Chapter 1: Stranger
For Kiibo, making friends just wasn’t a luxury he could indulge in. There was too much to do, too many other things that needed to be prioritized that it was hardly something he had a choice in. He wasn’t built to be someone’s friend after all. He was built to be a performer. To sing and dance and entertain. He went to school and studied because it was an obligation and he needed enough worldly knowledge to have normal conversations when he needed to. Most grades he was able to get through in a fraction of the time human students needed with far superior grades. It was what was expected of him, though. Superior grades in comparison to others, yes, but it was normalcy to his owners.
He lived with his director, Mr. Idabashi. They had what was comparable to a father-son relationship but...loveless. It was an act. When as a normal student Kiibo took on the last name Idabashi. Mr. Idabashi posed as his father when he was contacted in regards to Kiibo. They lived together, shared space and electricity, but that was the extent of their bond. Kiibo didn’t really have any emotional bonds to anyone at all.
His coworkers were that and only that. He put on the face he wore on stage and was talkative and friendly only to keep up the façade that he was a charismatic peppy idol. It was his job. He wasn’t built to have worries. He wasn’t built to have friends. He wasn’t built to feel happiness. His happiness was all an act. As an idol, he needed to inspire people. His audience needed to feel invigorated by him, find themselves enraptured by him, obsessed with him.
It wasn’t like he didn’t have fun, though! Dancing, singing, signing autographs, doing interviews, it meant the world to him. But he knew that was probably just another thing programmed into him. He didn’t have any hobbies, it was all he had. It was all he was good for. If he didn’t like it he really would be miserable. Although even if he was miserable it would all just be codes telling him that too.
“Aren’t you a bit too self aware?” Mr. Idabashi would ask him.
“Is that bad? Would it be better if I believed I really felt things and that I had worth outside my career?” Kiibo would respond.
Mr. Idabashi would look upset, but Kiibo knew it had to just be an act too. There was no way someone could love him knowing his real nature.
He didn’t sleep or anything frivolous like that. All hours of the day he needed for work. He went to school, he studied, he practiced, he performed. If he slept or took breaks he’d fall behind. Behind who, though? Other students slept. Other idols took breaks. He’d fall behind himself. He was only seven years old but the speed of his progress needed to be a quick as possible.
“Why don’t you join a club?” his homeroom teacher would ask him.
“Why would I? I need to study and work. I don’t have time to have fun,” he’d reply.
She’d sigh and shake her head, but Kiibo knew it was just her job. The only time they talked was when he answered questions or needed something clarified. It wasn’t possible she really cared about him. No one really cared about him after all, right?
No one cared about Kiibo, but people adored K1-B0. K1-B0, the first android idol. K1-B0 with his bright smile and lovely voice and his flawless dancing. He was like nothing anyone had ever seen before. There had been virtual idols before, yes, but never one possessing a physical form. Never one who could shake your hand at meet and greets or write your name on a CD cover.
Despite sharing a body and sharing a life, Kiibo and K1-B0 were not the same. Or at least that was what Kiibo felt.
Because he did feel. Fake feelings, in his opinion, but still feelings. At school he felt empty. He needed to learn, he liked learned, but he knew it was just because he needed to. To like it, to learn, to work. His smile was genuine on stage, he really felt wonderful and sometimes didn’t even need to consciously decide to be happy, but afterwards looking back on it he knew it was all just how he was supposed to be. He wasn’t human after all.
He was real to the extent of existing but not living. Whenever he made the mistake of ever letting his mind think independently from working he realized how heartbroken he was. How he ruined any good feelings he felt by reminding himself they weren’t real. How he didn’t matter to himself even a single percent compared to his fans. He made people money, he made people happy, but nothing he did was for him.
School, study, practice, perform. That was what he needed to do. Wasting time on feelings was stupid. Feeling the gripping desire to have fun without doubts, to dream, to make friends and enjoy something was stupid. He wished he could click these emotions off at will but Mr. Idabashi insisted it was to build character. He needed to feel a connection to his lyrics and to have a personality and memories. Kiibo was a good enough actor that he knew better. He didn’t need things like that, just a script to memorize.
Why was he so sad, then? He liked being an idol. He liked being a student. Why did his existence feel so hollow? Why did he feel so awful?
K1-B0 had great value. Kiibo didn’t.
At school he sat alone whenever he had the chance. His identity as a robot, especially as the famous K1-B0, was a secret. If people saw he didn’t eat they might get worried. He could taste and eat for show, but he just had to remove the food from himself after. He couldn’t digest it, obviously. So when he was at school, he didn’t want to waste it. The places he went were his classrooms, the library, and occasionally under a tree behind the track. He studied alone. If he didn’t understand something he’d ask a teacher, never a peer.
He was electronic but it wasn’t like he had a WiFi connection coming off him or anything. He still needed to use library books and the computer for information. He was always cramming his brain with knowledge that he needed multiple memory cards, some he could only use occasionally. He brought his own laptop in his bag to school. Writing papers, the usual. His background was a promotional photo of a unit he’d worked with for a set of lives. They weren’t friends. Well, in Kiibo’s mind they weren’t, but maybe the other idols considered them friends? Kiibo ushered away the very idea.
He tried to be alone at school, but sometimes it wasn’t an option. Tables were often occupied by groups of students. Friends, he assumed. On days like that Kiibo ended up crammed at a table with any other lone wolves that were left with no other choice. It was usually pretty quiet. Kiibo would finish working as fast as possible and leave for idol practice no matter how early he’d arrive. He was a robot, but with a self learning AI he still needed to learn the dances and songs.
It was Wednesday when he made his first mistake. He was seated next to another student, dark navy hair covering most of his face who occasionally grinned to himself as if he’d read something funny, when he opened his laptop. The boy next to him saw his background out of the corner of his golden eyes. He inhaled sharply and his eyebrows shot up.
Kiibo flinched at the sudden sound and stiffened visibly as his classmate leaned in closer to get a better look. He met Kiibo’s eyes and Kiibo swore he could feel the heat of his breath on his cheek. “Hey, are you a K1-B0 fan too...? You can’t lie to me. Your background already tells me you like Cosmic Court, so you must like at least one of the unit members.”
Kiibo clenched his teeth. The fact someone could notice his wallpaper had slipped his mind. He rarely spoke publicly as Kiibo, more often as K1-B0. It was hard to think of a reply that would stop the conversation quickly. “He’s okay. This is my sister’s computer. I’m just borrowing this since my laptop screen cracked.” That should be enough to get him to back off.
The raven haired student’s smile faded and his eyes narrowed. “You must think I’m stupid, huh? I’ve seen you using that laptop for a while now. Tell me, what’s your sister’s name then?”
Kiibo’s voice catches in his throat, caught completely off guard by the reaction. “H—Hina! My sister’s name is Hina. Why is this your business?” he hissed back.
The smile returned to the other boys face. “You’re a bad liar. This is kind of fun to watch you get all nervous.” F-Fun!? This guy is creepy...
“Why do you care if I like idols or not? It’s stupid,” the white haired robot said, pulling his laptop away a bit.
“You don’t need to be ashamed. I love idols, so there's no need to be embarrassed around me,” was the reply given. He ran his fingers on the back of Kiibo’s glove and it made him squirm. Why is this happening to me? This is weird! I don’t like this!
“Fine, I like idols, I like K1-B0, now will you leave me alone?” Kiibo said quickly.
“I’m Shuichi. It’s nice to meet you. What’s your name?” the boy, Shuichi, asked, completely disregarding Kiibo’s question.
Kiibo grimaced. “I’m Kiibo.”
“Kiibo,” Shuichi repeated. “Let’s be friends from now on, Kiibo. There are a lot of things we can talk about together!” He sounded giddy at the prospect and it only furthered Kiibo’s discomfort.
“Go talk to your other friends. I need to go,” Kiibo lied, closing his laptop.
Shuichi’s smile softens. “I don’t have any friends. You don’t have any either, right? It’s perfect.”
He doesn’t have any friends either? Well...I shouldn’t be surprised. He’s weird. Kiibo sighs and puts his things back into his bag. “Things should stay that way. I don’t need any friends.”
Kiibo stands to leave, throwing his bag over his shoulder. “You don’t need any but I know you want them,” Shuichi says. Kiibo feels everything around him freeze. I...want friends?
He leaves. He feels Shuichi’s eyes follow him the entire time. When fans had gotten in his personal space and acted strangely he knew how to deal with it. It was inevitable for an idol and something he needed to be prepared for. But at the library at school he was thrown completely off his game.
He knows not even the instructor will be at the office at this time, so he goes behind the track field like he does during lunch and sits down under the tree as he usually does. It wasn’t particularly warm out so being in the shade was a bit chilly. If he was human he’d probably shiver. But he wasn’t and never would be. For some reason though he can’t stop thinking of Shuichi’s comments.
“You’re a really bad liar.”
“You don’t need any but I know you want them.”
Kiibo feels himself prickle with anger. I lie every single day. I am a better liar than you could ever imagine. His fingers hit the keys harder than usual, clacking loudly even with his gloves covering his jointed metal fingers. I don’t want friends. That’d be stupid. I don’t want anything. What an ignorant things to say. Stupid Shuichi. You don’t know anything.
Kiibo gives up on studying a bit earlier than usual. He can’t retain his focus. It’s something that rarely ever happens for him. He swears to himself he’ll improve his reactions as Kiibo when he gets the chance. He hasn’t polished this personality like he has K1-B0.
“Let’s be friends from now on, Kiibo.”
Is it even possible for me to be your friend? Is it even possible for me to care about someone, especially a freak like you? Is it even possible for you to care about someone who isn’t even real?
You’re an idiot, Shuichi.
We will never be friends.
Chapter 2: Aquaintance
Shuichi persuades Kiibo to talk to him more. Kiibo...is okay with it.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Kiibo was on guard the minute he stepped past the school gate. Having a new issue to worry about wasn’t something he needed in the slightest. I’ve been made aware I’m being assigned a new unit soon. Being concerned with an annoyance at school would be foolish. But he couldn’t help but worry a little. Anything getting in way of his studies could cause his studies to get in the way of his practice which could postpone his progress which is the worst possible thing .
Luckily nothing abnormal happened. He sat at his desk and took his notes diligently. He received a test score back. An A, as usual. Anything lower than a B might as well have been an F in his eyes. The first half of the school day passed without a hitch. Kiibo had just about forgotten about the dark haired boy he’d met the day prior when lunch rolled around.
He walks where he always did, back to the tree, back to privacy. He sits down cross legged and takes off his hat, shaking his hair out with a sigh. Time could not be wasted. There were things to learn, memorize, practice. That’s why it was the last thing he was prepared for when he hears a familiar voice.
“Oh, so this is where you hide?”
Kiibo eyes go wide. Dammit. “Now that you know I sit here, I won’t be any more.”
Shuichi laughs and sits down next to him, closer than Kiibo would like. Kiibo shoots him a glare. “That’s so harsh. I could tell you didn’t like me, but I wanted to change that! I’m making an effort, so at least humor me today, okay?”
Kiibo takes a slow deep breath, fingers curling tightly around his notebook. “Fine. I accept your terms.”
“How formal!” Shuichi laughs again. The sound irritates Kiibo. Not because it was an annoying laugh, in fact it might even be nice if it wasn’t Shuichi is was coming from.
Shuichi gives him a grin. “You know what I want to talk about already. Idols! It’s so lame how a lot of people hide it, that they’re idol fans. It’s not something to be ashamed of.”
Kiibo raises an eyebrow. “I...didn’t know people were ashamed. That is kind of dumb.” It really was new information to Kiibo. Seeing as he’s an idol, he’d never really talked to a fan outside of work. People hide that they like idols? But why? Idols are so wonderful. To think someone would be embarrassed by that...that’s baffling. Maybe, even if he’s strange, I can learn some things from Shuichi.
“It definitely is! What’s so bad about it? Idols are an inspiration, they provide motivation and happiness! T-There’s so many cool things about it, it should be considered a good thing to meet an idol fan!” Shuichi seems to be excited by Kiibo’s answer, even stuttering as his heart speeds up.
Kiibo...nods. He’s creepy, but I actually agree with what he’s saying. That’s what I want to do, inspire and motivate people. Even if it elicits this kind of reaction, I’m succeeding.
“That’s why I love K1-B0 so much!” Shuichi squeals. Kiibo can’t help but blush a little. Who wouldn’t upon hearing someone they’ve just met profess their love to them. But he isn’t saying he loves me. He loves K1-B0. To him, I am someone else. To me...I am someone else.
“What do you mean? Because he inspires and motivates you? Makes you happy?” Kiibo presses. He’s intrigued. He throws a few more coals into the fire.
Shuichi’s eyes are sparkling and he’s breathing faster. “Yes, that’s definitely true, but he’s the most perfect example of how incredible idols are!” He’s moving his hands around, speaking with his whole body. “A robot built just to be an idol! Why would he be created if it wasn’t a fact that idols are important? He must have taken so much time and skill to build, there’s no way he’d have been made if idols didn’t make a difference to people! Just by existing he’s amazing!”
Kiibo looks away. Just existing…? So are my efforts not as meaningful?
“But he does so much more than that. He doesn’t just exist! He was made to be an idol and he is an idol! The best one, at that. He’s such a fantastic performer. I-I’m just totally enraptured watching him! I-I r-really can’t tear my eyes away from him!” Shuichi rambles on. Kiibo looks back to him, looking into Shuichi’s passionate eyes. “It doesn’t matter if it’s artificial. His voice is so wonderful. No matter what he sings, whatever genre, he executes it flawlessly.” Shuichi sighs dreamily, clutching his chest.
“Sure, another idol can practice for years to become a great singer, and that’s impressive, but K1-B0 was born for it! His voice was made to sing, and you can hear it! Even his speaking voice is so cute.”
Kiibo furrows his eyebrows. “You think he’s cute?”
Shuichi frowns. “Do you not? Because that’s wrong! He’s absolutely adorable!” Kiibo looks down to his notebook in his lap. It wasn’t like he hadn’t been called cute before, but the certainty Shuichi said it with, the fact he was willing to even argue over it, made him happy. He tried to suppress the feeling.
“His bright blue eyes and pale skin...his hair looks soft too. I wish I could touch it,” Shuichi says. Only my coworkers have ever done that. If a fan did they’d certainly get in trouble. Kiibo thinks.
“You say skin, but the rest of him still looks robotic. Sure, he’s good at being an idol, but to call a robot adorable is a little much,” Kiibo replies.
Shuichi grabs Kiibo’s shoulders. “How dare you argue this with me! That’s another thing that makes him so great! He’s just right on the cool and cute scale. His robotic hands are so detailed, when they have close up shots and you can see the way the light reflects on the metal...No other idol can do something like that! He’s one of a kind, it’s so awesome!” He shakes him a little and Kiibo pushes him away.
“You really like K1-B0…” Kiibo mutters. Shuichi nods vigorously.
“I’m only just getting started! T-There’s so much I could talk about! I really love him! Sure, there are other idols I like, like the one in units with him, Kaito Momota and Rantaro Amami, but there’s none that grip my heart as tightly as he does!” Kiibo seriously could die of embarrassment. Shuichi looks back at him, a question on his mind.
“Cosmic Court was your background. You like K1-B0, but is he your favorite unit member? It’s obvious he’s mine.” Shuichi offers a smile. Kiibo rushes to formulate an answer. I don’t know enough about Kaito or Rantaro despite having worked with them. We’re coworkers, not best friends. As an idol I don’t do excessive research like Shuichi definitely does. The idol I know most about…
“K1-B0 is my favorite too, don't worry. I just like different things about him than you. I’ve always focused more on his skills than all the different aspects you seem to focus on,” Kiibo answers after a brief second of consideration.
Shuichi holds a hand to his chin thoughtfully. “I see, I see. Well, I suppose I can understand that! I haven’t even gotten to his dancing yet! He’s a self learning AI, after all! So unless they’re somehow digitally modeling the dances and feeding that data into him, he’s gotta be learning them himself! And in either situation he has to practice synchronizing with whoever else is on stage too! Sometimes spontaneous things happen during lives, so even if it’s data, there’s still bits altered personally, I think! R-Right!?” He suddenly clutches one of Kiibo’s hands, causing the robot to jump in surprise.
Kiibo nods slowly. “Either way is pretty cool, yeah.” He isn’t completely stupid, I guess.
“Pretty cool? M-M-More like suuuper cool!” Kiibo isn’t sure Shuichi could possibly smile any wider, his cheeks flushing from being pushed up so hard by the corners of his lips. “He’s so smooth. I’ve rewatched some of my DVDs a good number of times. A human being even half as talented as him is proof of hard work.”
Kiibo draws his mouth into a straight line. He’s being kind of rude to other idols. This is what an obsessed fan looks like.
“But he has some pretty nice synergy in his unit too. I always thought Kaito and Rantaro had good chemistry, so working with someone as skilled as K1-B0 resulted in something really awesome. I wonder if they’re friends? How lucky!” Shuichi chattered on and on.
We aren’t. Kiibo answer silently. I don’t have friends. There is no use for a friend. They...probably wouldn’t want to be friends with an emotionless robot anyways.
“His stage outfits are magnificent, especially the ones in his signature colors. Blue highlights his eyes, but green keeps with the futuristic theme he typically follows. Black and white is kind of sexy too, though.” Shuichi seems to be really thinking it through.
Sexy!? Kiibo feels sweat start to form on his forehead. Is Shuichi attracted to me like that? I-I seriously don’t know how to feel about it. Cute, cool, sexy...it’s too overwhelming!
“But in casual clothes he looks so nice too. Like when he does interviews or gravure shoots. I’d say he always looks nice, b-but you’d probably think I’m weird,” Shuichi says, chuckling to himself. “You already think I’m weird though, right?”
“Mhm. You are weird,” Kiibo replies with a smirks.
Shuichi sticks his tongue out at him. “I’m used to being teased, but I’m pouring my heart out to you! Restrain yourself or you’ll break it!”
“As if I’d care. You aren’t my responsibility,” Kiibo grumbles.
Shuichi giggles. “Are you a tsundere or something?”
“I don’t know what that means.” Kiibo’s a bit upset hearing a word he is unfamiliar with.
“It means you’re gonna bully me until you eventually start to care about me,” Shuichi answers, crossing his arms with a grin.
“That’ll never happen,” Kiibo growls.
Shuichi leans back against the tree, seeming relaxed. “I’m right. We’re friends after all, it’s official now. We ate lunch together.”
He suddenly blinks a few times, expression turning blank. “Ah, I totally forgot to eat.”
“Then eat now! Lunch will be over soon,” Kiibo demands. Even if he insisted he didn’t care for the boy next to him, he didn’t want him to end up hungry the rest of the day.
Shuichi laughs. “I’ll just wolf it on the way back to class. I’m having fun talking with you.” He gives Kiibo a smile again. It isn’t quite so wide or excited. Kiibo clenches his jaw. Don’t give me such a kind look. I’m Kiibo, after all. Not K1-B0. I don’t mean anything to anyone.
“Anyways, back to K1-B0,” Shuichi says. Kiibo rolls his eyes, exasperated but not surprised.
“He just makes me really happy, you know? The feelings he expresses...they reach me. I think sometimes that I can really understand the meaning behind his words,” Shuichi cooes lovingly. Kiibo’s eye twitches.
“Feelings? He’s a robot, he doesn’t feel things. And he doesn’t write his own songs, so even if he did feel it wouldn’t matter anyhow,” Kiibo grumbles.
Shuichi shoots back up to sitting all the way up and Kiibo flinches back. “How do you know!? Just because he’s a robot and his feelings are learned instead of instinctual, what makes them any less real!?” Shuichi seems almost personally offended.
Kiibo’s thoughts come to a half and he stares blankly forward. He feels Shuichi’s words stab through him, affecting him more than any of the other things he said. He thinks my feelings are real? Why? Why does he think that? Why does he seem so certain that my life has meaning at all?
Shuichi huffs, putting his hands on his hips. “Geez! How ignorant. Plus, even if he doesn’t write his lyrics, I’m sure they must have some sort of meaning to him with the way he sings them. It’s true with every singer, don’t you think? If someone is performing without any emotion behind it it’s easy to tell.”
Shuichi is grinning again, balling his hands into fists. “K1-B0, I feel something. He makes me feel, he makes lots of people feel! Especially happiness, he makes me really happy!”
Kiibo smiles softly. That’s what I’m supposed to do. It’s how I make money, how I keep myself alive and with purpose.
“Kiibo…” Shuichi whispers. Kiibo feels a chill go up his back. No one ever said his name outside of the classroom. The feeling was foreign, and it made him uncomfortable.
“What?” Kiibo replied sternly.
“Thank you. It’s been so long since someone let me ramble like this. I know I’m annoying you, I’m an annoyance to everyone, and you don’t actually want to be my friend, but...it means a lot to me. So, I’m grateful,” he tells him softly, another more personal smile showing.
Kiibo bites his lip. Don’t insult yourself so casually...I’ve been thinking it, but hearing you say it out loud is cruel. “It’s fine. I didn’t hate it.”
“Huh? Y-You didn’t?” Shuichi leans forward on his hands. “Haha! Wow! You really didn’t hate listening to me!? I-I’m so glad!”
He grabs Kiibo’s hand again and Kiibo is again caught off guard. “Hey, so we’ll be friends from now on, right? Let’s be friends!”
Kiibo pauses a moment.
You don’t need any, but I know you want them.
Kiibo clenches his eyes shut, too embarrassed to look Shuichi in the eyes. “Okay.”
Shuichi squirms in place, truly ecstatic. A friend! For the first time in so long, I have a friend again!
The bell rings, signifying lunch is over and they have five minutes to return to class.
“Can I come here again tomorrow?” Shuichi asks, putting his bag back on and getting back onto his feet.
“Okay,” Kiibo answers again. Shuichi smiles and pulls his cap down a little.
“I’ll see you then!” With that, Shuichi ran off, planning to eat as much of his lunch as he possibly could before class started again.
Kiibo remains seated a bit longer, risky as it was. What...What’s wrong with me? Why did I say yes? We can’t be friends. I can’t have friends, especially not someone as obsessed with idols as he is. Why did I say yes? Why did I…
Why did I have fun?
Kiibo shakes himself from his thoughts, hurrying back up to return to class. He’s an idiot. I’m a idiot.
He returned to his usual routine, silent taking notes. But he couldn’t help but grow anxious as time went on, realize all the ways the situation could go horribly wrong. He decides he should study at home that day.
His run home is uninterrupted and quick. No one is with him, which means he doesn’t need to wait up for anyone. He inserts his key into the lock only to find the door is unlocked already. The director is inside.
“I’m home,” Kiibo says, passing through the doorway. He keeps his bag on, needing it’s contents, but takes off his shoes before going beyond the entryway. Mr. Idabashi turns around to look at him. “You’re quite early. Not that I mind at all! It’s good to see you. Rare I get to see you in your uniform.”
He’s a kind person, Mr. Idabashi. Kiibo knew that. Sure, he was in charge of him, but he gave Kiibo as much independence as he could. He wanted to be close to Kiibo, be someone he could rely on, but...if Kiibo didn’t want that, he would accept it. They were housemates and coworkers. They weren’t family, as much as Mr. Idabashi was open to the idea.
“I just thought it would be okay to work at home for a while instead today. A change of pace.” Kiibo sits down at the table.
“That’s fine! If you need any help with a question, you can ask me. We can go to the studio together like this,” he smiles warmly at Kiibo.
“That’s good,” Kiibo answers indifferently. Mr. Idabashi’s smile wavers, but he knows better than to expect an enthusiastic reaction from the bot.
They sit together working in silence for a while, until, to the director’s surprise, Kiibo breaks the silence. “I have a question.” Mr. Idabashi leans forward expectantly.
“What subject?” he asks.
Kiibo shifts uncomfortably in his seat. “My life.”
Mr. Idabashi looks back at him. “Of course. What is it?”
Kiibo takes a second to pick his words. “Am I allowed to have friends?”
He is answered with another question. “Are you saying you don’t have any?”
Kiibo pulls his hat down to hide his face. He blushes in embarrassment.
“Oh, Kiibo. Why wouldn’t I allow you to have friends? In fact, I want you to have friends.”
Kiibo’s head shoots up in shock. “You mean it?”
Mr. Idabashi nods. “Yes. Definitely.”
Kiibo smiles and it warms Mr. Idabashi’s heart. “Okay. I’ll keep that in mind.”
Maybe we can be friends.
Idabashi wants to be Kiibo’s dad but Kiibo doesn’t get it. Poor guy...