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Blue on Blue

Chapter Three: Every Second's Like Torture

Rating T

Soundtrack: The Heart Wants What it Wants, Selena Gomez

Haruka moved up the hall, hurrying to her meeting with Shining Saotome. She'd already seen the others and knew that they had their next idol assignments. There were more modeling assignments for Ren, Natsuki, and of all people, Cecil. Haru remembered his dumbstruck face as he told them that certain people enjoyed the smart phone commercial so much, they wanted more of him.

Syo actually had to choose between modeling (for the same reason as Cecil) and another appearance in the Prince of Fighting. Haruka didn't have to ask which one he chose. The last time she saw him, he was in the yard practicing his flips and climbing halfway up the walls. Parkour, he called it, and it made good use of his small size and compact body. She only hoped that he didn't break his blond neck.

Ittoki-kun and Ichinose-san were back on the variety show circuit for the next few months, something they both enjoyed. Otoya simply because he liked making people smile and Tokiya… well, Tokiya could never let his HAYATO persona go, and these shows were a perfect way for him to channel that unique and precious personality.

If only things had gone a little differently…

No, that would have never worked. Haruka shook her mind clear of that tempting thought. Tokiya was too much like a thunderstorm, a tempest of storms that surrounded his vulnerable center. It took everything she had for Haruka to get through the whirlwind of ice and thunder; she knew she wouldn't want to deal with that day in and day out. No, she was all for peace and stability. Quiet tradition.

Unfortunately.

Finally, Haruka braced herself for whatever insanity Shining-sama had planned, and, armed with a pencil and her little notebook, she opened the doors to the man's office. "Good afternoon -," she started, and then halted just inside the door, all the words leaving her vocal chords at once and all of her insides dropping down somewhere near her feet.

Masato turned his head and looked at her through the fall of his hair, his face as pale as hers must have been. Shock sparked through his eyes before he straightened and turned back to Saotome's desk.

"Missss Nanami…" Saotome gestured for her to come forward. She did so cautiously. Why was Masato here? Had he called them here for another reason? Oh, dear…

Was it possible that Shining-sama had found out about them… or what used to be them?

"Your assignment this time is going to be one you are very familiar with, but this time it carries some prrrestige…" Saotome started, in his habitually hyperbolic style. Haruka counted herself lucky that she didn't have to watch him cascade down from the ceiling this time. "Misster Hijirikawa has been asked by a noteworthy playwright to perform in another historical musical—this time on stage." The man moved from behind his desk faster than his bulk should allow, leaning forward, pointing a finger in her face. "Various composers will be writing music for the production… and YOU have been chosen to write the finale song."

Haruka started a little at the finger sitting a millimeter from her face, and managed to stammer out, "Um..." She should be used to this man's insanity by now, but he never did anything one expected. "Ah…"

She looked out of the corner of her eye at Masato, who stood, straight and still as he always did, his head slightly bent. She couldn't see his face clearly, but she could guess that his eyes were facing straight forward. Other than acknowledging her entrance, he said nothing else even to indicate that he was aware of her presence.

Saotome split a look between them. "Do you not think you can do it, Misss Nanami?"

She started. "Oh! No, I can do it, Shining-sama." She clutched her notebook tighter. She would do it if it killed her dead at her piano bench.

"Good." Reaching behind his back, he produced two perfect-bound scripts – from where was anyone else's guess – she didn't want to imagine. "HERE is the script. I suggest you read it in its entirety, Miss Nanami. Your song will need to gather EVERY BIT OF emotion into it, so that you will have the audience FAINTING in their seats!"

"Yes, S-,"

"This is going to be a fabulous production!" Saotome ran right over what Haruka had been about to say, jumping on top of his desk. He did a little spin. Haruka swore that men with nets were going to come one day and scoop this man up and into a cozy, padded little room.

"This is a story of LOVE," he bent down and shoved his face into Masato's personal space. "FORBIDDEN love…" He tilted his head, turning his attention to Haruka again. "The young samurai has fallen in love with his lord's youngest daughter, and must prove his worth to her father before he can ask for her hand."

Haruka willed her expression to stay still. She was a professional; she would not react to the interesting coincidence this assignment presented.

"Upon second though, perhaps this assignment is too complicated for you," Saotome said, tapping his chin. "You have had no EXPERIENCE with such things as FORBIDDEN love, have you?"

"Ah, no!" Haruka squeaked. "I mean, while I have n-no knowledge of such th-things, I'm sure I can draw s-something from the script to help."

Yes, she heard the little snort come from Masato, but when she and Saotome looked, the young man was a cool and collected as a sand garden.

"Good!" A loud, ringing clap vibrated her eardrums. "I would hate to disappoint the playwright. He is looking for a song full of WRENCHING emotion, of DESPERATION, of FEELING for his finale." He hopped down from the desk and spread his arms wide. "It must be the PENULTIMATE song, the one that sums up the young warrior's feelings, the song that will make his lord change his mind."

He pointed to Haruka. "I KNOW you can produce a song that will have the audience WEEPING in the aisles." He swung his finger toward Masato, who jumped when the finger ended up almost touching his nose. "And I KNOW that you will have the people SWOONING with your SOULFUL voice, and vivid PERFORMance!"

With that, just like that, he spun and returned to his desk, composed and unruffled. Haruka's mind spun counter-clockwise, trying to take everything in. To sum up, Shining Saotome trapped her into working closely with Masato Hijirikawa, for however long she had to, charging her to write a desperate, wrenching, and obviously romantic love song. Well, it wasn't unlike any other assignment, but still.

Oh, dear.

"I will endeavor to do my best, Shining-sama," Masato said softly. If his voice still didn't make the hairs on the back of Haruka's neck stand at attention... It almost hurt, somewhere in the area of the center of her chest. There was no doubt that she heard the hundred things swirling beneath that short sentence. There was a tiny tug of guilt right there, one she banished with a tiny shake of her head.

It was best this way, she told herself.

"As will I," she answered, wondering if her voice carried the same things.

"GOOD!" Saotome spun his chair to face the window, effectively dismissing them.

Haruka kept her gaze in front of her as she made her way to the door. Of course, Masato opened the door and she moved through with, coming within a whispers distance from him. He smelled of freshly scrubbed skin, and the scent caused another tug deep in the pit of her stomach.

Before she could make good her escape (because right now she couldn't afford a dignified retreat, no this would be a mad retreat into neutral territory), Masato reached out and touched her arm. The touch was light and gentle and it froze her, stopped her in her tracks so fast that she jerked. The script fell to the floor with a soft slap. Cursing in her mind (because she would never say something so filthy in the open air), she stooped to pick it up.

Again, their hands brushed together. And there it was; just like the first time. She'd been avoiding this with everything she had. That warmth, rippling through her from her head to settle somewhere deep in her midsection, to blossom, she knew from her cheeks. That pull, like a bowstring wound too tight, making her lean just a fraction closer to him. She heard his swift intake of breath and knew, just knew he had felt it too.

It hurt.

She stood, wiping her sweaty palms down her skirts. I am a professional, she told herself. He is just my lyricist; I am just his composer.

She had as much luck convincing herself as an ice cube had of surviving in hell.

"H-Haruka," he started, not his usual poised self. No, his voice had to have that trembling underneath, like an uncertain arpeggio in a depressing song. "I feel that we need to talk."

She hugged her notebook and script to her chest. "Is it about the musical?" she said, trying to sound cool, hoping he did not note the trembling just under the surface of her own voice, a painful descant to his own.

"Haruka, if you would just let me-,"

She held up her hand. "No, M-Hijirikawa," she said, seeking the safety of his family name. If she let him continue, she would have to listen, and probably cave under his words and they would be back where they started. In a relationship that had no hope of going anywhere. "I've already made my decision," she said. "I will not jeopardize your relationship with your family." She chanced a glance up and took in the dark blue-violet eyes, saw the urgency in them, and looked away. "Your-your family is everything to you," she whispered. "I know that. You know that."

"You don't—it isn't-," he stumbled to a halt, looking at the ground, helplessly frustrated, his fist clenched at his sides.

She stood, in shock for a microsecond. Masato was at a loss for words. No matter the fact that he could pull blissful lyrics out of the clear blue sky, when it came to real things, like these things, he was bereft of one coherent word. She could see his mind scattering behind blue eyes, seeking the right words to give her.

"This is not fair, Haruka," he finally declared. "You have had your say, but I have not."

Well, he'd found some very effective words to hand her. Haruka suddenly found the pattern in the floor very interesting. He was right, he was absolutely right, and she should have been ashamed of herself.

But honestly? She didn't want to hear what he had to say. She knew what he had to say would involve defying his father in some way, shape or form.

He would say that it didn't matter.

He would say that his father had no control over his personal life.

He would say that he would do anything for her.

She couldn't let him go there, because she knew he would be lying. Family and tradition was Masato's solid foundation. The Hijirikawas were a small, but closely bonded family from everything she could see. To fracture that bond – with his mother and sister, if not with his father – would destroy Masato's sense of stability.

It would change him. It might ruin him.

She knew that if she let him talk right then, she would agree to whatever he said. She knew that later he would come to resent her for taking him away from his mother and sister and disrupting his peaceful little world.

She did not want to experience that pain. It was in her power to keep that type of pain from touching him – or touching her, if she was honest with herself. She could control this. She just needed a little time to build those walls a bit higher.

He would thank her later.

Yes, she was doing it for him, she told herself. She was doing it for his peace of mind as well as her own.

There was a million reason that I should give you up, Masato, she thought.

"I want to have a chance to speak my piece," Masato insisted, his hand curling around her upper arm. It was a soft, but insistent touch, and of course, she felt it all the way down to the soles of her patent-leather shoes.

All he'd ever done was kiss her. Three times. Twice on the lips.

"It is not fair that you make this decision without hearing my side and you know it, Haruka. You know that I-,"

"Alright," she whispered, cutting through the fog that was building around her common sense. She cleared her throat and looked up at him. "We will do this assignment, and then we will talk," she said. "I will not have… this… interfering with the success of our project." She caught his gaze and held it. "Will that suit you?" She willed her face into a sternness she did not feel.

Masato blinked twice, and slowly removed his hand. Stepping back two steps, he gave her a little half-bow. "Fine." He said formally, before turning on his heel and walking away from her. She watched him leave, noting that his hands had curled into fists again and his step just a little too sharp and precise.

She leaned against the wall and sighed. She reminded herself again that she was a professional and she would behave in a professional matter, and she wouldn't let his voice or his touch or his look sway her from the course of successful completion of the assignment.

No, she wouldn't.

]o[

"Are you really going to make them work together?" Ringo asked. "You know what they are going through."

Shining steepled his fingers together in front of him. "I foresee that they will make good use of all of that… pent up… emotion to complete this assignment."

Ringo sighed, flipping her hair over one shoulder. "You know this is cruel, Shiny. They are trying to be good." He leaned over the desk. "She was the one who broke it off."

"Yes, but it was not his wish."

"Of course it wasn't his wish! The boy is hopelessly in love with her! You can see his brain passing right through his ears every time he's within shouting distance of the girl! And she with him, now that I think about it." Ringo shook herself and returned to the subject. "So you're just going to use them and their emotions for this assignment?" Ringo was shocked. "To get more prestige for the agency?"

"Not really." Saotome leaned back and folded his arms behind his head. "Of course, prestige is always a good thing, and that will be an extra bonus. Nevertheless, I want to see something else. I want to see if our precious idols have what it takes to wade through such mature waters and come out alive and in one piece." He waved a hand in the air. "This is a modern fairytale, Ringo. Will there be a happy ending? Will it bring them closer, or drive them apart? Will it ruin the dynamic of STARISH, or will it solidify their bond? Aren't you curious?"

"But… what if they get back together? Yes, we could all breathe a sigh of relief, but you know the rules; you made the rules! You'll have to fire them both!"

Saotome's lips twisted faintly.

Ringo's sky blue eyes widened. He stammered, "Won't you?"

There was a mischievous twinkle in the former idol's eyes.

"Shining Saotome, what are you planning?"

"Where there is a rule, there is a loophole. Let's see if they can find it."