* * *
Popular Culture (The Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Do Japan Remix)
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BEHIND THE SCENES
Bad fucking idea, taking this job. Yumichika got to lounge on an armchair, flicking through magazines and calling for wine, sandwiches, gyoza ("don't forget the sauce, please, incompetence is so ugly").
Meanwhile, Ikkaku kept missing his cues.
"You express dissatisfaction with these newfangled human ways," said the director, an anxious pale blur of an idea, with a moustache made of ink. "I'm sorry, Ikkaku-san, but it's really not that complicated."
"It's not. I'm fine. I can do this. Fuck." Ikkaku shook himself. "Okay, let's do this. Camera rolling?"
"We don't have cameras," said the director gently.
"Yeah, right, okay. I forgot." Ikkaku grinned, to calm the guy. The director looked even more worried. It made his features run together, as if the pencil lines delineating him were being smudged by an authorial thumb.
"You'd think it'd be easier to play yourself," said Ikkaku, trying to get a smile out of him.
"Oh," said the director. "I wish I knew what it was like to have a self."
Yumichika, lying in his armchair, leaned back and bared his throat. He smiled. His eyes glinted like the suspicion of gold in dark water.
("That tasty flavour of foot again," said Ikkaku later. He was nervy as a startled horse, angry at himself. "Don't seem to need my mouth for anything else. I'm a fucking moron."
"What are you so upset about?"
"I like the director. He's a good guy."
"He's not a guy," Yumichika pointed out. "He doesn't exist. He doesn't get a line. He doesn't even get a story."
"Fuck," said Ikkaku. "Fuck.")
* * *
SCENE I: roll over chopin
They're at the Asano kid's place, drifting in the space between one fight and the next. The room makes Ikkaku nervous -- there's too much stuff, most of it unfamiliar. No room to swing a sword in here, scarcely enough to swing a fist.
Yumichika, on the other hand, is having the time of his life. He flings himself into a chair with extravagant grace, exuding delight from every pore.
"I love this place," he says. "Look, this box makes sounds!"
Under his hands, the radio stutters to life. It plays polka.
Ikkaku's jaundiced expression drops off his face.
"Ah," says the director. The story shatters: it's no longer just the two of them, in a stranger's room. Yumichika sits up, sighing. Ikkaku drops down onto a sofa and stretches his legs.
The director is nervous, apologetic. "I'm sorry, my fault. Can we get some Shostakovich in here? Hello!"
The room's suddenly full of people, words flickering briefly in the air like flames before dying out again.
"I've got Bach," says a member of the crew, a boy made up of discarded handfuls of punctuation.
"Bach will do," says the director. "Test the CD."
"What are you doing with that?" says Ikkaku to Yumichika, as canned violins swell in the background. Yumichika holds the magazine away from his face, letting make-up dab anxiously at him -- not that he needs it, but the vain bastard's never objected to prettifying.
"It's a quiz," says Yumichika. "It says I'm a party girl."
"I could've told you that," says Ikkaku.
"Excuse me," says the director. "Can we make a start again? From the top, please."
* * *
SCENE I: if at first you don't succeed
"It makes sounds," says Yumichika, enthralled. Bach spills out of the speakers in incongruous, measured frills of sound.
Ikkaku does the trapped-panther stalk: one, two, let me out of this zoo (or I rip your fucking head off). Yumichika slings his legs over the arm of the chair and opens a magazine.
"Don't like it," says Ikkaku. "What was wrong with the old ways? Nothing, I say! Yumichika, what?"
"Look, cream to reduce wrinkles and other signs of aging," he says. He turns a page. "This season's colour is lime green. Did you know that? I didn't know that! Ikkaku, how did I ever live without -- without -- " He pauses, and flips to the cover. "Without KERA?"
"Yumichika. You're dead."
Yumichika does something incredibly gay and flappy with the hand not lovingly riffling through the pages of the magazine. There are times when Ikkaku suspects Yumichika of not actually having any bones in his wrists.
"Details," says Yumichika. He snaps his fingers. "Now. Get me a sandwich."
"From the kitchen," Yumichika suggests sweetly. "You like the kitchen. I like the magazines."
This doesn't seem to be leading anywhere Ikkaku likes the look of.
"I'm not getting you a sandwi -- argh!" The remote bounces off Ikkaku's forehead. "What the hell, Yumichika?"
"Look," says Yumichika.
They stare at the television. The strange blue light it casts on their faces makes them look briefly real, as though they would cast shadows if they stood under the sun.
"Ikkaku," says Yumichika. He's whispering, as one does in a holy place.
"Cut," says the director. He smiles at them. "And that's a wrap."
* * *
BEHIND THE SCENES
Ikkaku and Yumichika were small fry, as archetypes went. In this, as in every other business playing on the human imagination, popular appeal was key, and for some reason the bald thug with a death wish and his narcissistic partner weren't in high demand. Mostly they played themselves. Method actors, Ikkaku called them, because it sounded better than "down-and-out losers who can't get any other roles".
The available jobs were further limited by Yumichika's adamant refusal to play anything that offended his highly characteristic sense of the aesthetic. Space opera was right out ("those pathetic special effects"). Nothing that involved unattractive uniforms was allowed, and period dramas only if Yumichika okayed the costumes first.
The state they were in, they were lucky to get any offers at all. If it had been Ikkaku's choice, he would have gone with the stories that came, but if he didn't understand Yumichika's obsession with beauty he could at least respect it. And they didn't do jobs alone.
"You're a handsome idea, Ikkaku," said a colleague once. "Not the most original template in the world, but you have charm. Polish you up a bit, I bet you could get a good supporting role in a story somewhere. You'd make a good sidekick, or a worthy opponent. Might even survive to to the end of the story. Are you sure you don't want me to look around for a role for you?"
"Nah. Thanks, big guy," said Ikkaku.
The Hero looked troubled. He pushed his forelock back, and his hair flickered from black to an improbable orange.
"It's your partner, isn't it?" he said. "The pretty one."
"Now that's a compliment. Gotta tell him that one," said Ikkaku. "He'll be over the moon when he hears you said that!"
"I'm serious, Ikkaku." The Hero's clothes changed from a startling spandex creation of blue and red to jeans and a slim fit T-shirt, his eyes from blue to green to brown. His face was old-young-eternal, the way the faces of all the oldest archetypes were. "You're not like me. What happens if you don't find a story to settle down in?"
"Was never much of a guy for settling down anyway -- "
"Then I fade out." Ikkaku shrugged. "Big deal. There are other characters. I won't be missed."
The Hero made an impatient gesture. "It just seems stupid to let yourself go like that, when you could have a story practically for the asking."
"Both of us or neither," said Ikkaku shortly. "Them's the rules."
"Ah," said the Hero. "Syzygy."
"Yeah, sure, if you like."
"It's death to any idea, you know," said the Hero. "Stagnation."
"What can I say? He's picky," said Ikkaku.
"I don't understand how -- "
"Yeah, me neither," said Ikkaku. "But it's his search for truth. I'm just coming along for the ride. I don't understand, but I don't need to. Get it?"
"Heh." Ikkaku looked away. "Don't worry about us. We'll get along. Don't you have a story to get to?"
"Never a peaceful moment," said the Hero. He grinned a teenager's grin -- brash, cocky, the grin of a guy about to kick your ass. "Offer's still open, you know."
"I'll keep it in mind," lied Ikkaku. The Hero looked as if he knew, but he didn't say anything. Which was the kind of guy he was. Ikkaku would have called him a friend, if it weren't for the fact that the Hero was pretty much friends with everyone.
And Ikkaku didn't really have friends, anyway. He had Yumichika.
"You ever get the feeling," he said to Yumichika, "that he looks kind of familiar?"
"The Hero," said Ikkaku. "Sometimes he gets this look about him that -- it's like I've seen him somewhere before."
"If you mean the orange hair, I wish he'd stop," said Yumichika. "Such an incredibly gauche shade."
"Probably can't help himself," said Ikkaku, still disturbed by the feeling. It felt like a memory, but there was an empty space where recollection was supposed to be. "He just follows the narrative like everyone else does."
"Fuck the narrative," said Yumichika.
* * *
SCENE II: instruction manuals for dummies
Ikkaku and Yumichika have become insatiable consumers of pop culture. Yumichika likes magazines, which is good, since it leaves the TV remote to Ikkaku. They take up the living room floor, surrounded by take-away boxes and junk food wrappers, and learn about the strange world into which they've been thrown.
"Didn't have this kind of thing when I was a kid," says Ikkaku, surfing through channels. "If there was, I would've grown up a lot -- whoa."
"What are you watching?" says Yumichika, looking up. "You've been watching a lot of different -- whoa."
"Would've grown up a lot faster," mutters Ikkaku. He turns up the volume.
"Are people allowed to do that in public?" says Yumichika. He sounds disturbingly interested in the idea.
Ikkaku squints at the screen. "Not exactly in public, is it? But." He loses his train of thought. "Uh."
Yumichika seems wholly unembarrassed. He scoots nearer the TV, the better to see the action. "Look at her -- "
"Trust me, I'm looking."
"What is she putting there?"
"Well, that's. I'm not sure I want to know."
"I read about this," says Yumichika, still studying the screen with the detached fascination of a scientist. "They call it pornography. Ikkaku, are you listening?"
Ikkaku gulps. "Did you see that? She just -- "
The next thing he knows, he's on his back, Yumichika's knees on either side of his chest.
"Oi! Yumichika! I was watching tha -- " He sneezes.
Yumichika's mumbling something about the application of newly learnt skills, and his hands are good hands, they're friendly hands and Ikkaku really really wouldn't mind getting to know them better, if only --
"You've got do something about those fucking feathers," Ikkaku manages to say, before he sneezes again. Yumichika sighs and sits back.
"I think he's allergic to these," he says to the air.
"We'll have them changed," says the director, appearing out of nowhere.
"Fug," says Ikkaku. "Somebody ged be a handgerchiev." A member of the crew hands him the idea of a handkerchief, nothing more than three lines marking out a triangle of air. It looks real the minute it touches his hands, the white fabric collapsing over his fingers.
He blows his nose.
"We gonna have to do that scene again?" he says.
"We could keep that take. I thought the sneezing was a charming detail," says the director hopefully. "Humorous. Broke the tension."
"Ruined the moment, is what you mean," says Yumichika icily. "I'll be in my dressing room if anybody needs me."
He leaves behind a crushed silence. The director looks close to tears. Ikkaku hands him the handkerchief.
"Don't mind him," says Ikkaku. "Got an obsession with the Platonic ideal."
"Haven't we all," says the director. He crumples the handkerchief in his hand, but it's only a jumble of words now.
Ikkaku's no good at comfort, but he has to try. Maybe he's been spending too much time with the Hero.
"We aren't real either," he says.
"Closer to real than us," says the director. "Love does that to you."
* * *
BEHIND THE SCENES
(A bedroom. It's not dark yet, but the light is fading fast. There are two people in the bed.)
YUMICHIKA (hereafter "YUM"): Ah. Ah. Ah. Yes.
IKKAKU (hereafter "IKK"): Fuck yeah.
YUM: Like that, right there -- oh.
IKK: (laughs) -- oh god --
YUM: Do you ever wonder if maybe we're just characters in a pornographic film and we're being watched whenever we fuck?
IKK: ... you just had to go there, didn't you.
YUM: Wait, why are you stopping? Come back here.
IKK: Not tonight, honey, I've got a headache. Goddamn it.
YUM: I don't see why you're so distressed. I think we would be beautiful.
IKK: 'Course you do. But I'm not a crazy exhibitionist.
YUM: You like to dance.
IKK: Yeah well, I don't do it naked and shut up shut up, we weren't going to mention that one time ever again, remember?
YUM: We would be expensive. And in a foreign language. French, probably. It would be erotica, not mere porn. I think our audience would be very fortunate.
IKK: I. Fuck. What the fuck am I doing? I have to get a real job.
YUM: We have a job.
IKK: Acting isn't a job, not this pointless bizarre metafictional fucking around --
YUM: You didn't like our last role either.
IKK: Playing bouncers at a gay club was not a real job, Yumichika.
YUM: You're just saying that because more men hit on me.
IKK: Oh yeah, I was green with jealousy. Sat in a corner crying into my skirts, wishing I could go to the ball -- nah. I've accepted the fact that I'm never gonna be one of the pretty girls.
YUM: I liked that job.
IKK: You were good at it.
YUM: You think so?
IKK: Liked the faces they used to have when you twisted their arms behind their backs and pinned them to the ground until they screamed. Funniest shit I ever saw.
YUM: (touched) What a pretty thing to say.
IKK: I have to get a real job. Fuck. What the fuck am I even -- I have to get a real job.
IKK: We have to get a real job. -- Hey. Yumichika.
IKK: You ever feel like you just wanna freak the fuck out and kill everybody?
YUM: All the time.
IKK: Should do that one day.
YUM: I couldn't stand the rags they make you wear in prison.
IKK: Nah. I'm heading straight for death row.
YUM: Your own truth, I suppose.
IKK: It'll never happen.
YUM: It might.
IKK: No. Can't die if you're not real.
YUM: Do you dream of being real, Ikkaku?
IKK: All toys dream of being real. You don't?
YUM: I'd like to see the Andes some day. And -- I want clothes. Nice clothes.
IKK: You're even more of a fucking nutcase than you look.
YUM: Beauty is artifice.
IKK: (to himself) But what story would take us?
YUM: Not one or the other. Neither real nor unreal. In between. Certainty is so dull. And boredom is ugly.
IKK: Okay. You keep telling yourself that. Fuck narrative, right?
YUM: I do.
IKK: But we need it. Can't die if you're not alive. Can't live if you're not real. Can't be real without a story.
YUM: You need it --
YUM: Then so do I.
YUM: It'll happen.
IKK: It'll happen.
YUM: It's us.
* * *
SCENE III: we're not sex maniacs, we only play them on TV
They've done this so many times it should be boring, but it isn't, raw desperation clawing at Ikkaku's throat every time. He fucks up into Yumichika like he's going to die, wishes he could, wishes he didn't know somebody was watching, wishes it could just be the two of them, and fuck being real or not real or in between or -- what?
"Yumichika," he gasps against Yumichika's skin, "what are you -- ?"
"Read this in a magazine," purrs Yumichika, his fingers going alarming places. "What was it called, now -- ah, yes. 15 Ways to Make Your Man Come Screaming Your Name -- "
* * *
BEHIND THE SCENES
It was like this every time a story ended. Ikkaku felt like a punctured balloon.
'Dressing room' was, frankly, an exaggeration. They'd been shoved into a closet with a mirror and a dressing table, half of which was taken up by old costumes and props from other stories. Yumichika was playing with a Ring of Power when Ikkaku came in and collapsed in a chair.
"Shit, don't mess with that," he said. "You don't know which Dark Lord's finger it's been on."
"They don't work outside their stories," said Yumichika. He spun the ring on the edge of a finger. The light glinted off the curling letters. Ikkaku felt flames roar on the inside of his head.
"Just put it down," he said.
Yumichika set the ring down on the dressing table. It clinked with a heavier sound than its apparent weight could have justified.
"Could go with high fantasy for our next job," said Ikkaku. "What do you think? Quests? Swords?"
"I like swords," said Yumichika dreamily. "But we'd have to hang out with the Hero."
"He's not a bad guy," said Ikkaku.
"You like people."
"It's in my characterisation."
"And this rushing on from story to story -- what do you call that?"
"Desperation, maybe." Ikkaku grins at the shock on Yumichika's face. "Honesty also comes with the characterisation. In case you didn't notice."
"I just." Yumichika turned away jerkily. He started tearing through the racks of old costumes, pretending to be absorbed in the clothes.
"We need a story we can fit in," said Ikkaku. "Not these ten-second stints -- okay, they're fun, they make us real for the moment, but how long do they last? We need something we can live in."
"And die in?"
"That's the idea."
"Stories end," said Yumichika viciously. Clothes hangers rattled. "People die, nothing lasts -- "
He broke off mid-rant.
He didn't answer.
"Look, I can't -- " Can't change, can't help it, can't say I'm sorry because you and me, we don't do that. "You knew."
Okay, now Ikkaku was getting mad. "Look, we had a deal -- "
"Shut up, you idiot! Can't you hear it?"
Ikkaku shut up. Yumichika stared at him, wild-eyed.
"Hear what?" said Ikkaku. He could only hear their breathing, but Yumichika looked like he'd hit the jackpot or died or come. Maybe all three at once.
"Did you ever think," said Yumichika, "that the way out wasn't through a story?"
"If this is your fuck narrative thing again -- "
"No," said Yumichika. "Look."
He drew back the clothes hanging on a rack.
There was nothing behind it. This was surprising, because there was obviously supposed to be a wall. It extended upwards to the ceiling in the ordinary way that walls do, and there was wall running down to the floor as it was supposed to do, but in the middle there was -- space. Air. A gap. A sandy ground stretched out before them, and above it an empty sky.
Wind blew on Ikkaku's face. For a moment he looked real.
"Hear that," said Yumichika.
The sound of the wind. And in the distance, voices.
"The way out is the way out," said Yumichika.
"Shit," said Ikkaku unsteadily. "How is that even possible?"
"What I want to know is," said Yumichika, in a voice entirely too even considering the circumstances, "what does the sign say?"
Ikkaku looked at it.
"It's in English," he announced finally.
"How do you know English?"
"The Hero speaks it."
Yumichika muttered something uncomplimentary about the Hero. Ikkaku ignored him, studying the sign.
"Well?" said Yumichika. "Can you read it?"
"Yeah, sure. I can even tell you this," said Ikkaku. "It's spelt wrong."
"What does it mean?"
"Nothing important." Ikkaku stood up. He looked at Yumichika. "You want to do this."
"The final act of escape," said Yumichika. "Is anything more beautiful?"
"Yumichika, this is your fucking last chance to say -- "
"Think we get swords?"
The smile that spread across his face was not a nice smile.
"Sure to find somebody we can kill and steal them from," he said.
"Being real sounds fun already," said Yumichika.
* * *
SCENE IV: they tell me meta's a kind of cheese
Picture an empty room, and a sign swinging in the space where the wall blurs into reality.
ROS: Is that all they can do -- die?