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The Mechanics of International Romance

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It was obvious from day 1 that Kazuichi had a thing for Sonia Nevermind, Princess of the Kingdom of Novoselic. She was cordial with him, Hajime remembered, like she was everyone else, but she never went out of her way to spend time with him. The only way their interests overlapped was his interest in her, and she was, well, her.

So, a year ago, when Kazuichi had told him that she had friended him on Facebook and started talking again, Hajime thought it a little odd in the moment. But, hey, his friend was happy! Maybe things would work out for him.

“C’mon, we don’t got all day.” Kokichi crossed his arms and huffed.

“Oh, sorry.” Hajime took the clipboard and pen offered by Gonta. He skimmed the forms but ultimately signed them. It was standard release stuff and, besides, this wasn’t about him. Kazuichi had gotten onto some sort of reality show and wanted to have a scene with him.

He had yet to be told why it was at a mortuary of all places.

Granted, it was a very nice-looking mortuary, you wouldn’t be able to tell from the outside. But being in the coffin showroom was…weird.

“All right, Hajime, you’ve ever done this before?” Kokichi asked.

Bought a coffin? Been on tv? “No.”

“Just act natural. It’s my job to make you look interesting later. Assuming Key-boy doesn’t screw up the shots.”

“My shot composition has always been satisfactory!” Kibo was wearing some sort of weird harness that had the camera on an arm just in front of him, but always remaining perfectly in place no matter how much he moved. The entire contraption made him look like he was half-machine. Hajime was surprised Kazuichi wasn’t trying to take it apart.

Gonta shuffled furniture around as they got some “establishing shots” of them entering the room and moving around. Kokichi was very particular about it, too, ensuring every little detail was consistent. Which was honestly very weird, since he was never like this in school. As was so many alumni together in one room. As was the conversation that began.

“So, how tall do you think Miss Sonia’s father is?” Kazuichi began, looking at a particularly expensive coffin.

“No clue. Why?” Hajime’s brain started fitting together the pieces, but the logical conclusion was…not very logical.

“This is a secret, but…” Kazuichi leaned in, glanced down at his lapel mic, then said “her father just died.”

“Oh no, that’s horrible,” was Hajime’s automatic reply. His brain was filling with a million questions, all fighting to be spoken first. “Is that, uh, --”

“She asked me to look at the options. She’s a mess right now and I want to help her however I can.”

This entire situation was just…bizarre. “When did this happen?”

“It’s been…about a month now.”

“What? I hadn’t heard anything about it.” A reigning head of state just…died? And it wasn’t in the news? And he wasn’t organizing something to help, or sent his condolences. Hajime felt like a pretty awful friend.

“Like I said, it’s a secret. There’s some sort of big holiday going on right now and the law says that businesses have to close down in mourning. They’re waiting for a better time to announce it, to not disrupt the economy.”

“Uh, okay.” It sounded plausible. “If anyone in the kingdom does funeral arrangements, do they think the news is going to leak?”

Kazuichi laughed nervously. “It’s nothing like that. Miss Sonia wants to bury him here.”

“Here? Like,” Hajime pointed to the ground, “here here? Not Novoselic?”

“Yeah.”

Why?”

“Cause she’s, uh, moving here.”

Hajime didn’t respond. He really couldn’t think of what to say, as it was all so unbelievable.

“To be with, you know, me.”

Hajime hadn’t realized how much he must have zoned-out in disbelief until he got jumpscared by Kokichi.

“Hey, idiot, you totally ruined the shot.”

“I t-think I’m going to sit outside. Get some air.”

Kokichi groaned. “We’re wasting daylight! If you’re not back in 10 minutes I’ll get Gonta to drag you back in here.”

The sky outside was way to bright. The gently rolling hills of the cemetery gave a picturesque quality to the landscape, as long as you ignored the thousands of bright-white crosses jutting out of the ground. Hand made, different heights and angles and placed with no real planning. The noise was minimal but the visual clutter was at maximum.

Hajime pulled out his phone and plopped onto the concrete curb. Which hurt. He grimaced and questioned why he was even here.

Did you hear about the King of Novoselic?

He sighed but was pleasantly surprised when the response was almost instantaneous.

He told you too

Why, exactly, Chiaki was told about this “big secret” was another mystery, but that could wait for later.

Yeah, as part of some show???

I don’t understand what’s going on

That was your first mistake

Going on the show I mean

It’s too late, I’ve already signed something

lol

But youre getting paid right

Yes but not a lot

Can you get some Robux cards on the way home

I don’t get paid TODAY

🥺

Okay I will

😊 ty ilusm

Love you too

Probably need to go back I’ll talk to you later

He shoved the phone into his pocket and stands up. Doing this for Chiaki would make it more bearable…but also he should be thinking about Kazuichi, too. Something was going on that wasn’t sitting right with him, but he couldn’t put a finger on it.


“Can you wait just a fucking second, Christ!” Miu swung open the door and immediately closed it again. Kokichi managed to slip inside anyways.

“Uh, Kokichi?” came Kibo’s muffled voice from the other side. “Should you have—”

“Get the fuck out of my shop!” Miu’s attempts at grabbing him kept failing as the little shit kept dodging her.

“Should you really be trying to assault me?” he asked with a smirk.

“You’re the one fucking trespassing!”

Kokichi becomes suddenly still and his face shifts, to that one, the one that makes her heart drop to her stomach in fear. “I can always visit your PO, you know.”

“D-don’t do that.” It was…challenging to stay on the straight and narrow, even without Kokichi trying to rile her up. She was only a few months away from being done with probation, with this endless nightmare of incarceration in sight. “What do you want,” she asked, voice as flat as possible.

Kokichi stretched his arms behind his head. “Have you been keeping up with your ex?”

“N-no.”

“You’re really bad at lying. I thought they taught that at prison?”

“Either way, I’m fucking done with that guy. Not after he dumps me after all that shit he put me through.” It was his idea to go onto this god-forsaken show, after all; if she had known it meant Kokichi would be following her and filming some of her worst moments for the entire world to see, she would have said no. Dumped his ass, even. Yes, the money (and infamy) helped her get set up  and be stable. But there wasn’t enough money in the world to do a second season.

“Do you know who his new girlfriend is?”

Miu took a few breaths to calm herself, otherwise she’d tear this fucker apart. “No, I don’t, and I don’t want to know.” Whoever this was, this had to have been recent; Kazuichi was the kind of lovesick idiot who wouldn’t shut up about his girlfriend on social media, or the despair he felt whenever things turned south. Which was why him breaking things off was such a surprise. Maybe asbestos in a car or something gave him brain damage, who fucking knew. Who cared. Thinking about it only brought the hurt back, and she didn’t need that. Not right now, when the end was so close.

“It’s the princess.”

Miu laughs. And keeps laughing, doubled over until her lungs ached. Everyone knew she never had any interest in him; he had such a chronic case of down bad for her that it wasn’t even funny. “Okay, okay you got me.” She straightens up and wipes a tear from her eye. “But really, who is it?”

“That wasn’t a lie.”

“But what you just said was was, right?”

“Nope.” Kokichi spins on his heel and starts walking around the shop, looking at all the power tools. “Hey, you think this can cut through bone?” he points to a band saw.

“How the fuck is he dating a fucking princess and it’s not all over the goddamn news? Did the hamster guy bite it or something? What the fuck.”

Kokichi shrugs. “I don’t know anything about how love happens. I just film it for tv. Didja know when they started talking?”

“How do you even know all this?”

“They’re my next subject. Everyone loves a crossover! And I’m the one lucky enough to film him make one mistake after another!”

“Crossover? Is this not an ex-con thing?” Kazuichi’s record wasn’t…perfect, but it wasn’t as bad as Miu’s. She was the one who was being locked up, and it was her love, during and after, that people were interested in. And they sure as shit wouldn’t throw a princess in prison.

“We make another show, about long-distance relationships in other countries. It’s pretty popular, actually.”

“That’s you? Thank God, the sooner he leaves this country, the fucking better.”

Kokichi giggled. “Nope, other way around. She’s supposed to come here!”

Shit. Fuck. If she has to see Kazuichi AND Sonia together, she…well she didn’t know what she was going to do. Nothing good. “And you were saying you know when they started talking?”

“Yup. About a year ago, she friended him on Facebook.”

“A y-year…?”

“That’s what I said!”

“When we were filming?

Kokichi taps a finger to his chin. “Well not ‘we.’ They hadn’t let you out yet, it was just stuff like him telling his family what a bad decision he was about to make.”

Miu didn’t hear anything else. The blood pounding in her head washed over any thoughts she could have had.

This fucker humiliated her on tv, dumps her, and he had the fucking balls to be talking to some other bitch this entire time?


“Thanks for taking the time to meet.”

“I imagine this isn’t just a social engagement.” Hajime fidgeted at that.

“Nothing ever gets past you, huh?” He laughs nervously.

Kyoko only nods. To her knowledge, everything was going fine with him and Chiaki. Neither one was the type to get into trouble. But people could hide secrets so deep that no one would ever suspect anything was wrong.

“Celeste likes this place, doesn’t she?”

“Yes, they make her tea exactly how she likes it.” She takes a sip from her own; Hajime had gotten iced coffee, which would only make his anxiety worse. The straw was something to fidget with, at least.

“So do you ever, uh, take on private cases?”

“Not usually, no.” Hajime visibly deflated. Shoot, wrong thing to say. “I am always open for special cases, though,” she clarified. “If you approached me, it mustn’t be something anyone can solve.”

“It’s not that, exactly.”

“Explain.”

Hajime takes a moment. “First off, it’s not me, it’s a friend. And I know that sounds like a cover, but it really is. Well, two friends, maybe. I don’t actually know if the other person is who they say they are.”

“You mean—”

“No, not them. Well…maybe it’s them, but they’re using someone else’s pictures. And not doing Facetime.”

“Who is the person they’re impersonating?”

Hajime looks around before leaning in and whispering “Sonia Nevermind.”

“Oh.”

“…What do you mean by ‘oh’?”

“It’s a very…bold choice. I’m not sure even they would go that far.” Impersonating a head of state was a step too far; the ramifications of such an act was incredibly far reaching. No wonder Hajime felt he couldn’t go to anyone else.

“But she’s my classmate, I know her, so the things she’s supposedly doing…well they make sense. But my friend was telling me how she plans to move here, run the kingdom from here, now that her father died and—”

“She said all this? Today?”

Hajime blinked. “No, uh. Apparently he died awhile ago and they just haven’t announced it? Something about rules of mourning and interrupting the economy.”

“That’s not a thing.” Kyoko sighed. “And even if it was, this is something that’s easy to prove is untrue.” She pulls out her phone and starts tapping away. After a few moments she hands it to Hajime. “See?”

“See, I know that, I know how to do this, but my friend would just say that this is an old photo, or it’s photoshopped, you can’t even read the text of the bill from here, so he could be signing anything.”

So this was actually about a friend of Hajime’s. “It sounds like your friend already has a version of the truth that they want to be true and won’t be convinced otherwise.”

“I guess…. He just really wants a relationship with her and I think someone is taking advantage of that.”

Ah, the mechanic. Probably not the hamster guy, considering he and the princess were an item at some point. Maybe still were, but Kyoko wasn’t in the habit of keeping up with royalty-based gossip.

“It sounds like his heart is going to be broken no matter what you do. You just need to be a good friend when the inevitable happens.”

“Normally, I would, but….”

“But…?”

“The only reason I found out about this is he’s on this show, about international relationships, and he told me all about this, at the mortuary just outside of town and…Kyoko, are you okay?”

She hadn’t realized that her face slid into her hands and was leaning on the table. But this was the same thing that happened with Makoto; she had broken up with him, he ran off to his high school crush and got scammed…on national tv. And his heart shattered when it finally aired and he learned he was being played. At least Sayaka was actually Sayaka. There was no way this was actually the princess.

“Who dumped him?”

“Huh?”

She straightened her back and let her hands fall into her lap. “What girl broke his heart to make him go and do something this stupid?”

“Uh, funny thing about that. He broke up with his girlfriend to be with Sonia.”

This was even worse. But at least that poor woman didn’t have to deal with him anymore.

“And they were on tv, too.”

“You have got to be kidding me.”

“It’s…well, it was the one Makoto was on. Sorry.”

Kyoko hadn’t watched it, of course, she didn’t want to see what self-destructive things Makoto was putting himself through. She didn’t need to find reasons to question if the break-up was the right thing to do.

“I’m sorry, Hajime, but your friend is an idiot. There’s nothing I can do. The only way this is going to end is Sonia speaking to him face to face and telling him, or this imposter comes clean. And even then he still might not believe it.

“And whatever you do…don’t sign up for one of these shows. Nothing good can ever come from something like this.”


Gonta could tell that something was wrong, but he wasn’t sure what. A pretty lady liked Kazuichi, who was being a gentleman and trying to help after her father died. He was even going to pick her up from the airport! But poor Sonia couldn’t make it, there were bad guys at the airport of her kingdom and she wasn’t able to leave.

“There’s nothing,” Kibo mutters to himself, scrolling through his phone. “Her lies are getting worse and worse.”

But Gonta remembered Sonia. She was nice! She liked bugs, even the ones that others didn’t want to touch, like flesh-eating beetles. And she told Gonta about the bugs that only lived in Novoselic! Why would someone like that lie to Kazuichi? All that would do would hurt him, which she wouldn’t do.

At least Miu wasn’t around anymore. She wasn’t very nice, and she and Kokichi would always get into fights. Things were a lot quieter without the two of them screaming at each other. Kazuichi deserves a nice lady! Even if he never wanted to hold Gonta’s bugs.

Their filming after that was very sad. Kazuichi kept trying to make something work and things kept getting in the way and they couldn’t meet. She would get sick, or her skong got into a car accident, or an assassination attempt…. And every time Kibo would check it on his phone and remain unconvinced.

Until one morning when they showed up for filming. Kokichi had a huge smile on his face.

“You, uh, okay there?” Kazuichi asked.

“I just have a good feeling about today is all! Don’t mind me!” He strode over to Kibo. “I’m going to need you on you’re A-game today,” he said quietly, “no idea when it’s going to come in. We only got one shot for a natural reaction. Understood?”

Kokichi was very good at his job! And maybe could also predict the future! It wasn’t long until Kazuichi was dancing around the house going “yes yes yes!”

“Oh?” Kokichi said. “What just happened?”

“Miss Sonia is coming! She’s finally coming!”

“Really? Wow!”

“Her private jet just landed! And look!” He pointed to a map on his phone. “Location tracking! There’s no way you can fake that! Shoot, I gotta look presentable. Here,” he hands his phone to Kokichi, “set something up so we can meet, a nice restaurant or something! Make it really good!” He then runs upstairs.

“What did you do,” Kibo said. His tone didn’t sound very nice.

“What, me? Why do you think I did anything?”

“It’s okay!” Gonta said. “Kokichi just knows things will work out!”

Kibo rolls his eyes and Gonta isn’t quite sure why.


“How did Ibuki get wrapped up in this?” Ibuki asks herself. She was sitting in her mess of a car looking at the party area of the park. There was no party but she still had to put on a performance. And it was way more daunting than performing at a sold-out stadium. But she was a good friend! She was going to do this, no matter what!

“I can do this!” She jumps out of the car and marches up the hill.

Under the wooden canopy was a few picnic tables and 3 people she vaguely recognized. Right, that huge guy was the one who was super into bugs. And the purple one tried to sabotage one of her concerts, but she was able to roll with the malfunctioning equipment and use those brand new noises to shred in a way once thought scientifically impossible!

But they weren’t the ones she was nervous about. Her old classmate Kazuichi was there, dressed in a full 3-piece suit, hair slicked back, and holding a huge bouquet of roses. She couldn’t help but feel terrible.

He’s surprised to see her. “Oh, hey, Ibuki. What’re you doing here?”

She laughs nervously. “I’m, uh, here to see you, actually.”

“Oh, wanted to see the filming?”

“No, not that. It’s, um, how should I put it….” She glances over at Kokichi for some sort of help but his face is shockingly neutral. All right, alone, then. “It’s about Sonia, actually.”

“You’re here to meet her, too?”

She groaned. She was hoping that he’d figure things out on her own, do the heavy lifting of emotional labor for her…but Kazuichi didn’t seem very smart when it came to stuff like this. Then again, neither was she. Performing was to make people feel fun or excited; this was the total opposite. Except for the people who’d end up watching this on tv and who liked to point and laugh at people bumbling through situations like this. Which she’d done plenty of times. It wasn’t very fun being the person on camera. Especially knowing that this whole thing wasn’t an act.

“So…the person who you were talking to isn’t exactly the person you’ve been talking to.”

“Huh?”

“You weren’t talking to Sonia. Sorry.” Kazuichi just stares at her for several seconds. Her hand dips into a pocket and pushes the speed dial on her phone. Okay, signal sent, she just had to keep him distracted until the next act was ready. “This has to be really weird.”

“Wait, I was talking to you? There’s no way! You could never write like that!”

“That’s because you weren’t. You were talking to my friend.”

“Who! Oh, I know, it was Miu, wasn’t it? Did she put you up to this?”

“Wuh? No, why would she do that?” She didn’t know a lot about Miu, but she did know that she was very direct. She wouldn’t go through all this effort. And Miu didn’t have the patience for a long con like this. It was a weird person to assume.

“Then who?”

Me!

Before Kazuichi could react someone had grabbed him from behind and flipped him over, smashing him into the ground.

“Ugh, what the hell….” He struggled to sit up. “Who the hell are you?”

“I’m Tenko Chabashira, defender of women and vanquisher of degenerate males!” She did one of her Aikido poses, which would normally be extremely cool, but right now it was just…awkward. Ibuki wasn’t just third wheeling it now, she was the 6th wheel. Her part was done.

“So why the hell did you throw me?” Kazuichi snapped.

“Because you’ve been a creep towards Her Royal Highness for years! Even when she never replies to your posts, you’re still a huge simp. I had to both teach you a lesson and keep you occupied so you wouldn’t harass other girls.”

“B-b-but that’s not fair! And besides! The messages you were sending me weren’t exactly innocent, either! You can’t send me thirst traps and then be surprised when I respond!”

“What is…’thirst trap’?” Gonta asked. “Is like pitcher plant, it catches water for bugs?”

A blush spread across Tenko’s face. “Th-those are private messages! You shouldn’t be telling everyone about them.”

“You’re the one who decided to actually show up! You could have just ghosted me or something if you didn’t want to talk about it!”

“You would never just let Her Highness go! You would keep messaging her until I blocked you! And even then you’d find a way around it.”

She was right, it did sound like something he’d do…but this also explained why Tenko was on her phone A Lot. And why sometimes she’d ask for help finding images of women who looked a certain type of way, undressed to varying degrees. Ibuki had just assumed she was gay and had very specific tastes.

"You don’t know what I’d do!”

“After all this time talking to you, I think I got a pretty good idea!”

“Maybe you’re the simp! Trying to impress Miss Sonia and getting rid of your biggest competition at the same time!”

“N-no, that’s not it at all! Just because she’s smart and pretty and I went out of my way to help her without her asking doesn’t make me a simp!”

The camera was trained right on the two of them. Which was the perfect opportunity for Ibuki to make her escape. Whatever the hell was going on was messy and she didn’t want to get involved anymore than she already had.