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Upriver Towards the Stars

Chapter Text

Hoshimiya Ichigo, sixteen year old idol, sleepily played her copy of Pokémon Moon, currently on the hunt for some shinies. She rolled over in her bed, slightly frustrated that that shiny Bagon hadn't appeared yet in her SOS chain yet ever since she started it the hour before. Finally, the blonde sighed, shut down her 3DS, and placed it on the bedside table, effectively quitting the game for the night. It was getting late, and she had to wake up early tomorrow so it wasn't the best idea to stay up still.

However, her mind compelled her to do other things. Instinctively, her hand reached for her phone that was next to her 3DS and opened it to one of her social media apps. Her feed was filled with people excitedly chattering, talking about the upcoming music festival later this month.

The music festival was all about the modern world of music that happened annual for three consecutive days. The first day - well, it was less of a day and more of a preliminary day of sorts, as it was about introductions, interviews, and overall talking about what's to expect. The second day was when they were going to announce the nominees and winners for the different categories, such as hit albums, rising artists, etc. like any other award show. Many famous singers, musicians, and other musical talents were invited as guests. This year, it just so happens that Ichigo was asked to be a special guest, along with Aoi and Ran, and announce the winner of the Fan-Favorite New Group category. The third and final was about performances that were chosen and invited by the producers of the show; to which Soleil was invited to do so as well. Starting tomorrow, they were going to start preparing for the show, and Ichigo couldn't help but be restless.

Turning off her phone and dropping it on the table, Ichigo snuggled herself into her blankets, her last thoughts going to the music festival before heading off to dreamland.


 

The next day, Soleil arrived at where the festival was being held on a Monday afternoon. In front of them was a large indoor concert hall, the structure looking like it could hold thousands of people. There were already staff members bustling about the parking lot, unloading equipment from trucks. Even if it was just the beginning of summer break, various tents, overhangs, umbrellas and cooling stations were already in place to provide some relief to those moving about outside when the heat was at its peak.

"We're here!" Ichigo cried, hopping down from their now parked van, her pink and white duffel bag bouncing. She was wearing a simple peach-colored t-shirt with a light gray camisole underneath. She had beige cargo shorts that stopped a bit above her knees with a belt secured at the hip. A pair of white flat sandals clacked against her heels as she walked forward and stretched, as if embracing the breeze that caused her signature red bow to sway.

"I can't believe we're at the famous NHK Hall!" Aoi also cried out in excitement, stepping down from the van behind the blonde. She wore a sleeveless, white button up blouse that tucked into a Prussian blue skirt at the waist, the skirt flaring and ending at the knees. Black leggings were worn under the skirt, and had powder blue flip-flops to finish the look. She stepped next to Ichigo as she gripped the strap of her blue and white duffel bag, her smile giddy. "In 1988, Masquerade won the award for-"

Ran appeared behind her two friends, putting a hand on their shoulders. The auburn-haired girl wore a lilac off-shoulder top with a black undershirt underneath. She had a gray, lightweight, sleeveless cardigan on that ended mid-thigh. She also had denim shorts that went mid-thigh as well, plus black low-heeled sandals. She even brought a large sunhat on the trip, clearly not wanting to be sunburned.

"We're here to check out the venue and practice for the show, not as tourists," she reminded them. "Though," she said slowly, her expression turning to one of slight awe as she gazed at the concert hall far in front of them, "I will admit that it's impressive in person." She adjusted the strap of her purple and white duffel bag on her left shoulder.

"See? You're impressed too!" Aoi said.

A minute afterwards, an escort came by and led them across the parking lot to the inside of the building. Once they entered through the open doors, the three idols were greeted with a backstage even busier than the parking lot behind them. Staff were going up and down the halls, a handful of them directing others. Among those they saw was...

"President Mitsuishi!" Ichigo exclaimed in surprise, and the woman in question turned her head, her attention away from the staff she was speaking to.

"Ah, Hoshimiya, Kiriya, Shibuki. I'm glad you could make it," the president said with a soft smile. The woman was wearing a pale blue ruffled blouse tucked into a navy blue tube skirt with a thick belt matched with white low-heeled sandals. She also wore a necklace with baby blue beads and her usual thick huggie earrings. "I was worried you were coming late today."

"Well, there was a bit of traffic after we got picked up from the airport," Ran informed her. "So we've only just arrived here."

Mitsuishi Orihime; the CEO of the agency Soleil was affiliated with, Starlight. She was once half of the legendary idol unit Masquerade, under the stage name Hime, before they suddenly disbanded years ago. From Aoi's research, Orihime immediately went to college where she majored in business after Masquerade's disbandment. After she graduated, she entered the entertainment business, a place where she was already well known, as a producer. Within just a decade, she was offered to become the CEO of Starlight due to her experience as a past idol as well as her excellent managing skills.

Orihime smiled. "Glad to hear it was just that. Have you stopped by your hotel yet?"

Ran nodded. "We did, though only to drop off our luggage in our room."

"Good," said the president. "You three can take it easy today. I know you three had to wake up early to get here."

All three agreed to that. Ichigo had trouble waking up properly for her family to drop her off at the airport, and only when she woke up in the middle of the plane flight was she fully energized. Aoi had apparently spent most of the night before planning their two weeks away from home, leading to her pretty much fall asleep along with Ichigo the minute their plane took off. Ran was more or less the only one who stayed awake the most, being the most coherent when they arrived at the airport that morning, though she took a long nap during the ride to the hotel.

The only thing that made it worse was that summer break was beginning, and that the heat was absolutely relentless, even when it was just early dawn that morning. That in turn just led to very uncomfortable naps.

"Mitsuishi-san," the staff said, the one who was speaking with Orihime before Soleil came by, "we need to discuss what to do with the incoming deliveries of equipment."

"Right," Orihime said, nodding. She turned to the girls. "Sorry that we have to cut our conversation short," she said. "I'll see you girls next time, all right?"

"Of course," Soleil answered, and the woman turned to follow the staff down a hallway.

Soon, the unit was escorted to their dressing room, a door with a plaque that read Soleil and their names listed below next to it. Their staff escort opened the door for them and stepped aside to let the girls in.

The dressing room was quite plain actuality, with plaster walls and smooth wooden floor; it wasn't flashy enough for it to be distracting but not uninteresting enough for it to be boring. It was large, enough to hold twenty people or so. Off to the side was a couch seated in front of flat screen TV, a rug on the floor in the middle. Two arm chairs were on either side of the couch, small circular tables positioned between them. On top of the rug was a long coffee table with a glass tabletop. In the back were vanity mirrors with small LED lights aligned at the edges. A counter made of quartz was stretched below the mirrors, rotating stools with footrests in front of each mirror. The three idols dropped their duffel bags onto the couch, Ran also taking off her sunhat and putting it on the coffee table.

"Please tell me if you need anything," their escort said.

"We will," Aoi answered. "Thank you!" The staff member inclined her head and left, the door closing with a soft click.

The bluehead turned to her friends, an excited smile on her face. "I can't believe we're actually here!" she said. "It's like a dream come true!" She spun a bit in the room, and Ran and Ichigo couldn't help but be excited along with her. Immediately, a grumble emitted from Aoi, and she covered her stomach in slight embarrassment. "Though we should eat something. Did we even have breakfast this morning?"

They all thought for a moment before answering in negative. "I know! There should be a vending machine somewhere!" Ichigo proclaimed, heading to her duffel. "I'm pretty sure I brought some money with me..." She zipped open the bag, rummaging through clothes and personal electronics.

"Do you even know where the vending machines are, or if there even is one?" questioned Ran, watching the blonde walk to the door after grabbing a fistful of yen.

"Nope!" she replied blissfully, and promptly opened the door and jogged out.

"Wait! Ichigo!" called Aoi, running to look out into the hall. Unfortunately, the blonde had already turned a corner, disappearing from her friends' sight. Ran sighed behind her in exasperation.


 

Fifteen minutes and not even one hint of a vending machine.

Needless to say, Hoshimiya Ichigo was lost in the NHK Hall, within an hour of arriving there.

Usually, she would grab her phone and text Aoi and Ran about her predicament, enduring their small reprimands about going off without thinking. The thing is, she didn't have her phone with her, it was left inside her duffel bag, equaling no communication with her friends. The only thing that was in her pocket was some yen, but she had no use for it yet.

Sure, there were staff members milling around, doing various tasks or on their breaks and whatnot, but Ichigo didn't have the heart to bother them. She knows it's part of their job to help her, with being a guest and all, but she didn't want to add to the workload of those still working and those on their breaks deserved a rest. Plus, they probably thought she was just wandering the halls, and even she herself wouldn't be surprised at that.

The blonde sighed, putting a hand over her eyes. She should probably just head back to the dressing room; she should be able to trace her steps back to it. She heard from Aoi during the ride in the van that there was a cafeteria somewhere in the building, so she could just get something from there instead.

But, she was determined! If she didn't find something within the next twenty minutes, she promised herself that she would head back.

As she turned a corner, she bumped into something - or rather, someone.

"I'm sorry!" she apologized immediately, uncovering her eyes.

"...Don't worry about it," a masculine voice replied. Ichigo looked up to see the person's face, and strawberry eyes met golden ones - golden one.

The person she had bumped into had short, messy black hair, it covering his right eye. He was about half a head taller than Ichigo, and she had to step back to look at his face without craning her neck. He was wearing a black t-shirt, ripped jeans, and a pair of blue and white sneakers.

"I'm really sorry," Ichigo said again to the boy in front of her.

"It's fine," he said, "just watch were you're going next time." He studied her. "Where are you going anyway?" he asked.

The blonde decided to be truthful. "I was going to find a vending machine, but..." She scratched the back of her head, embarrassed. "I kinda got lost..."

"A vending machine?" The black-haired boy pointed behind him. "Pretty sure I saw one down to the right, near the staff lounge."

Ichigo perked up. "Really? Thanks!" The boy calmly stepped aside to let her pass, and watched as the blonde ran down the hall and turned a right corner.

"What a weird girl," he commented in a bored voice; he turned and went on his way.


Ichigo walked down the halls smiling, arms full of snacks and drinks. She hummed a random tune, making her way back to the dressing room. She hoped that her friends wouldn't be too mad at her for running off suddenly. But she got the food in the end, right?

Suddenly, the door she was walking past opened with a low creak. The blonde stopped in her tracks, dumbfounded. She immediately recognized who was peering out from behind the door. "Aoi?"

"Ichigo?" said girl echoed, opening the door at full. She was dressed in her tracksuit, minus the jacket. Her expression became stern and she said, "There you are! What took you so long?"

"Sorry, Aoi!" the blonde responded. "I just got a little lost is all."

They held their gazes before Aoi sighed, anger fizzing. "I forgive you," she said in the soft voice. "Now get in here and change!" She sidestepped to let her friend in. Smiling, she added, "Let's eat those snacks and get practicing!"

The room inside was a dance studio, assigned to Soleil so that they could practice for the show. Ichigo saw Ran tying her long hair into a ponytail, already changed into her tracksuit as well, her jacket tossed to the side where all three of their duffel bags were. Aoi explained that while she and Ran were waiting for Ichigo, one of the staff informed them that there was a dance studio for them should they ever want to practice. So she and the model decided to head to the studio while they waited for Ichigo. Aoi had been going to look for Ichigo, but the idol just happened to be outside when she opened the door.

Ichigo dumped the snacks and the drinks where the bags were and hurried to change into her tracksuit and slip on her shoes in the changing room in the back of the studio. She decided to discard the jacket too because wow it was hot with it. She walked out of the changing room while tying her hair into pigtails and saw Ran inserting a disk into the stereo. "Where did you get that?"

She shrugged. "Don't know, it was here when we came. Someone probably delivered it with the stereo." She stood up and gestured to where the snacks were. "Let's eat this and start practicing."

"Sure!"

They only ate a portion of what Ichigo brought before standing up to practice. Back when they first accepted to perform at the music festival, they decided to perform Shining Line, as it was one their early songs and easily recognizable. As Ran played back the track, the familiar music sounded through the room. Soleil ran through the choreography, the muscle memory slowly coming back to them.

After three hours of practicing with quick breaks in between, all three were sweating, faces red and panting. "Too bad the air conditioning isn't the best in here," Ran noted, tugging on the collar of her shirt to fan herself. Aoi, meanwhile, reached over from her spot on the wall for the duffel bags. Zipping all three open, she pulled out three small towels, tossing two to both Ichigo and Ran.

As they were wiped away the sweat, the door behind the auburn-haired idol opened, showing two very recognizable people walking in.

"Mizuki-san! Mikuru-san!" Ichigo blurted out in surprise.

"Hey, long time no see!" Mikuru replied, waving with a smile. The gardener wore a cantaloupe-colored off-shoulder spaghetti strap with denim shorts. Red and white sneakers squeaked on the ground as she walked. She held two water bottles in each of her hands.

"You've been working hard," Mizuki commented, walking in behind Mikuru, her black heels clicking. Like her partner, she also held two bottles of water. "I hope we're not disturbing your practice time." She wore a rose red summer dress with a Queen Anne neckline, the straps a deep royal blue.

"It's fine," Aoi told her as she wiped sweat off her chin, "we're just having a break now. We've been practicing for a while anyways."

Mizuki smiled and chuckled. "I think you might need these." She tossed both of the water bottles she was holding to Ichigo and Aoi, Mikuru tossing one of hers to Ran. The three thanked her, and eagerly drank the cool water, relieving them of their dry throats.

Ichigo capped her already half empty bottle of water. She asked the two, "What are you doing here?"

"What else? Checking out the venue, of course!" Mikuru answered. "We are the hosts to the show after all. A gardener doesn't plant in unknown soil after all."

Soleil remembered the news. When this year's annual music festival had been announced a few months ago, it was also revealed that Kanzaki Mizuki and Natsuki Mikuru would be the co-hosts of the show. Their unit together, WM, had been known at the time as, at the very least, inactive. It came as a surprise to everyone, Soleil included, but it hyped them up nonetheless.

"Are you sure you can afford to be here?" Ichigo heard Ran question, breaking her train of thought. "As the hosts, you're sure to be busy. Aren't you also performing?"

"True," the gardener said with a sheepish grin. "However, we actually just got here, so they're allowing us some free time before the workload comes in."

"Huh."

"Anyways," Mizuki began, "we should get going. It was nice to you guys again." The idol lengend walked out the door with a smile with a small wave, her equally legendary partner walking out behind her doing the same. As they closed the door behind them, Ichigo rounded in front of Aoi and Ran, a determined look on her face.

"All right!" she exclaimed, pumping her fist. "Let's finish practice and word hard for this show!"

"Yeah!"

"Right."


 

They had practiced for another few hours before deciding to call it a day. Now they were in their van, the driver heading to the hotel Soleil would be staying at for the next two weeks. Ran rested her cheek against her palm, her elbow propped on the windowsill. She looked out quietly out the window onto the streets that were beginning to light up now that the sun was setting over the horizon. Her eyes drooped sleepily, fighting drowsiness as she suppressed yawns.

In the back, Aoi had lied down across the row of seats using her duffel as a pillow, idly scrolling down her phone while listening to music from her earbuds - likely checking out their schedule for the upcoming days. She didn't seem tired, but Ichigo observed that her blinks were slower and stayed closed longer than they should.

Ichigo herself was also in the back, across the two seats that weren't occupied by Aoi's feet, sitting in a crisscross position facing the actress. It probably wasn't safe considering that the seat belts wouldn't allow the position but no one at the moment cared and the van was going slow enough so that she wouldn't be falling out anytime soon. The blonde rested her head on the seats, ready than ever to take a nap right then and there. But they were nearing the hotel anyway, so it would be inefficient to sleep just to be woken up soon afterwards.

Her mind drifted to some other random thoughts, the quietness of the van allowing her to do so. A vibration in her pocket brought her out of her thoughts. She reached down into her pockets, wondering who would be calling her at this time. She smiled when she saw Raichi's name across the screen, the phone buzzing from an incoming phone call.

"Hey, Raichi," she greeted, putting the phone to her ear. She fought to keep the sleepiness out of her voice.

"Onee-chan!" Raichi's voice came from the other end. "How are things there? What are you doing now?" he asked eagerly. Hearing Ichigo, Ran had gotten out of her seat and started heading toward the opposite aisle next to her. Aoi had also taken off her earbuds, sitting up with an interested look.

"We're just heading back from the venue and to the hotel," Ichigo replied to her brother. "What are you doing?"

"I was watching TV, but I got bored. Mama is cooking dinner right now, and she let me call you. While I am excited for the festival, it's too bad that you aren't here with us right now."

"Yeah. Don't worry, I'll tell you all of my experiences when I get back." It was true; this is the first time, in her whole idol career, that she wouldn't be able to spend time with her family at the beginning of a break. Due to the music festival, it was simply not possible with her schedule. "I'll also bring you and Mama some souvenirs when I get back."

Ran climbed up and kneeled on the cushion of the aisle seat directly next to Ichigo. She rested her head in her arms that were atop the backrest. "Who's that?" the model asked. 

"Was that Ran-san I just heard?!" Raichi blurted through the phone. Ichigo promptly turned on the speaker for her friends to hear.

"It's Raichi," she informed Ran. "He was asking if it was you who had just spoken now."

"Oh, yeah, I'm here," the idol in question answered, a small grin forming. Ichigo and Aoi knew she'd rather die than admit it, but Ran had taken a liking to the boy whom she also considered a younger sibling. Ditto with Aoi, though she was more honest about it, since they were both only children. "Aoi's here too."

"Aoi-neesan?!"

The bluehead laughed. "Right here, Raichi."

They could hear him fanboying through the phonee. "Ah, I can't believe I'm talking to the Soleil! Special guests to this year's music festival! So, how's it so far?"

"The venue's really big," Ichigo explained. She expressed it by extending her arms away, even though her brother wasn't physically there to see it. "There was so much staff too! We're also glad that we stayed inside most of the time where there was air conditioning because have you been outside today? It was freaking melting and it made for an uncomfortable ride."

"Did you see Mizuki-chan and Mikuru-chan there?"

"Yeah! Actually, they talked with us a while we were in the middle of practice. We weren't expecting them, to be honest."

A distant call from the other end interrupted their conversation, and Ichigo heard Raichi sigh. "Was that Mama?" she asked.

"Mhm, dinner's ready. Sorry that I can't talk more, gotta go! See you, Onee-chan, Aoi-neesan, Ran-san!" he said. The three girls bid their goodbyes as well and he hung up.

Ichigo looked out the window of the van in time to see it pulling up into the hotel parking lot. "Seems like we're here already," Aoi noted. The actress picked up her duffel and threw the strap across her shoulder, Ran and Ichigo doing the same to theirs. They got off the van and thanked the driver. 

As the van drove away, Ichigo looked up at the sky from her spot at the edge of the parking lot. The first stars were beginning to appear, shining brightly.

She wishes to be like that too.