Tonight, we have Ai-chan graduating, and though for me it’s a sad occasion (mostly ‘coz I’ll miss TakaGaki like heck), I really look forward to it (to seeing it I mean >__>). I know this period is meant to be a celebration of everything Ai-chan’s achieved and a warm farewell, but I started planning this one-shot last year, before her graduation announcements. So it’s not so much about Ai-chan as it is about… TakaGaki. I had to change quite a lot of the plan to fit in the graduation scenario but hopefully it’s changed for the better. And sorry, it's really rushed and messy because I only got it finished tonight ;___;
It’s always been about Ai-chan, and there’s no doubt that with this graduation, it’s the case even more so. I’ve already done my fair share of Ai-chan (+Guy-chan ) fangirling, so I’m going to take this chance to level the playing field a little and show my appreciation of Gaki-san. She’s been at service for a long time now, and she’s such a fantastic, hardworking and loving member, and I think it’s fair to say that she’s never quite received the amount of love and respect that she deserves. This is my thanks to both Gaki-san and Ai for everything they’ve achieved thus far, my best wishes to the bean on becoming leader, my congratulations to Ai, and my love for the eternally wonderful AiGaki.
(Little other note: I’ve injected A LOT of my own thoughts/feelings into this; in no way am I trying to accurately capture what the girls really feel… but I have a feeling some of it’s legitimate. To some extent. I also took some actual stuff from hammy’s TakaGaki posts and inserted it here too )
We already have a super heartbreaking post-grad songfic from hammy… omygah that was.. ;____; This is the alternate version of that, the version where there are no regrets.
Anyway... please enjoy! :love:
At the beginning, I was adamant that it would be Risa and me fronting the group – the last two Gokkies. Somehow and somewhere along the way, that person, that second frontwoman came in the form of Tanaka Reina. I never have complained, nor have I ever doubted her for a second – Reina is feisty and ambitious and she’s certainly got the goods to back it up. She’s superbly made for the frontlines.
But Risa? When will her time come then? When I’m gone? When I’m gone…
When I’m gone, Reina will still be leading. Not as the leader, but she’ll be leading, nonetheless. And then that spot that I’m leaving behind, which I want nothing more than to assign Risa (can leaders leave a last will? I’ll have to see into that…), will most likely be filled by some other shoes. Sayu? Riho? I mean… Riho? She’s a little firecracker, that one. And there’s still so much she has to show of herself, to offer.
When Eri, Jun Jun and Lin Lin left, I was looking forward to being able to brush shoulders with Risa during shoots. But the next instant, up popped little Riho... and once again, my fellow Gokkie was pushed that much further away. To say the least, I was taken aback. Fair enough, the 9th generation members need their share of promotion, but so quickly and brazenly like that?
My stomach curls a little when I think back on it all, back to those uneasy moments when we were informed of the single arrangements, from line distribution to positioning in photoshoots. I wasn’t sure what she thought about that, our subleader, but if she’d had any qualms about it, she did more than a good job of hiding them.
I wanted to talk to her about it. Actually, I’ve wanted to talk to her about all this since years and years ago, when I was thrust to the front and she left to hang from behind.
My friend of 10 years, someone I’ve watched working so hard in the same amount of time, has really earned herself some of that limelight. She has 10 years of hard work under her belt – surely she deserves that centre position. I’ve always wanted her to have that happiness.
I thought she’d be getting it, I really did. I know how diligent Risa is, how much bubbling talent she has yet to share.
The logic stands that winners can be choosers, right?
Wrong… she hasn’t had much say in the way things are run, even though Risa has always been a winner to me.
I wonder. Is she happy being on the sidelines? A sidekick rather than a main star? It’s a topic that’s too sensitive for me to even look at, let alone hear anything from her on it.
And in some strange, roundabout way, I want to apologise to her. For all these years. For the popularity I’ve inadvertently garnered for myself, for the attention I haven’t always been able to share with her the way I’ve wanted to.
I’m often told that I’m the ultimate triple threat of talent: the singing, the dancing, the acting. I admit that I’m never satisfied with myself unless I pull out all stops, and a lot of the time even that’s not good enough.
But when she sings, I never want her to stop. When she dances, I want to be closer. When she smiles, I can’t look anywhere else.
I heard from the Rokkies that some fans think of me as a hamster, always missing from DVD and backstage commentaries, as though I’m running away. Admittedly, part of the reason is that sometimes I just don’t know what to say or do (and honestly can’t be bothered to make up something interesting!). But like I said, that’s only part of it; if management demands that I partake in these subsidiary activities and show my face more often, I wouldn’t complain, I’d do it. But mercifully, they’re a little more lax about these lesser, informal things. So if I can, I avoid them completely; if I can’t, I’ll make up something quick and get the hell away. It’s one of the rarer opportunities for me to remove myself and allow the other girls to bask a bit more in the attention. It makes me feel less guilty.
And besides, she’s a lovely talker, Risa. As long as she and the other girls are getting more screen time, I’m happy.
I think about all the photoshoots and lineups and I realise once again, with something sinking inside me like a sack of bricks, that Risa is behind me, Risa is two, three bodies away. I have the biggest urge to step out of line, march over to her (as a statement to the authorities), grab her wrist and pull her back, to me, to my side. She belongs next to me.
It’s long been a fantasy, and I’m painfully conscious of the very little time I have left to see this fantasy through. But during our photoshoot lineup for my last single and I’m actually really considering it, I turn my head to catch Risa’s look – and I see her. In all her beaming radiance. I tell myself maybe she’s happy where she is… I don’t need to raise my voice here, I don’t need to bring attention to this issue that maybe only I’m fabricating in this crazy, little overthinking head of mine.
Her smile, it tames me. It puts to rest some of my uneasiness. I don’t have the heart to interfere with anything anymore.
“Takahashi-san,” one of the crew members call when my moment of distraction is prolonged.
I think about the life that stretches out before me, the boundless possibilities. And without Morning Musume it seems all a little too foreign and inexplicably lonesome.
I’m leaving Morning Musume.
I’m leaving this home I’ve built for myself… the family that I’ve made. Maybe it’s a little dramatic to put it that way; maybe it’s not really a farewell, perhaps it’s more of an I-can’t-wait-to-see-you-later.
The members scatter noisily come the first film break for the day. Risa saunters over from behind and, without a word, slips her arms around my neck, murmuring contentedly as she snuggles up. I can tell right away she knows what I’m thinking.
Well, maybe she doesn’t know what I’m thinking exactly, it would be embarrassing if she really does, but she knows that I’m thinking too much.
Angling my neck so that I can better see her, I find myself looking into strikingly warm eyes, a complete set along with that signature smile that can remedy all pains and discomforts.
This isn’t an easy period for her either. She’s set to become the last Gokkie standing here, and declared leader of not just Morning Musume, but all of Hello! Project. She needs as much reassurance as I do.
I lift my hands and place them on her arms. I smile back at her. It’s all I can give for now.
x x x x x x x x x x x x x x
It’s quiet in the dressing room – the others haven’t arrived yet.
It’s just Ai and Risa. They’d decided that since it was their last concert together as Morning Musume members, they’d savour every little moment, take whatever they could. That, and they needed to quickly go over new proceedings for the night and ensure once again that they could coordinate everything.
Having arrived hours before schedule, they’ve sat themselves down at the centre table, getting by the tension with attempts at small talk.
A wave of sick nausea is already rising within Ai, similar to what she’d experienced last night before bed as her she’d tried to comprehend what was to come. Under the table her legs have turned into jelly; she tests them, and they seem unable to bear any weight. She feels hot, as though she were developing a sunburn under the collar. And she can’t stop licking her lips.
“Ai-chan,” Risa calls out for the second time. “Earth to Ai-chan! Let’s quickly go over our notes now, okay? Then, when the others come, we’ll run it by them all.”
“Ahh… un.” Nodding once, Ai reaches into her bag, feeling around for her notes. After a moment of fruitlessly fishing around for them, she holds her bag up and dumps its entire contents onto the table. They’re not there. Both hands spring to her head. “EHHHHHH?!?! I forgot them?!”
Ai shoots to her feet, the sharp motion sending her chair toppling backwards onto the floor in a noisy clatter.
She’d been in such a daze before arriving here that she’d actually forgotten her notes!
“Ai-chan, calm down!”
“I-I have to go look for another copy…”
“I know! Do you think they have a printer here?"
“Or I can ask to have it sent to me and I can read it with my phone.”
“Oi, hopeless leader!” Risa yells, face crinkled in annoyance. “Listen to me for a second. No need to worry, I have an extra copy of your notes here with me.” She picks up her bag from the floor, digs through it for a second before pulling out a set of notes, which she slides it across the table, to the other end where Ai is standing stock still.
“Thank me later,” Risa says.
Ai doesn’t pick it up, doesn’t even move.
Realising that Ai is peculiarly fixed on her, Risa snaps her fingers. “Hello?”
The next instant, Risa is tackled by Ai in a mammoth hug, one that propels her backward in the chair with a laugh of surprise and elation.
Ai’s sitting on Risa’s lap now, burying her grin in Risa’s shoulder, feeling the bean’s arms reach up around her own, familiar laughter in her ear. They rock back and forth, squeezing each other tightly.
“You know, Ai-chan,” Risa begins, trying to claim back her limbs but Ai continues to cling on, rocking. “It’s not like we need to go over these notes in any case. We know exactly what’s going to happen this evening. You’re going to have the best graduation ever.”
“As I’ve always thought,” Ai says, with a smile she can hardly contain. “You’re my wonderful subleader, after all.”
Risa mirrors the smile and teases, “It’s a little hard not to be when you have a leader as hopeless as Ai-chan.”
Ai pulls back from Risa, pouting, but refuses to break the embrace. With one hand released, she waves it dismissively in front of the bean’s face. “Chigau, chigau!” They share a laugh.
A moment of silence slips in. They’re looking into each other’s eyes, too close. Ai’s still sitting on Risa and hopes to God none of the other members come crashing in to catch them in such a compromising position. Sure they’ve done this in front of the others before, but with them alone now, it feels infinitely intimate. The longer the moment stretches, the more she’s conscious of her heart beating in her chest though, so Ai slips off of Risa’s lap, sits down in the seat next to her.
Risa clears her throat. “In reality though… I couldn’t have asked for a better leader.”
Ai makes a face. “You’re just saying that.”
“How many times have we been through this? The both of us have been under the care of much more competent people. And you know me, and I’m not cut to be a leader.”
“In your own special way, Ai-chan, you’ve been great leader. You might be hopeless, but it’s endearing, and you might be a little soft on the members, but I love that you lead by example. I don’t think you have any idea how much the others look up to you,” Risa says, watching as the older girl’s eyes begin to mist over, just as expected. “And I love that under your care, the group’s become such a tight unit. I admit, when Yoshizawa-san graduated, I was really worried. I thought it was unfair… and I wondered if you were ready to take on such a large responsibility. And when Yoshizawa-san left, that was the end of the Morning Musume that I’d known, that I had grown up admiring. Sure, the road’s been a little bouncy for us all since, but the group under your care has earned my love even more endlessly. It’s because of you.”
“It’s because of us,” Ai butts in, heart thump-thumping in her ears as she emphasises the ‘us’ in her correction, reaching over to whack Risa across the shoulder. Her hand falls down the next instant though, slipping comfortably into Risa’s to give it a squeeze, which the bean Risa returns with interest.
“These years… have you been happy?”
Risa arches both brows high into her forehead at the sudden question. “Of course I have been!”
Ai smiles. She probably really has been overreacting for Risa over the years.
“Why the sudden question?”
“I was afraid that I haven’t been doing enough for you… you’ve always been there for me. Whenever I needed it – you know, to comfort me or encourage me. I can’t say I’ve been able to do the same for you. Gomen ne?”
Flashing Ai a look, Risa snickers. “What’s this? This isn’t like you.”
“I just wanted to let you know.”
“This isn’t the end, Ai-chan,” the bean says in a low, firm voice, firing her a suspicious look, as if reprimanding her for even thinking it. This time, she squeezes Ai’s hand.
“I know it isn’t. But I’ve told you before, haven’t I? So it won’t hurt either of us for me to say it again. Because there’s Gaki-san, that’s why I’m here.”
“Okay, okay, feelings received, loud and clear.” Risa begins patting her friend’s forehead. “I think I know what else you’re trying to say,” Risa says, grinning. “Morning Musume was a dream back then, and it’s still a dream to be a part of it now. I’m a lucky one. And I’m happy as long as I’m here, front, behind or centre. It doesn’t matter.”
“…Really?” Ai says.
“Really… although I always like it when I’m next to you…”
Ai pretends to swoon, but she’s feeling the blush, oh boy she’s feeling it, like it’s about to melt off her face.
“And you, Ai-chan?” Risa looks at her, eyes glittering sincerely.
“What about you? Have you… been happy?”
Ai nods once, gives an ‘un’ as a smile splits across her features. She lifts a hand to Risa’s face, uses a thumb to brush back and forth over Risa’s brow and chuckles when the bean grimaces and tilts her head away.
“I’m sorry, but we might as well start right here and now. Soon you’re going to have to play with your own brows…”
After the both of them are done laughing, the older girl’s face drops into a little solemn expression. Risa catches on right away.
“No doubt about it, we’ve all had our own ups and downs. But you don’t have anything to worry about, Ai-chan. I’m going to be leader soon and I’ll continue to take care of them. I’ll continue to fight for our beloved Morning Musume...”
Ai frowns and her lips part in preparation to protest, so Risa quickly interjects, “I’ll fight for myself too. I promise. I want you to graduate today without any worries.”
“… Thank you.”
There’s a moment of silence as they bask in each other’s pleasant companionship. It’s so comforting, this silence… the both of them wish all silences could be as enjoyable.
“So this is it, huh?” Ai says quietly.
Risa nods. “This… this is really it. Can you believe it?”
“No… it’s all a little unreal right now.”
“But it must be exciting on some level, right? Imagine yourself waking up tomorrow and not having to be tugged from meetings to shows to rehearsals!”
While looking around the room, the two girls fall into a deep talk of nostalgia. They talk about anything and everything that’s happened, condensed all their experiences into minute moments in time, to cherish and talk about in voices wavering with emotion. They even manage to straighten out some misunderstandings neither had the guts to confront at the time.
How Ai had cried non-stop when she’d found out that she was to become leader, unable to stop howling, “I’m going to ruin Morning Musume!” and how Risa had spent the night comforting her. And that time when Ai had been assigned a lot of lines to sing; she was convinced it was because she’d been trying really hard and it was paying off – and so she had ended up telling Risa (with the best intentions) that the girl needed to try harder too, which resulted in a very, very livid bean.
After the heated conversation, Risa feels accountable for allowing Ai to be this distracted, and her being the source of distraction, no less. But they’ve come along this far already, and the notes to be studied seem so trifling.
“I know that I’m meant to give you a graduation message at the end of the concert… and I’ve already given you half of it with my you’re-a-great-leader speech just earlier... but obviously, the time that we’re given there is not going to be enough. I’ll have things to tell you that I’ll want only you to hear.”
“Ehhhh,” Ai says, eyes widening. “Do I really have to listen to this now?”
“Ai-channn. I’m about to pour my heart out for you here. Can you at least lend me an ear?” Risa says, glowering, but there’s still a hint of amusement in her expression.
“The graduation portion isn’t enough?” Ai questions.
Risa sighs. “There are some things I’d only want you to hear… but fine, if you’d rather the rest of the world know too, and therefore diminishing the intimacy and worth of my words…”
“Ii yo, ii yo,” Ai says hurriedly, giving Risa a push in the arm. “I get it, I’ll listen.”
“You’ve kind of ruined the mood now.” Risa grumbles, turning away from Ai with a huff and a sullen crossing of her arms.
“Gaki-san…” Ai says, with a bit of a pout. She sits there, hands on lap, looking extra attentive to the bean with her large, guileless eyes, and of course, Risa’s resolve is no match for that.
“It’s just… I don’t want to be a crying mess before the concert’s even started,” Ai says quietly.
“But really listen, okay?”
“The truth is I’m scared. No matter how much I’ve been preparing myself for a Morning Musume without you, I can only try so hard. But here we are… and here is where we’re going to have to let you go. I’m the last Gokkie standing and I’m scared…”
“I’m scared too!” Ai interrupts, with a little chuckle of disbelief, as though Risa’s words are only just solidifying things. She tightens her hold on the bean’s hand.
Risa smiles meekly and nods once. “But Ai-chan, I’m not just scared for myself.” The bean eyes her friend warily. “Will you really be okay on your own?” Then, unexpectedly, she begins to tear up. “Actually, I’m scared of you not needing me any more…”
In a spurt of raucous laughter, Ai brings her subleader into a cuddle. “Nani yo, Gaki-san. The concert hasn’t even started and you’re already like this.”
“…But at the same time, you need to go. There’s still so much for you to do out there, and I can’t wait to see you do all of it. I’m going to stay strong so that you can stay strong too. So no matter what heights you reach in all that life you have yet to live… I’ll continue to support you. Always, Ai-chan, as your subleader.”
Risa is grinning at Ai, eyes bright and twinkling, but the tears are there, mirroring the ones already trailing down Ai’s cheeks. It’s such a maddeningly infectious thing, that smile, and the older girl’s mind blanks for a moment before she thinks how close they are, how pretty Risa is and how soft her lips look.
It’s suddenly the most fitting, most effortless thing in the world to fall into her arms, to cup Risa’s face in her hands and kiss her.
Risa’s lips are soft. The rest of her body under Ai is stiff with shock, but her lips are soft, and the older girl can’t bring herself to stop as she continues to kiss the bean. Slowly, lingeringly.
Finally, she pulls away. Risa is staring at her, lips parted and dewy with her taste.
Ai wrenches her eyes from the bean’s mouth and meets her stunned gaze as steadily as she can. Risa looks like she can’t understand what’s just happened. Neither can Ai, and nobody says a thing.
The silence stretches, agonising, like an embarrassingly bad joke’s just been told and they’re now sitting dumbfounded in the aftermath. Both of them had thoroughly prepared for the emotional ordeal tonight, but neither had prepared for a kiss. And not just a Sayu-on-Ai kiss either… a kiss kiss.
Ai swallows the lump forming in her throat. “Alrighty,” she says, licking her lips. “Hm. That’s all. I’ll just, um, go ahead and, um, yeah–” Ai begins to clamber off Risa’s lap.
"Ai-chan," Risa says unsteadily, "baka."
The celebrations continue to rock backstage; in light of the brilliant success of the tour, in tribute to the countless achievements of their leader. There’s not a hint of sadness in the atmosphere, they’re all doing their best to make it a festive occasion.
The Kyukkis have entered a deadly elated mode; highly strung, running around and making noise. There’s Reina, and there’s Aika too, one of the first people Ai wraps up in a hug the moment they leave the spotlight for the last time tonight. Then there’s Sayumi, unusually feverish, who continues to coo “Oooo, something’s happened, something’s happened!” as she looks pointedly at Ai and Risa and their swelling love. That girl has always been unnervingly observant.
Ai feels the love from her friends, her precious group members. Everyone’s jamming together, arms strung around each other, singing songs and chorusing a string of Morning Musume songs (Ai’s favourites), meting out praises and congratulatory exclamations. She lets the rapture of it all fill her heart, feels herself soaring. She drinks it all in, this moment, gets that tickling feeling in her chest and marvels quietly to herself: This is what happiness feels like.
She starts to cry.
She’d survived the last 10 (bloody crazy) years. How, she’d never know for sure, but she has an inkling or two.
Ai reaches out absentmindedly, closes her hand around familiar fingers, ignoring the look of surprise on her darling bean’s face as she entwines their fingers.
The others are teary and exhausted and there’s the distinct whiff of after-concert sweat hanging muskily in the air, but they’re all running on pure adrenaline now, there’s an incandescent glow to every face. There’s noise and there’s more noise, the gleefully riotous kind, arms and elbows waving everywhere, bodies begin bouncing until she can’t tell one person from the next.
Amidst it all, Ai smiles at her girl, a little shyly in light of all the revelations of tonight, earning that sunshine smile in return.
Risa had cupped her face, had pulled her in for another kiss. Risa hadn’t pushed her away.
It isn’t so much the graduation that’s overwhelming her now, it’s… it’s her, and it’s Risa. Had they liked each other all along? Or was this simply a desperate bonding of convenience, of being afraid to be apart after all these years together?
But none of that really matters. All she knows at this point are her feelings for Risa, how strong they are. How much Ai wants her to know…
It’s too loud to speak right now and be heard over the din, but she doesn’t have to.
My sublime subleader, she says, with her eyes. I love you.
The next moment she realises she’s being swept along by members and staff alike, all hugging and cheering and her hand is forcibly pulled away, fingers slipping from Risa’s. For a moment she panics and scrabbles at air. When she realises that it’s okay and that they’re all just carrying her along, she begins to laugh.
Somewhere in the mess and ruckus of arms and legs and bodies thrown together, Ai reaches out intuitively and finds one hand to slip back into, holds on tight. She’s being shepherded away and can’t see the owner of the hand. But she knows it’s Risa’s, knows the familiar shape of Risa’s palm and fingers and knows how they feel against hers, how warm they are, how right.
The past month or so have been about lasts. Last single, last PV, last TV show, last live… painfully, one after another.
Finally, finally, a first.
With Risa, Ai celebrates her first love.