' voice sounded like?" he inquired. "I mean, I keep hearing chicks talk about how much they love his voice-"

"Can't be THAT great." remarked Futaba airily. "I mean, he's almost as much a weirdo as I am!"

Surprisingly enough however, it was his rather-shy fiance who spoke first, explaining her reasoning for her choice. "I j-just want to perform this song with this wonderful man." explained Hifumi, one of her rare smiles directed at the artist. "This kind, passionate, gorgeous man who showed me how beautiful this world really is."

This one actually was not nearly as irritating for Makoto. The music was not exactly nostalgic; it was more evocative of Sae's childhood than her own, more than anything. Nonetheless, her habit of snarky, intrusive, internal quips made itself known as their duet wound down. Well, Miss Shogi Venus. It may be a new world for YOU, but SOME of us still have to work in it. And besides; all they were really doing was congratulating themselves consummating their relationship with the approval of society, it didn't make them special; literally every one of their ancestors had done it, she thought bitterly. Even if she had not herself, Makoto could obviously see that!

Rightfully known as a rather excitable individual, Ryuji was now rather eager to join in himself, seeing how much fun his friends were having. "C'mon!" he implored playfully, gently grasping one of Futaba's wrists.

Giggling somewhat tipsily, the eccentric smiled at him. "Oh, why the hell not?"

Never much of a drinker, Futaba stumbled slightly in locating the song she had in mind on the console for her and Ryuji. But surely enough for a male-female duet, it was there. She could not explain it in the slightest, but that classic electric guitar solo was just somehow enervating. Ryuji's largely-butchered French an octave deeper than his usual tone of course getting her going on some level, the choice in song was not simply interesting for that reason alone; emulating the husky, feminine part, along with the subject matter of the song, the idea of herself as one half of an unbreakable pair of lovers ready to die for each other the country (and world) were simultaneously terrified of and fascinated by was extremely interesting for Futaba- it made her feel powerful- sexy even. For a young woman with a past and psychology like hers? It was an intoxicating sensation indeed.

Whether sincerely (or in Makoto's case, not so much), the youths cheered and applauded the pair, Yusuke semi-seriously calling encore!

"Nah, not tonight." Ryuji replied. "What was with the frog language anyway?"

"Oh, what do you care?" Futaba answered lightly. "It was fun!"

"Yeah, it was."

Clasping his hands in anticipation, Yusuke's expression lit up. "Let's see...that's myself and Hifumi, Akira and Ann, Ryuji and Futaba...who's next?"


Before Haru could speak up, Makoto, unable to focus on her notes with the gaudy lighting and booming music and only able to focus on being the seventh wheel in this arrangement (particularly for the man and woman who had planned the outing), rose from her seat. He really DID give love a bad name, she thought angrily. Leading her on like that for months on end! "Thanks, but I have to go." she said shortly. "I really do have to study."

Brushing past the blonde with a passive-aggressive huff, one of the targets of her ire did in fact, take notice. "Well! What crawled up her butt and died?!" an offended Ann inquired.

"Ah, let it go, babe." Akira remarked dismissively. "You know how high-strung Makoto is. Besides, I've probably never seen her drink in all the time we've known her; chances are, the booze just didn't agree with her."

And speaking of not agreeing with oneself, Haru's mood turned increasingly somber; one of these days, she told herself sadly. One of these days, she was going to muster up the courage to pour her heart out to her Mako-chan. Even if the suspense, fear, and bottled-up emotions nearly killed her. What was I thinking? What kind of coward tries to confess her feelings to her (female) best friend with a karaoke duet to a twenty-year old foreign pop song?! But it just felt so right! Almost as though the lyrics sung by one (or both) of the young ladies could have come from her own lips! Mother, Father, forgive me, indeed, Haru thought despondently.

"Oh, I'll go!" Haru chimed in, her tone far cheerier than her actual mood.

"The stage is yours, Haru." Yusuke answered.

It was a depressing song written for a depressing moment (in a mildly-dark-but-not-terribly-depressing movie), but the cultural differences at play notwithstanding, Haru identified intimately with the song's lyrics; hell, upon first hearing it, she'd had to keep herself from tearing up just from how strongly she identified with it; particularly seeing that she did not in fact, recognize the reflection looking back at her; that being herself, would (and did) in fact, break her family's heart.