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“Hey Ai, do you like Junko?”
Seemingly out of nowhere, Minamoto Sakura blurts the question, her pinkish-red hair bobbing as she pops up from behind her. Truth is, she does like her, though Ai believed that her feelings were a well better secret.
Immediately flustered, Ai responds, “Wh-what?” Putting down the wet rag in her hand, she continues in a hushed tone. “Don’t say that so loud! What if someone heard you?”
“So you do like her?” Sakura spurs, excitement audible in her voice.
“Umm, I've gotta finish washing off my makeup!”
“You’re deflecting,” Sakura says with a smug grin.
“Yeah, fine. So what? How’d you even find out?”
“Oh I just saw you watching Junko’s videos on the computer again,” she responds. “It’s pretty much all that’s in our search history.”
“Good grief, I suppose it can’t be helped. Why do you even care?”
“C’mon, Ai! It’s been forever since I’ve been able to help one of my friends confess their love,” Sakura says, with full dramatics. That last phrase makes Ai tense up, looking down at the makeup-stained rag on the counter.
“Wait, I never said you could help!” Ai says, just now registering Sakura’s full statement. Sakura puts her arm over Ai’s shoulder, giving a quick tug of camaraderie. Ai continues, attempting to push Sakura off her, “Besides, I don’t have time to think about that right now. We have a concert tomorrow.”
“It’s okay! I’ll be your wing-man, no, wing-woman! Wing-zombie?”
“Fine. I’ll ask her soon, if not just to get you off my back.”

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Excitement and noise buzz in the concert venue as fans are lined up, waiting to take pictures with the zombies of Franchouchou. As per usual, six of the members stand at their tables while Konno Junko, famous Showa idol, shyly sits by herself backstage. The white haired musician idly fiddles with her hair, taking a rare moment to think.
I still can’t believe this many people are willing to attend our shows, even though our performances are so far from perfect.
The door having been left ajar, she looks out to the photo ops. Despite an emboldening speech the mysterious manager, Tatsumi Kotarou, made at one point, he still hopes for Junko to participate in events such as these. With a drawn out sigh, she counts the number of people left in line, using it as a sort of clock for when to go to the van. The fans amble up the line while the sound of camera shutters click repeatedly. She slumps slightly, seeing how many people remain in the queues.
Of course Ai-san has the most people in her line. She’s obviously a very talented idol, to the point of being scouted by her old group.
Junko, breathing in, recalls memories of that time. The image of Ai and the current center of her old group, coupled with the tears that swelled in her eyes, still echoes through her head. Remembering those moments when she fell to the ground, sobbing, some months ago, she feels a deep unease growing in her gut.
It was a little silly to think she was going to leave Franchouchou, she is a zombie after all. Sakura even said so, yet I still… It was quite embarrassing how I acted afterwards. That officer came over to me after I called out Ai-san’s name, but he thought I was yelling about heartbreak. Figures, I was pretty emotional about it all, but why? I know how the music industry can be, why was I that broken over the thought of losing a coworker? Is she really just a coworker to me? No, she’s so much more than that, she’s a friend. Ai-san is a friend. She has been, since the beginning of Franchouchou. Friends care about each other, worry over each other, think about each other, and want-
“Come on! Go, go, go, go go, go, go go!!!”

Tatsumi Kotarou’s booming voice brings Junko back to reality as she jumps, obviously startled.

“We finished 17 seconds ago, stupid zombie!!! Zombies need to pay attention!!”

“Yes, sorry Kotarou-san. I just got distracted,” Junko replies, hurrying to the van. The sounds of Saga’s empty streets hold the rare hubbub of a crowded venue, full of people and cars waiting to pounce at their chance to leave the lot. The door of the van slides open, revealing the energetic idols; loud conversations populate the ambient sounds of the vehicle. Nikaidou Saki sits in the passenger seat, wearing a large grin.
“Hey girl! Looks like I nabbed shotgun while you were busy doin, uhhh, whatever! Hehe!”
“It’s quite alright Saki-san, I lost track of time.”
“It’s okay Junko, there’s still the seat next to me.” Ai Mizuno, black haired Heisei-idol, speaks up from the back of the van. Seeing Ai’s smiling face causes Junko to briefly become more timid than usual. Without any word past a simple okay, she awkwardly shuffles into the van, scooching up next to Ai. Taking a short glance, Junko notices Ai’s eyes, the garnet color of her contact lenses covering up the natural zombified crimson.
With a short start, the van begins to peel forward. The crew find themselves being thrown around their seats by Kotarou’s hellish driving, not slowing for anything. The zombies have never been more grateful for seatbelts. Amidst the noise, Junko turns to Ai.
“The performance today was pretty good, Ai-san.”
“Yes, although I feel there are some parts we could still work on.”
“The half time section still isn’t together, correct?”
Taking out her direction notes, Ai adds, “Ignoring Tae, Saki’s the most off tempo at that spot. Next rehearsal she needs to slow down a bit”
A call is heard from the front of the bus, “Eh? You talkin’ ‘bout me back there? Ya wanna die?”
“Oh, we’re discussing future rehearsals. We might have to hold an extra one at night if you don’t improve your timing,” Ai curtly replies.
The youngest member excitedly cheers out, “Ooh! If we’re practicing tonight, Lily wants to join too!”
“I mean we weren’t planning on tonight, but that might not be the worst idea, Lily.” Ai faces Yugiri, “Don’t worry about dinner tonight, since we don’t technically have to eat.”
“Yes, Ai-han.”
The rest of the drive back to the mansion zooms by as the zombies chatter about the upcoming impromptu practice, the occasional snarky remark from Kotarou receiving no response. As the rest of the girls continue chatting, Junko finds herself remaining silent, content just listening to her fellow performer’s voice. Resting her head on the back of the seat, a light sigh escapes her lips. Her mind begins to wander as her hands fall to her lap.
Why can’t I stop thinking about her? I keep hearing Ai’s voice in my head. Her beautiful voice. Her singing is so wonderful and powerful, it’s surprising I don’t simply stop and watch her when we’re on stage together. These thoughts just won’t leave my head. I want to know her, be close to her. But that’s not right for idols to do, right? Especially now that performers have so little privacy.
Junko looks at her hands, taking a second to process her own thoughts.
Who am I kidding? I like her… a lot. She’s undeniably perfect; her pretty face, her wonderful voice, her smile, they all give me butterflies. When I look at her, everything else fades to gray. I want to hold her hand. I want to go on a date with her. I want to…….
Her face betrays her as it flushes with color, a vestige of her once circulating blood.
“Junko? You okay?” Ai’s soft voice pierces her ears, as she jolts back to attention.
“Yes, sorry Ai-san. I was just doing some thinking.”
“If we were alive I’d be worried you had a fever or something,” Ai says, releasing a small chuckle
“Thank you for worrying about me.” Junko rubs her thumbs together, trailing off with each word.

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“Alright! Looks like we got that part sorted out! Let’s break for the night,” Ai states between heavy breaths.
Apologetically placing a hand behind her head, Saki replies, “Heh, sorry ‘bout that, girls. I didn’t realize how much I was speeding up there!”
“Saki! Can we play on the swings before we wash up?” Lily asks, with a cheery glint in her eyes.
“Sure thing, Shrimpy!” Saki chuckles, “Sakura, wanna join us?”
“That sounds like fun, but I’m really tired.”
“Man, you wanna die?”
As Lily and Saki bound out of the room, Tae chases after them with intense speed. Yugiri and Sakura make their way to the door.
“Actually Sakura, do you mind staying for a minute? There’s just this one part I want to address during your solo,” says Ai, with well veiled embarrassment.
“Alright!” Sakura exclaims, losing her tired facade.
“Junko, do you mind closing the door after you leave?”
With a disappointed look on her face, she does as asked, leaving Sakura and Ai alone in the practice room. Before speaking, Sakura wheels around, making sure no one’s listening in. Seeing no one, she turns back to Ai, shooting a thumbs up.
“So, have you asked her yet?” Sakura inquires, with the full excitement of a living teenager.
“If I had, I wouldn’t have kept you back, Sakura,” Ai jokingly responds. “It’s just… It’s not as easy for me, you know?”
“It sounds like someone’s making excuses,” Sakura prods, with a sing-songy tone on the final word.
“Oh can it, you’ve made the most out of any of us, by a long shot.”
“Eh? I got hit by a truck, of course I was being stubborn!” Sakura jokingly complains.
“Sounds like someone’s making excuses,” Ai parrots in retort.
“Yeah, yeah. But c’mon, why’d you hold me back? It must be important, right?”
“So, I was thinking of asking her tonight, and as much as I hate to admit it, I need your help.” Ai pauses, as Sakura’s grin widens. “Listen, just make sure no one decides to wander outside of the house. We’re going to be on the roof, Seriously, no one can be outside.”
“Should I get Saki and Lily to go inside then?”
With a nod, “Yes, that’d be best. Now if that’s possible.” Sakura gives a supportive tap on Ai’s shoulder, before dashing out of the room. The remaining idol idles in place, taking in the stagnating air of the room.
God. Damn it. How’d she even decide to help me anyway? Why did she think any of this was her business? I guess she technically is helping….. I probably wouldn’t have gotten this far without her encouragement anyways.
Finally taking a step, she leaves the room.

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Lying in bed here, I can’t help but feel a little sad. Sakura-san did great during our practice, so Ai-san must be hiding something. Why… Am I not a good enough friend to confide in? It pains me to think of those two alone. I felt as though Ai-san and I had a deep connection, but it seems I was wrong.
As she closes her eyes, she hears the sound of an opening door, in addition to a child’s voice.
“We were just getting started, why do we have to go to bed now?” Complains Lily. Junko opens her eyes, seeing Lily, Saki, and Sakura all entering the room.
“Oh hello Sakura-san, I thought you had extra practice to do?”
“Ummm, it turns out Ai was…. mistaken. I was doing a good job,” Sakura replies, before leaning over to whisper something into Saki’s ear.
Saki starts, “Really? Heh, that’s too good! I’ll get Tae, let’s all ‘get some sleep’, got it?” After a short moment, Saki returns, towing the still lively Yamada Tae behind her. With a grumble, the nonverbal zombie slumps into her futon. Saki and Sakura move over to their futons, and begin speaking in hushed tones. Lily tries to eavesdrop on the suspicious chatter, but the two gossipers carefully conceal what they’re discussing.
Why is Sakura…... She’s acting extremely weird. Is something wrong, perhaps? And where’s Ai-san?
“Hey Junko, could I speak to you?” Ai asks as if on cue, bringing a startle to the unsuspecting Junko.
“Oh! Oh, yes, of course,” Junko replies, still audibly confused.
“Follow me,” Ai states, reaching out a slightly shaking hand. Junko takes it, and the two leave the room. Continuing to walk, Ai leads the way, tilting her head down slightly to hide the blush growing on her face.
“Where are we headed? Ai-san, is something wrong?”
Ai responds with a mumble, her nerves betraying her at this moment.
“Could you please speak up?” Junko caringly asks, the brisk outside air meeting them. Water falls softly, and small rain clouds gather in the sky. Ai’s throat seems to clog up in anxiety as she attempts to speak. The light rain conceals growing tears of panic, and Ai continues, “I’d like….. I’d like to talk. On… the roof.”
“Ai-san, are you okay?” Junko asks, placing a hand on Ai’s quaking shoulder. That simple act brings a calming effect to Ai, and she breathes, emotionally steadying herself. Wiping the small tears from her eyes, Ai softly clears her throat.
“Yes, Junko. I’d just like to speak to you on the roof.” With her momentary confidence, she begins climbing up a ladder leaning against the building, shortly followed by her walking companion.

Plopping down on the center of the roof, feet dangling onto the decline, the duo look up into the sky. Stars pepper the late night sky, though some are obstructed by the clouds. The visible motes of light twinkle with a burning passion, helping illuminate the night. A full moon sits above it all, reflecting a soft yellow glow onto our scene, and all of Saga.
“The sky is very pretty tonight, Ai-san.” Junko says, breaking the brief silence.
“Yes, but the rain is a bit concerning. It doesn’t look like it’ll thunder, luckily,” Ai says, before pausing, “You know, this weather reminds me a bit of Franchouchou.”
“How so?” Junko curiously asks.
With the practiced tempo of a well rehearsed speech, Ai answers, “Well, the rain makes me worried, but there’s a nice feel to it, despite the worry. A feeling that everything is going to be okay. I feel that with Franchouchou too. No matter what difficulties Kotarou, the world, or even fate itself, throw our way, there’s a warm feeling I have. That we’ll be able to smash through. You’ve helped me so much more than you can imagine. To be honest Junko, I……” Ai trails off, looking towards the yard. Two faces poorly hidden in foliage watch the pair atop the roof. A head with red hair, and one with orange and green streaked blond hair. A thumbs up comes into view as Sakura extends an arm, and Saki starts giving a goofy, yet supportive, grin.
“Yes? You were saying?”
“Hm? Oh! Yes, I was saying that ummm,” Ai pauses, angry at the two on the ground. Flashes of frustration crack through her face, despite her best attempts to remain focused. “Just give me a second.”
“Ai-san, are you mad at me? You keep pausing weirdly and sighing, and Sakura’s acting weird,” Junko says, standing up, “I’m already confused enough as is. All that’s going on, all that I’m feeling, you don’t have to make things even worse by dancing around what you wish to say!” Sakura and Saki, hearing the raised voice, shrink back into hiding. Ai stands, whipping around to face Junko.
Ai, placing her hands on Junko’s shoulders, declares, “No, that’s not it! I could never be mad at you! Truth be told, I-” Lowering her head, Ai puts her arms back to her own side, “I like you, Junko.” Without even as much as a glance, Ai moves to the ladder. Panic setting in, tears well in her eyes. Her legs begin shaking as she begins stepping down.
“Is it true, Ai-san?”
“Just…. just forget I said anything.” Ai’s foot slips as she takes her next step, distracted by the situation. As she reaches out to grab the ladder, her hand meets something much softer than cold steel. Looking down, her face blushing intensely, Junko’s hand tightly grips Ai’s. Their eyes meet, and the white haired idol opens her mouth to speak. Before any words can escape, however, Ai’s arm dislodges from her shoulder. As the falling idol begins to yell out, Junko slips from the sudden loss of force. Quite literally swept off her feet, she also begins to fall. The few seconds in which they are plummeting seem to slow down. The rainclouds part slightly, revealing more beautifully twinkling stars. These newly shown stars softly backlight the falling Junko in Ai’s vision, giving her white hair a faint radiance. Extending the arm holding the detached limb, Junko attempts to bridge the distance between them. The remaining arm attached to Ai subconsciously reaches upwards, pulling its lost appendage, as well as Junko, closer. The distance between them in this frozen moment only makes the two wish they were closer.
With a sharp thud, Ai hits the ground. The sound of breaking and cracking pierces the humid air. Not even a second later, a second, softer thud sounds, as Junko slams directly on top of Ai. In a forced pseudo-embrace, Ai and Junko’s eyes meet. Their red, glowing eyes shimmer and they make the most tender of eye contact. The rest of the world seems to melt away at this moment, and a stray hand finds itself placed against Ai’s cheek. The moment of connection is cut short by the echoing, grating laugh of a certain zombie. Looking in the direction of the sound, Junko and Ai clock Saki, rolling just outside the bushes in laughter.
“AHAHAHAHA! Ooh, this is too good,” Saki says, wiping away a tear of laughter. Realizing the situation, her eyes widen and any laughter suddenly stops. With an awkward pause, she rolls back into the bush, where the sound of soft arguing can be heard.
“Well, that didn’t go as planned,” Ai says, tears beginning to fall from her eyes. Getting up and grabbing her arm back, “Well, I’ll uhhh, see you later, sorry.”
Junko’s voice rings out, “Wait, Ai-san!” As the currently one armed figure attempts to leave, Junko takes the wrist of her still attached arm. With a sudden shyness, “Could I go with you?”
Placing the arm back in its socket, Ai musters a reply, “I’d like that.” The two of them begin making their way inside the building.
“Did, did it turn out alright?” Sakura quietly asks, turning to Saki.
“Hell if I know,” Saki replies, with a light chuckle.

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Junko and Ai walk together through the halls of the mansion. No particular destination in mind, they simply enjoy the time together. Alone. The sound of their footsteps echo through the empty hall, the only other sound being the remaining rain smacking against the roof. For several minutes, the anxiety of the stress filled night washes away. Several times during the extended silence, Ai’s hand finds itself grasping towards Junko’s, yet unable to make contact. As the minutes pass by, they find themselves at the door to the practice room.
“I’m quite tired, do you mind if we sit for a while, Ai-san?” Junko asks, opening the door in front of them. The silent follower walks in through the door, accidentally brushing hands with her companion. Ai halts, face having gone far past blushing.
“So, ummmmm,” she breathes in before continuing, “Junko?” Walking right past her, Junko finds herself a spot against the wall to sit. Patting the floor next to her, she looks at Ai, her red eyes conveying a crimson ocean of warmth. Embarrassed, Ai shuffles to the spot assigned to her.
Sitting down, Ai repeats, “Junko?” She jolts as a soft fluff of hair leans itself onto her left shoulder.
Shifting her head to speak to Ai, Junko speaks. “I just wanted some privacy. Idols are supposed to keep this stuff secret, after all.” Junko moves her head closer to Ai’s ear, and releases a soft, honeyed whisper, “I like you too. I find myself worrying over you, caring about you, thinking about you. I also find myself wanting to-” with a pause, she kisses Ai’s cheek. “Do that.”
Her heart rising in her chest, Ai forces the words to escape her throat, “Do you want to be my.... girlfriend?”
“I’d love that.” A quiet chuckle is heard from Junko’s lips, “How long have you been wanting to ask me?”
Ai answers, struggling to remain calm, “I’m not sure myself. There was a time when I thought my feelings were just admiration as a performer. Over time, I found that feeling had turned into something more true. Sakura was the one to push me to ask.”
“Oh, Sakura-san helped out? Is that why she was ‘hiding’ in the lawn?”
Rolling her eyes, “She was supposed to make sure no one was outside. Obviously that just didn’t work for her.”
“It’s much better this way, us together inside this room. It feels more honest. More…. real. Ai-san, I’m glad I could receive your feelings, despite me being a bit old-fashioned.”
“Junko, that’s one of the reasons I love you.” Finally Junko is the one whose face is turning red. Ai continues, “You’re old-fashioned, cute, unwavering, and I can just tell you have feelings in your heart that are waiting to ring out. Every part of you is perfect. Even if you don't see it, I do; I see it every single day.” Both embarrassed by the impromptu speech, the two of them sit in an intimate silence. Raising her left hand, Ai begins stroking Junko’s hair. A similar feeling to when she’s on stage fills her chest, and the flowers slowly bloom in her own hair. Her fingers glide through the individual strands of the fluffy white mass, taking time to feel each and every one. Junko’s head moves back down onto Ai’s shoulder, and her chest lowers as she lets a long, satisfied breath out. Despite the lack of blood flow in both of their zombified bodies, Junko feels a sweet, calming warmth and what she swears is a soft heartbeat. Junko takes Ai’s free hand in her own, holding it caringly, yet determined not to let it go. After some minutes of this, Ai notices Junko’s breath is soft, slow and steady. Glancing, Ai also sees Junko’s closed eyes. Kissing the sleeping Junko’s head, Ai rests her head against the wall behind her, allowing herself to drift to sleep as well.