It all began because Reni wanted to be a good neighbor.
Which, honestly, should have been the first sign from the universe that Haruto’s day wasn’t going to go well.
“Why do I have to?” he complained as he accepted the gift basket.
“Because you are the number one actor in God Troupe,” his Director told him. “This comes with the burden of being the representative of sorts for us. Congratulations on being promoted to ambassador.”
“I don’t want to be an ambassador to those guys,” Haruto muttered under his breath.
“We’re trying to rebuild the burnt bridge, Haruto.”
“Have we considered that perhaps we should just let the bridge stay kind of burnt?”
Reni tilted his head to the side.
Haruto sighed and gave up. “Fine. I’ll go drop it off.”
“Take Ikaruga with you.”
Reni waved a hand in the air. “He has more connections to the current generation there than we do. Through the powers of social media, he’s stayed in contact with his brother and a handful of Mankai Company’s actors around his age group.”
So Madoka was roped into the delivery as well.
“I told Masumi that we would be arriving soon,” Madoka said in his ever-soft voice as they walked down the street. “He’s sent forward a list of ways to ensure our visit will be orderly and safe.”
Haruto could barely stop himself from rolling his eyes and scoffing. Orderly and safe? What was this, some kind of rollercoaster ride? Keep your arms and legs within the vehicle at all times?
“He says no asking questions.”
“Hah? We’re God Troupe, we’ll ask any questions we want.”
Madoka hesitated. “I think… Well, I truly believe that he’s sending this advice as a way to help us avoid trouble, if I may be so bold to say. Rather than as a way to assert some kind of dominance or superiority.”
Haruto didn’t know what to make of that.
They approached the door, about to ring the doorbell and make their presence known, when the door burst open and someone came out.
Madoka tripped in his scramble backwards and nearly fell over until he was caught.
“Whoa, dude, you good?” Banri asked as he set Madoka straight on his feet.
Madoka blinked and then nodded. He bowed. “Yes, thank you.”
“Cool. Stay safe, bro.” Banri walked off, humming under his breath and hands in his pockets.
Haruto watched him leave. “Huh. Seems like a nice guy. Good to know MANKAI’s got at least one polite individual."
“Quite so, I agree.” Madoka stepped aside and let Haruto ring the doorbell of Mankai’s dormitories.
That blonde one from Autumn Troupe opened it.
“God Troupe?” he asked, brow furrowing.
Haruto presented the gift basket and forced the very marrow of his bones deep inside of him to assist in stopping him from sneering. “Director Kamikizaka delivers this with his well wishes and hopes to retain a good relationship between our companies.”
Sakyo accepted the cellophane-swathed basket and stared at the several boxes of chocolates within.
“No bubblewrap?” he asked in a tight voice.
“I see.” He stepped aside and gestured. “Would you like to come in for a cup of tea, then?”
No, Haruto wished he could say. Instead, he threw on his most winning smile. “That would be lovely.”
Madoka shuffled in first, obviously more at ease than the older felt. “Thank you very much. Banri was also very kind to us when we met a few minutes ago.”
Sakyo flinched. “Settsu?”
“Yes. He was humming. I suppose he’s been having a good day."
“Settsu was… humming,” he repeated in a strangely quavering voice. “You wouldn’t happen to. Ahem. Know what key it was in, would you?”
“D major,” Madoka said softly without hesitation.
Sakyo stumbled backwards and slapped a hand on the wall to steady himself. “Oh no.”
Haruto was very confused. Rightfully so, in his opinion. “What? What’s wrong with someone singing in D major?”
“Perhaps I’d agree with you if it was simply ‘someone,’” Sakyo snapped as he took out his wallet from his pocket. “Unfortunately, this is not ‘someone’ but Settsu, ergo…” He began to rifle through his wallet. He let out a sigh of relief. “All of my credit cards are still there.”
“Huh? Why wouldn’t they be?” Haruto asked.
“Settsu was humming. It’s happened before.”
What the hell was going on in Mankai company?
The two watched in wonder as Sakyo reached for a walkie talkie clipped onto his belt.
“This is Furuichi,” he said, and Haruto jumped when he heard Sakyo’s voice blaring on the dorm’s intercoms. The dorms had intercoms? “Code mauve. I repeat. It is a code mauve. All company members, please report to the living room.”
Then Sakyo turned around and marched further into the building.
“Code mauve?” Haruto repeated as he followed after him.
“Mauve is specifically Settsu.”
They had codes?
People began to filter through from the woodworks to gather in the living room. Haruto didn’t have a list of MANKAI Company’s complete roster in his mind but he figured that maybe half of them were there.
Then he promptly jumped back to avoid being barreled over by a white and brown blur.
Izumi skidded on the floor in her socks, pinwheeling her arms to stay balanced.
“It’s a code mauve?” the Director asked, radiating nervous energy.
Sakyo clenched his jaw. “Settsu was reported to be humming.”
Izumi’s face went a ghastly shade of white. She reached for her wallet and checked. “I still have all of my cards. Oh, hey, Haruto, Madoka. What’re you guys here for?"
“We brought a gift basket,” Madoka told her.
“Awwww, that’s so nice! Thank you!”
Sakyo seized her by her shoulders and jostled her a little. “D major, Director.”
Haruto was never going to figure them out.
Izumi pointed to Kazunari, fraught with an odd terror. “Is Ireland okay?!”
Kazunari didn’t look up from his phone but he did raise a thumbs up. “Ireland is just fine, Director, not a single trending hashtag!”
It felt like every passing moment in these walls was like getting punched in the face, honestly. Haruto was this close to tossing his hands in the air, throwing the towel in, and leaving to go take a relaxing bath and forget MANKAI Company existed. “I’m sorry, why are you worried about Ireland now?”
Izumi didn’t even look at him. “Banri’s been feuding with the Irish government on Twitter for about two weeks. No harm in making sure he hasn’t instigated a coup.”
“Your actor’s… been what?”
Sakyo rubbed his forehead. “Before Ireland, it was France.”
“And then before France it was the Vatican,” Sakuya added, piping up from the back.
“Banri doesn’t like Europe,” Izumi told Haruto and Madoka quite frankly.
The two could only stare at her.
“And you just let him?” Haruto blurted out.
“Listen, Banri’s older sister made him promise not to feud with the our government which means he considers every other country’s politicians free game to heckle,” Izumi said with a face that betrayed how tired she was. “If it helps, we’ve only been banned from Iceland as a whole, so it’s honestly not too bad.”
“You’ve been banned from Iceland?”
Masumi raised his face and narrowed his eyes. Madoka immediately tugged on Haruto’s sleeve.
“Don’t ask questions while we’re here,” he whispered.
Haruto turned his wide-eyed stare to the playwright. “But they just said—?!”
Haruto closed his mouth.
The tall one from Autumn shuffled in from the kitchen holding a pink box tied together with string.
“Masumi let us know you were coming,” Omi said as he held the box out to Madoka. “We didn’t have any gift baskets on hand but your brother told me you liked donuts a while ago so I whipped together a batch. I hope you like them."
Madoka stared at the box in his hands, wonder shining in his eyes, and then back up to Omi.
“Thank you very much,” the young man said. “I’ve never… I’ve never had homemade ones before. The box is warm.”
Omi winked at him. “Share them with the other people in your company, alright? We appreciate the gesture on Reni’s part so we’re only returning it.”
Madoka opened his mouth to say something next when two boys clambered out of the hallway.
“WHAT DAY IS IT?” Taichi cried. “Oh, huh, God Troupe’s here.”
“Wednesday!” Kazunari called.
“Oh, thank GOD.” Taichi turned around and slapped a hand on Azami’s arm. “See? We totally escaped! All we had to do was make up.”
Azami looked exhausted. “I never want to live through multiple Tuesdays in a row ever again."
“Yeahhh, I get that, time loops can be really weird and jarring. You get used to it, though, start fighting with a few other people in the troupe and it gets easier.”
“I’d rather not."
Haruto barely remembered to shut his mouth in time. The question I’m sorry, did you just say time loop? was burning in his lungs.
“Torment doll?” Izumi piped up, not even looking up from her laptop.
“You know it, but we managed to work things out.” Taichi patted Azami’s shoulder. “I’m sorry I ate your chips, again."
Azami sighed and shook his head. “No, no. I’m sorry I got so upset about it."
“Let’s never fight again, okay?”
“That’ll probably be for the best, yeah.” Azami’s chin wrinkled ever so slightly. He looked away. "I’m really glad you’re a part of my troupe, Taichi, you’re a good guy.”
Taichi’s eyes watered. He lunged to wrap his arms around Azami and cry. “You’re a good guy too! You’re a really good guy, Azami!”
God, Haruto hated this theatre the more he spent time with them.
Haruto glanced at Tasuku. For all of their animosity, he was the only person there that Haruto felt comfortable enough asking. “Does this sort of thing happen a lot?”
Tasuku raised his eyes to the ceiling. He seemed to be thinking about something. “You know what, yeah. Huh. I guess I never really noticed it but things are a lot more frenzied and random than they were during my time at God Troupe. You know I had to help three different people give birth this week?”
“I’m… sorry, you what?”
“I’m at as much of a loss as you are. I’ve been prepping for a doctor role in our upcoming play and almost as though the universe is demanding I get hands on experience, people have been continuously going into labor when I’m on my morning jogs.” Tasuku rubbed his face, looking exhausted. “I don’t get it. If you’re nine months pregnant, stay home."
Azuma chuckled as he pat Tasuku’s shoulder drifting by. “Tasuku's on his way to becoming a certified midwife, what a dear.”
“I majored in theater and here I am, doing what the health system should be doing. Tsk.”
Haruto was not going to ask.
Someone kicked the door open.
“Direeeectoooooor!” Misumi called with a box in his arms. “I brought back the hamsters!”
“Oh, that’s great! Thank you, Misumi!”
Misumi’s eyes widened as he spotted his little brother and he skipped over with glee. “Madokaaaaa! You’re visiting, huh?”
“Dropping off a gift basket. Why the hamsters, big brother?” Madoka asked curiously.
“Ahhhh, Citron lost something so I’m going to ask the hamsters to help us look in the hard-to-reach areas!” Misumi set the box down and put his hands on his hips. “Alright, gentlemen. Are we ready?”
Haruto watched incredulously as the hamsters went into formation and saluted, squeaking the affirmative.
Misumi pointed down the hall. “Let’s go, go, go!”
The hamsters crawled out of the box and like some sort of sentient fluffy carpeting, bulldozed their way down the dormitories, scattering to check under doorways and scurry into vents.
They could speak to animals here. And there were time loops. And also feuding with governments. And random twists of the universe. Whatever.
Haruto wanted to go back to God Troupe so badly.
“What did he lose?” Madoka asked.
“This thingy that’s supposed to be really symbolically important to keeping peace between Japan and Zafra. I dunno, I don’t really read Tsuzuru’s e-mails in depth.”
Haruto jumped when he felt someone nudge his back. Azuma was there with a cup of tea.
“The company can be a little confusing on days like this,” the beauty murmured teasingly. “Tea for the nerves?”
Haruto found himself tongue-tied. “Uh. Bwuh. Pfft. Thank you.”
Good lord, that man was visually stunning.
The front door opened again.
“HE’S HERE,” Izumi shrieked as she got off of the couch. “BANRI SETTSU.”
“I DIDN’T DO IT,” Banri roared immediately.
“I HAVEN’T EVEN ACCUSED YOU YET?"
“DON’T CARE, I DIDN’T DO IT.”
Sakyo forced the college student to sit down in front of them all. “Come clean right now, Settsu. Why were you humming. It’s easier if you let us know now so we can deal with the fallout.”
Banri’s jaw dropped. “Are you fucking serious? You guys are already jumping to giving me the third degree because I hummed? This is some bullshit infringement on my right to express myself freely, I hope you know.”
“Cut the shit, Settsu, which country was it? Ireland? Hungary? Which was it."
“FUCK you, old man, I didn’t do anything, I was humming because there was a goddamned sale on boba.” Banri angrily shook his cup in the air. “You rancid motherfuckers, this is the last fucking time I choose to do something nice for this company. I went out there and bought boba for all of us and this is how you treat me?”
A second passed.
“Really?” Izumi asked with narrowed eyes. “Boba was it? That’s all?”
“Ah!” Kazunari cried as he stared at his phone screen. “There it is. Hashtag DownWithParliament, trending in Ireland.”
“Fuck,” Banri muttered. “I was hoping it would wait until we went to bed.”
Haruto seized Madoka by his wrist and began hauling him away. “Nope. Nope. We’re done with this.”
“Oh, I see. Goodbye, everyone,” Madoka called as he waved goodbye. “Thank you for the donuts."
Misumi was the only one who returned it as the two God Troupe members made their quick escape. “Byeeeee, Madoka! See you next week!"
Reni nibbled on one of Omi’s donut and raised his eyebrows. “Hm. Not awful. They have a rustic charm to them."
“Director?” Haruto asked. Haruto cleared his throat nervously. “I have a hypothetical question. Would you ever make us go on a trip to a deserted island to save money?”
Reni stared at him. “What?”
“No. We have the funds for a hotel, why would I ever willingly send our theater to a deserted island?”
Haruto forged on. “And what if we got pulled into an international conflict somehow?”
“International conflict? We’re a theater company.”
“But what if?”
Reni hesitated. “I suppose we’d deal with it as simply as possible to avoid disrupting the rest of the actors?"
Haruto asked the next question. “What if something happened and, I don’t know, our theater turned out to be cursed? Like, there were ghosts or doors that appeared randomly and led to different universes?”
Reni stared even longer.
“Then we’d move buildings,” he said at last. “Are you quite alright, Haruto? Is this a roundabout way of telling me you’re overworked and you need a week off?”
“No, sir. And I’m sorry if this is unprofessional.” Haruto sniffled and hugged Reni once, an arm around the older man’s shoulders. “Thank you for having some common sense and the want for self-preservation. Truly. It means a lot to me that my job is going to stay stable."