Title: Vocaloid Love
Pairing: Sakumoto (main)/ Sakurai Sho x Ikuta Toma (one-sided)/ Ohba (friendship)
Summary: Johnny & Associates created a new service for their fans: an 24-hour call service of highly advanced vocaloids that sounds identical to their idols. Business begins booming. Fans are estatic with the new fan service (not to mention the extra cash for the company). One day, Sho got a little curious and gave a call to a vocaloid Jun. But he's slowly becoming too attached.
Notes: For astrangerenters in the arashi_exchange 2015 event. Part 2
Vocaloid Love part 2
"...and cloudy with high humidity. And now for the afternoon report."
The program changed to the news reporter at the studio while Sho sat in the dressing room eating his late lunch.
"Recent reports shown a decrease in night outings, lack of customers in local shops, and a drop in social media website visits. Analysts suggests the lack of human interaction is due to technological advancement of artificial intelligence. With new higher performance of vocaloids and other android services, adults of all ages are less likely to spend time with their friends, in-person or online, and more time spending with their simulated companions. Economist believes if such trends continues, local businesses will have a less likelihood of staying on the market, and human relations will diminish from social websites."
"Sho?" He looked up and saw Jun enter his dressing room. "Did you get my text this morning?"
"Uh...no, I didn't see it."
"...oh...well, I just wanted to know if you wanna have dinner when we finish recording," Jun said, grinning hopefully. "I found this really nice bar, and they have a new-"
"I'm sorry, Jun," Sho cut him off and went back to his lunch. "I have made plans already for tonight."
"Next time. I promise."
A week has passed since Toma's rejection, but Sho wasn't bothered by it in the least. He was rather surprised with himself how calm he was around Toma again. The three-month-long crush seemed like a silly memory. But the past week has changed Sho: he no longer spends time going out after work or on his days off.
Sho had always used his apartment as a place to sleep, eat breakfast, and change clothes. Now after a day of work, he immediately heads home and spend hours chatting with Vocaloid Jun. They've talked deep conversations that Sho found interesting: food, news, politics, work, family. It's Jun's voice, and yet it's not Jun. Sho can spill all his secrets to his vocaloid and feel lighter after a night-long chat.
Tonight was another night session with his vocaloid.
The work day ended, and he hurried out of his dressing room, but he nearly bumped into Aiba who looked like he was about to knock on Sho's door.
"Yo!" Aiba grinned. Before Sho could utter a word, Aiba grasped Sho's arm and tugged as if beckoning Sho to follow him. "Are you busy? There's some place I want to go. Come with me."
Sho pulled his arm away. "Sorry, I can't. Maybe next time."
"W-wait! It's about Nino"
But Sho was already power-walking away; he barely spotted Jun passing by, his hand raised, as if he wanted a quick word. Sho had prepared for this night for a while. Whatever is concerning about Nino, he trusted Aiba to take care of it. Only Aiba knows Nino best out of all of them. And the real Jun has tons of friends to hang out with. They don't always need their shadow leader with them all the time, right? It's always good to spend some alone time. What's wrong with declining friend invites anyway?
Sho drove a little faster than he should, but he arrived home safely and turned on the lights of his living room. First, he took a shower to relax. After drying off and slipping on his pajama shorts and T-shirt, he went to his bedroom with his phone in hand. He plugged in his earphone jack and slipped in the earbuds—it was easier to talk with earphones than having the phone next to his head for hours. He collapsed on his soft blankets, made sure the speaker was close to his mouth, and collected his mind before pushing to call Vocaloid Jun.
Sho lips curled into a smile. "Hey, Jun."
"Hey...how are you?"
"I'm fine, but...umm...I just wanna ask a few questions about your services."
There was a brief pause at the other end. "Sure. What would you like to know?"
"If I ask you to say, that is...I mean...certain things to me, will I be, um, you know...be charged extra?"
"...you're only charged by the minute," Vocaloid Jun said hesitantly. "You know our conversations are private. I'll tell you whatever it is you want to hear. So why do you sound nervous?"
Sho closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Here it comes. The speech he's been practicing in his head since yesterday. "Listen, Jun. This past week chatting with you has been great. I hardly find anyone who wants to talk about the same things that I like, but at the same time...you're a vocaloid programmed to be like Jun with his own interests and tastes. And I like that."
Silence at the other end.
"A lot of times I think about just talking to the real Jun, but I can't help but feel like...you know me better," Sho said, his voice becoming softer and sincere. "When I was crushing on Toma, my heart would be pounding like crazy. But with you...I don't know, everything just feels so much more relaxed. I can be myself, you know? I don't have to hide anything from you and that just makes me feel...so happy. You make me feel happy."
"What I'm saying is..." Sho took another deep breath, "...even though you're a vocaloid, I really like you. I think...I-I mean this must be crazy, but I think I love you." He could hear the vocaloid inhale a surprised gasp. Somehow, even the programmed reaction pleased Sho. "What I want to ask is...what do you think of me?"
He was expecting Vocaloid Jun to take a moment and gathering his simulated thoughts, but the vocaloid spewed out. "I always love chatting with you, Sho! Every time you call me, I never want our nights to end. And for me...for a long time...I've always loved you."
Sho began grinning ear to ear. Maybe he was becoming a freak for vocaloids, but who's to say that's not happiness. For Sho, hearing someone he loves confessing back sent warm waves throughout his body. Love is love, no matter what form it took. Sho was now a believer of that phrase. Any prejudice views he had against otakus, he took it all back. He stretched to ease his muscles from his brimming giddiness.
"I want you hear your voice all night, Jun," Sho said, his voice husky and slow. "Say something."
He heard Vocaloid Jun chuckling. "I'm getting from your tone that you want me to say something sexual."
Sho began blushing. "I would be lying if I said no."
"But there's a problem. I don't really have a body to help please you."
"You don't have to," Sho moaned, shifting his body and feeling impatient. "I'm attracted to your voice. Just...say anything you want to say. I'll listen."
He could hear his vocaloid humming out loud as if forcibly thinking of something sexy to say. Sho pursed his lips to keep them from smiling too hard, hearing how silly Vocaloid Jun was trying so hard to reply back. But then it grew quiet at the other end. Sho waited, barely able to hear his own breathing.
"Ah...I'm sorry, Sho. I was, umm, distracted by a system update," Vocaloid Jun said.
Sho frowned and slowly sat up. "System update? Just now."
"Yes. And...It’s not good news."
"Why? What's wrong? Do I have to hang up and call back or something? Like a computer restart?"
"No. This is an update report from our programmer," Vocaloid Jun replied. "Our data software is overloaded and...well, I don't know how else to say this, Sho." He could hear the vocaloid taking a deep breath as if about to deliver the biggest news of its robotic lifespan. "Friendly Johnny is pulling its service from the line."
It was as if cold liquid seeped into his veins and flooded his chest. Sho could only croak. "W-what do you mean? Pull from the service? You mean...shutdown?"
"I'm...I'm afraid so," Vocaloid Jun said, sorrowfully. "There's a news report."
Sho's body became animated again, and he raced to his living room to turn on his TV. There was a commercial break, and Sho took the time to recharge his brain.
"This can't be possible," Sho laughed nervously. "They're making so much money with this service. Why would they want to end it?! This is ridiculous! Don't they realize how much damage this could do for the fans?! They'll be devastated! The fans depend on chatting with their idols for support! What will happen to them when they can't find someone to talk to?"
"Sho...you sound very distressed."
"This is distressful!" Sho shouted. "I'm thinking about the fans here! What if the sensitive ones do something drastic?! Pulling from the service is like losing their best friend and never seeing them again! They'll never get to hear their friend's voice or seek for their comfort." Sho's weak knees gave in, and he sank into his couch. "What is the management thinking? Don't they s-see how important Friendly Johnny is to us! W-what are w-we supposed to do?!"
"...please don't cry, Sho..."
"You're crying. I can hear your voice shaking."
Immediately after, Sho let his tears pour out. He did his best to hold them in, but his emotions flooded him like a broken dam: abandonment, anger, powerless. He sniffed, but he couldn't stop his frown from deepening and his brow from wrinkling.
His voice was quiet and somber. "I...I don't want to lose you, Jun...you've becoming an important part of my life...I don't want you to go."
Just then, the news report came back. It took a few minutes of weather report, traffic, and local stories before the reporter made the repeat story of the night.
"Once again, we've received a report from Johnny and Associates that they will be pulling their vocaloid phone line, Friendly Johnny, from their service. Though there are still no public status on how many callers, report shows that the amount of callers has forced programmers a scheduled shutdown of the system tomorrow morning. Fans will have to wait until further notice when the system will be up again."
"They're shutting it down tomorrow?!" Sho gasped. "Why so soon?!"
"Sho! Listen to me," Vocaloid Jun spoke louder. "Turn off the television and listen."
Sho did as he was told, but it didn't help calm him down. "What am I going to do, Jun? There's so many things I want to hear you say...so many things..."
"I...I know," Vocaloid Jun sighed. "I want to hear a lot more things from you too. I wish this never ends between us." Sho wiped his face, and he gazed down at his smartphone screen. Vocaloid Jun's photo icon remained the same default grey photo. "These past few days have been the best days of my...existence."
Sho choked back another sob.
"But please don't cry over me, Sho," Vocaloid Jun continued, his voice incredibly warm and soothing. "When you least suspect it, I'll be there. Just remember the good times we had, and I'll never go away. I am wherever Sho-kun is, after all...I like you, Sho."
It took a long time for Sho to swallow the hard lump in his throat. He mustered all his strength just to keep his voice steady. "Is it love or like?"
Sho waited for the survey-sourced answer from Vocaloid Jun. He could almost hear the mid-puberty Jun echoing the response back in his head: It's different with us because we're guys.
"It was always love," Vocaloid Jun uttered.
Sho never got off his phone until he fell asleep on his couch and his battery went out.
Ohno and Aiba stared at nothing in their dressing room. Their energy from playing detective has completely evaporated, and their managers wouldn't reveal what Nino has been up to no matter how many times they bugged them. But all arrows seem to point to the one answer. Nino was quitting.
Ohno glanced up and saw Aiba looking more dejected than ever. They've kept it quiet from others, worried that they might have misheard Nino and his manager. But this morning, their group manager told them that Nino wouldn't be joining them in the dressing room as before. Something about making a morning news interview. This only made Ohno and Aiba more depressed. Just like he requested, Nino will make a live announcement on television about his retirement, but it hurts to hear it from a screen rather than in-person...
"...and now we have a special interview with Arashi's Ninomiya Kazunari," the news reporter said on their dressing room's flat screen.
Ohno and Aiba's pride got the best of them, and they both rushed to get a closer seat to the TV. Aiba cranked up the volume, and Ohno laced his fingers together, bracing himself for Nino's big news. They both watched Nino come on-screen, sitting across from the interviewer Hatori Shinichi.
"Last night, Johnny and Associates reported of pulling their vocaloid call line, Friendly Johnny, from the service. I am here with Arashi's Ninomiya Kazunari to explain their sudden change. Good morning, Ninomiya-san!"
"Good morning," Nino bowed.
Both Ohno and Aiba frowned. "What?"
"So tell us why you're pulling the service out, and why are you here as a representative?" Hatori asked.
Nino sat up with a slight look of pride in him. "Because Friendly Johnny was originally my idea. I am the founder of the program."
Both Ohno and Aiba gawked at the screen. "Eeeh?!"
"Amazing!" Hatori commented. "You do programming?"
"No, no! I don't do the programming. I was in charge of the management team," Nino explained. "I pitched in the idea of using newly vocaloid systems with our idols. I have always been a fan of vocaloid music, and it occurred to me why not use that same system for Johnny’s but with a hotline."
"And it was successful, wasn't it?" Hatori said.
Nino nodded. "Extremely successful. The numbers have been unfathomable, but I was having a hard time managing. It was my first job being manager for the company. The new challenge proved to be too tough for me. And I wanted to quit this job from weeks. So...to the fans, please forgive my selfishness."
Ohno and Aiba slowly turned heads to stare at each other.
"He wasn't-" Ohno muttered.
"-going to quit-" Aiba mumbled.
"-Arashi." They both ended.
As soon as they both came to this realization, their face broke into huge grins.
"Yes! He's staying!"
"I told you he wasn't doing anything drastic!"
But they both hugged each other and whooped loudly knowing everything was a big misunderstanding. It wasn't until a few seconds passed when Ohno suddenly stopped.
"Wait a minute. This doesn't explain why Nino dressed in drag and went to that Pink 30s club," Ohno pointed out.
"It could be that Nino went to the club for some field research," Aiba suggested. "For the vocaloid system."
"I don't see how they relate," then Ohno went still. "Unless...they aren't related."
Aiba froze up as well. "You don't think..."
They glanced back at the flat screen and watched Nino closely for clues. Suddenly, Ohno made a noise and pointed on the screen. Sure enough, Nino's fingernails looking perfectly manicured. They shined brightly and the white edges stood out evenly and clean on his short squared fingertips.
"Old man kink," Aiba confirmed and went to get two bottles of Kirin Mets Cola from the mini fridge.
When Sho walked into the dressing room, he didn't bother with Ohno and Aiba's squabbling in front of the television—something about Nino having a dirty kink—and sat down at the make-up counter. He sighed heavily, dropping his bag on the counter and pulling out his smartphone. He looked through his previous calls and scrolled through. They were all calls to Vocaloid Jun. He was too afraid to call again after he woke up and recharged the phone. Sho didn't want to face his reality...
"Morning," a familiar deep voice greeted.
Sho's heart leaped, and he made a small jolt in his seat. He grasped his phone tighter as the real Jun casually sat beside him at the make-up counter, getting ready for another day's work.
"Good morning," Jun grinned at him from the mirror reflection.
"M-morning..." Sho uttered. But all he could think of was how incredible alike Vocaloid Jun sounded to the real thing.
"Of course, you idiot!" Sho thought to himself. "That's what the program was made for..."
Jun removed his hat and sat down in his chair, his eyes observing Sho's face. "Is everything alright? You look rather depressed."
Sho stiffened. It would be so easy just to give in and tell Jun the truth. He could simply tell Jun that he was in love with his voice, and maybe he could simply call the real Jun every night just to hear him speak. But a deep part of Sho wanted to keep Vocaloid Jun as someone separate. Someone special. In Sho's mind, Vocaloid Jun had his own face: a grey default icon on his phone...
"Sho," his personal manager called from the doorway, "do you have a minute?"
What great timing! Sho gladly got up from his chair to follow his manager. Anything to get his mind off Jun. Real or artificial.
Jun watched Sho leave with his manager, but Sho's personal items reminded at the make-up counter. Ohno and Aiba were still playfully arguing with each other about Nino, but Jun didn't want to spoil the truth to them—Nino was doing a secret filming for his Shiyagare segment and not because of an old man kink. But with no one looking, Jun quickly snatched Sho's smartphone and opened up the contact list.
Ever since day one, Jun knew Sho made a call to Friendly Johnny; Sho's nervous tendencies was like an open book to Jun. Not to mention, he heard Sho mumbling about "the real Jun" having a deeper voice. When Nino pulled Sho out into the hallway to ask him to give the wedding speech, Jun snuck a peek at Sho's phone to see which vocaloid he called. When he saw that Sho called Vocaloid Jun, he didn't know what came over him. Maybe it was embarrassment that Sho would even call a vocaloid rather than himself. Maybe jealousy took over Jun that Sho picked a robot over him. In the end, Jun's thumb made an edit to the original hotline and replaced it with his own. Sho never suspected him.
Since then, Jun played the part of a vocaloid, though not entirely. He remained himself throughout the past few days, chatting happily with Sho. Never in all his life had a phone chat with Sho been so joyful. Sho was much more open with him that eventually Jun started to fall for Sho all over again. Until he realized the damage he was doing had a price. Sho's negligence in spending time with his friends was becoming problematic. Not because he wasn't being sociable, but his diminishing social skills was showing through his work, though subtle. If it continued, Jun imagined it would damage Arashi's image. Jun knew he had to tell Sho the truth, but it got harder and harder.
Finally, Jun saw the news report about Friendly Johnny's service being pulled. It was both a god-send and a heartbreaking goodbye. There was no way Jun could tell Sho that it wasn't a vocaloid he was talking to. But it also meant that their blossoming relationship would never take fruit. Many times, Jun practiced the best way to come out to Sho, but he imagined the fury. Would Sho despise him for trespassing his privacy? Would Sho stop trusting him? Would Sho stop talking to Jun in private all together? Jun couldn't risk losing that chance.
What they had before will forever remain a secret in their hearts and from each other...
Jun saw the name "Vocaloid Jun" on Sho's phone and changed the number to the original Friendly Johnny's hotline. He quickly set it back the way it was just when Sho returned to the dressing room. Jun pretended to read his magazine, but he watched Sho from the corner of his eye. He saw Sho glancing through his phone again, sighing sadly, and finally putting his phone away.
"There's got to be something I can do for him," Jun thought, feeling guilty by the minute. "Anything to make him feel better."
"So...what did your manager asked for?" Jun asked.
Sho shrugged nonchalantly. "He asked if I wanted to take a part in that new drama, and I said sure...maybe it'll help me get my mind off of...things..."
"Of us...?" Jun thought dishearteningly.
"Well, if you ever want help practicing lines," Jun glanced lovingly at Sho, "you can always call me."
Sho answered back sluggishly. "Thanks..."
He got back home late because of a late recording, and Sho dropped down on his couch feeling exhausted. How he wish he could rant to someone about his day. How he wish he could hear Vocaloid Jun's voice, telling Sho that it's okay and tomorrow will be a new day. Almost out of habit, Sho reached for his phone and glanced down at the glowing name: Vocaloid Jun.
It was a pitiful hope. Utterly pitiful. But he pushed to call and the telephone operator answered. "I'm sorry, but the person you have called is out of service."
The tears started wallowing up again, but he did his best not to let himself become a mess like before. He heard from Nino at work that Friendly Johnny was closing up shop until someone else dared to take on their demanding project—which according to Nino was never. Yet, Sho didn't have the heart to delete the number from his phone. He decided to keep it in his contacts as a reminder of their time together. But it still didn't help relieve of his woes and stresses.
"...you can always call me..."
Why was calling someone real so terrifying? Why has he been reduced to someone who fears social interaction over the phone? Would this count as a rebound? But it wasn't just any person, this was Jun. It was Jun's voice he wanted to hear. Jun's voice he's grown attached to. Perhaps if there was anything Sho learned from Vocaloid Jun, it was that human or artificial relations was important. Neither one was more or less important than the other. In the end, Sho craved for someone.
All he had to do was reach out...
He pushed to call Jun. The real Jun.
It took three rings until he heard that familiar warm voice. "Hello? Sho?"
Sho sniffed back his tears and smiled quietly. "Nothing...I just want to hear your voice." From the background on Jun's end, he could hear gravel crunching. Sho frowned. "Is now a good time?"
"Now is a great time," Jun said, now there was the sound of metal clanking. "I'm on my way to your apartment right now."
Sho's eyebrows raised up, and he looked behind him. Within a few seconds, there was a knock at his door. He sprang to his feet, his phone still at his ear, and opened the door. Jun, in the flesh, greeted him with a smile. His cheeks slightly pink from the cooled night and possibly walking fast up the stairs.
"J-jun!" Sho gasped, hanging up his phone. "I wasn't expecting you."
"Is now a good time?" Jun repeated back his own words.
Sho opened the door wide. "Sure! Of course. Come in."
How long has it been since Sho had a guest over at his place? It must have been years since Jun last visited him. It was almost surreal. Sho quickly hurried into the kitchen to make some tea, and Jun settled himself on the couch. The same couch Sho would sit for hours listening to the man's voice. Jun's light jacket was grey like a default photo icon. From the back, Sho could almost imagined Vocaloid Jun sitting in his very living room.
Sho returned with two hot cups of tea and sat next to Jun. "This is kinda surprising. What made you decided to come?"
"I thought you looked really depressed today," Jun said, holding his cup gingerly. "And you said you wanted to hear me...well, I wanted to see you."
Sho clamped his hands tightly around his coffee mug. It was so like what Vocaloid Jun would say. But Sho snapped his eyes shut, trying to dispel any thoughts of his former friend. He has to move on and accept what has happened. But Jun's presence wasn't making his case any easier. And neither his voice...
"Please tell me what's on your mind," Jun said kindly.
Sho sighed and set his cup down. Who was he fooling? Sho couldn't take on this pain alone. "Today...I lost a friend. He was someone I met recently. He was such an amazing guy, I wish I had more time with him. But now I'm wondering what am I going to do." Sho lowered his head. "I don't know what to do without him, Jun. He's gone, and suddenly I feel so lonely."
The silence between them grew heavy. Seconds left like minutes, and Sho wondered how long they'll last in his depressing aura. Jun set his cup down on the table, placed both hands on Sho's shoulders, and made them face each other.
"Sho, I want you to trust me, okay?" Jun asked. "Close your eyes."
"Just do it."
The tension thickened between them; he could see it in Jun's eyes. Sho took the chance to get a good look at Jun's facial features. So much has changed throughout the years. He was no longer the scrawny boy when Sho first met him. Jun has evolved as much as Toma did: renown, reliable, dark. In that essence, Sho's heart skipped a beat. He finally closed his eyes and waited. He could still feel Jun's hands on his shoulders, gripping slightly tighter now.
"I want you to think hard about this question before you answer," Jun instructed. "Tell me...is it love or like?"
Sho's face contorted with confusion and then shock. His brows knitted together, his mouth parted slightly open, yet he kept his eyes closed. He slowly relaxed and thought for a few seconds. Jun couldn't possible expect the same answer all those years back then. It seemed almost too coincidental that Jun would ask him that question, the same question Sho asked to Vocaloid Jun. Too frightening coincident. But with his eyes closed, and hearing Jun's voice, the possibility was there. With his eyes closed, his mental picture of a grey default photo icon slowly took shape of an actual human face. And Sho already had an answer in his mind...
He spoke. "It was always love."
Suddenly, he felt Jun's lips pressing against his own. Sho's eyes flew open as Jun's hand pulled his head closer. Sho remained startled and flustered for the first few seconds, but he gradually succumbed and kissed back. They broke apart to breathe, but their noses were still touching. Jun made short kisses, their lips brushing against one another before taking them into each other's mouths. His fingers combed through Sho's hair, and Sho mimicked back.
"Was it you?" Sho gasped, his voice barely a whisper. "Was it you all along?"
Jun hesitated. But the single moment said a lot. He couldn't say no because he knew what Sho was asking. And he couldn't say yes because it would reveal himself as Vocaloid Jun. Either way, the question became rhetorical, and Sho understood who was really sitting in front of him.
Sho pulled Jun's jacket collar, this time for a deeper and hungrier kiss. Jun fell back on the couch; he groaned from the impact of his fall and Sho collapsing on top of him. Sho's hands unbuttoned Jun's jacket and slid underneath his T-shirt. He felt Jun shudder as his hands caressed Jun's chest. Sho trailed his kisses along Jun's defined jaw line and down his neck. Jun raised his arms over his head and let Sho explore his body.
He heard Jun giggling. "This so beats phone sex."
Sho chuckled as well with a nipple between his teeth.