Kyoko woke up feeling much better than she had the day before. Her mood was only increased when she checked her phone and saw several messages from her best friend.

From 'Moko-san' 10:54 PM: If you ask Yashiro to do that again, I will never tell you when I am leaving.

10:55 PM: Ever again. I mean it.

4:23 AM: Landed.

Kyoko pouted. Would it have killed her best friend to use an emoji? Even just once? She typed out a response.

Mogami Kyoko 6:46 AM: MOKO-SAN! How was your flight?! Are you on set right now?!

Mogami Kyoko 6:46 AM: you probably are. Or sleeping? Sorry! Hope this doesn't wake you up!

Kyoko reread her friend's message and frowned.

Mogami Kyoko 6:47 AM: Ask Yashiro-san to do what? Is everything okay? Did you get to the airport on time?! I promise, I didn't tell him to drive you! He said he had things to do at the office this morning! All I asked was for him to say goodbye to you for me!

Kyoko added several crying emojis to convey her sincerity. She watched, eyes glued to the screen as she saw Kanae typing out a response, then pause, then more blinking dots.

From 'Moko-san' 6:51 AM: He took you very literally.

Mogami Kyoko 6:51 AM: ?

From 'Moko-san' 6:52 AM: You squealing is bad enough, but him doing it was infinitely worse.

Mogami Kyoko 6:53 AM: HE DIDN'T!

6:53 AM: MOKO-SAN WHAT DO YOU MEAN?!

6:53 AM: MOKOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

6:54 AM: ( ) ( ) ( )

Kyoko waited, but no response came. Eventually she gave up waiting. Since she was up early enough, she decided to cook breakfast for her landlords. Kyoko felt a bit bad — between staying at Ren's apartment and her crazy filming schedule, she hadn't had much time to help out around the restaurant. And while she still tried to help with the prep work in the off hours or by cleaning up, it didn't feel like enough (despite the couple telling her multiple times that it was fine and she didn't need to worry so much).

She was outside and waiting for Ren when his car pulled up, and she greeted him with a sunny smile.

"Good morning, Tsuruga-san!" Kyoko chirped happily. "Thank you for coming to pick me up."

Ren smiled at her warmly. She had called him Tsuruga, but he let it slide. At least all the awkwardness between them from yesterday had disappeared. "Someone's excited," he said, not totally concealing the surprise in his voice.

"Yes!" Kyoko beamed at him.

Ren's eyes slid over to Kyoko briefly. "You aren't nervous?" he asked.

"Nervous?" Kyoko blinked at him. "About what?"

"Kyoko," Ren said patiently, "did you forget what scene we're filming today?"

«×»«×»«×»«×»«×»

It was strange to arrive at the studio and find it completely transformed from the following day. The interior of the cafe had been taken down and replaced with a small hallway that connected to part of the kitchen. The crew had constructed a wall to look like the back exterior of the restaurant, complete with an outdoor lamp posted high above the door and a large dumpster pushed against cinder block that had been carefully painted to look appropriately weathered.

Kyoko was nervous. She could feel the adrenaline pumping through her body as she struggled to maintain Mayu-chan's weary detachment. Today they were filming Mayuko and Hatori's first kiss. It was the first kiss scene that Kyoko had ever had to film. She had already done a few small scenes in Akito and Mayuko's apartment where Kijima had put his arm around her waist and kissed her cheek, but there was a big difference between reluctantly receiving a kiss on the cheek and being filmed while she kissed Ren on the mouth.

At least, she thought, she didn't have to be nervous about the actual kiss. For this scene, he was the one who had to kiss her. Which was good, because Kyoko wasn't sure she was brave enough to initiate a kiss in front of a camera. Even if kissing Ren was really nice, she thought with a blush. The way he had kissed her last night — soft and sweet but also urgent and insistent — still made her feel like her whole face was on fire, just by thinking about it. Kyoko pressed the backs of her hands against her cheeks, trying to cool down her face and was promptly scolded by the makeup artist, who swooped in to check the actress's blush.

"Sorry," Kyoko murmured, embarrassed. The makeup artist gave her face a careful look-over before stepping back. Kyoko kept her hands at her sides as she snuck a glance towards where Ren was standing. The actor was reviewing the script absently. Ren looked completely at ease, Kyoko thought with a tiny pout. Like it was just another day on set. Which she supposed, to him, it was. It certainly wasn't Tsuruga Ren's first on-screen kiss. Far from it, Kyoko knew. The thought made her nose wrinkle, and Kyoko felt a twinge of annoyance at the fact that he apparently wasn't nervous at all. It was professional jealousy, Kyoko decided. That must be what she was feeling. As a newbie actress — as Kyoko still thought of herself— she wanted to be able to match Ren in both his abilities on camera and his professional attitude on set. As his kohai, she wanted to do a job he would be proud of. And as his girlfriend… Kyoko didn't finish the thought. She still couldn't think the word 'girlfriend' without whispering it in her head. It felt strange to refer to herself like that, despite the fact that they had, at this point, been dating for months. Despite the fact that he told her he loved her. Despite…

Kyoko's train of thought was interrupted by the call for places, and she squared her shoulders and stepped onto the stage.

[The camera follows behind Mayuko as she makes her way out of the kitchen and towards the back door, lugging two large trash bags. The waitress has to turn around and push against the door with her hip, struggling to open the heavy door without setting down the bags. Under the fluorescent light of the back hallway, the shadows underneath her eyes and the discolored tint of fading bruises stand out as sickly purple-green against her pale skin. Mayuko winces as the door handle pushes into her hip. With a huff, she sets down one of the bags to push more forcefully against the door which swings suddenly open.

Cut to another camera outside. It is dark, and the back of the building is washed in a deep blue shadow, except for a puddle of amber light coming from the flood lamp above the door. Hatori stands to the side after having pulled the door abruptly. The weight of the door suddenly vanishing causes Mayuko to stumble back, and she throws an arm out to catch herself. Oblivious to Hatori, she winces before shaking out her wrist and picks up the bags with a huff.]

"Sorry! Are you alright? I thought—" Hatori tried to explain as he swooped in to grab one of the trash bags. Before Mayuko could properly protest, Hatori swung the garbage into the waiting dumpster.

"You didn't have to do that," she said, swinging in her own bag with noticeably more effort and shutting the lid of the dumpster.

"You looked like you needed a hand," he offered.

"I didn't ask for your help," she tried to sound standoffish, but it came out softer than she meant.

Hatori smiled. "I know." Then he stepped forward, leaning down to peer at her. Mayuko backed up, trying to keep the distance between them. She stepped backward into the circle of light, and Hatori's eyes narrowed when he caught sight of her arm. "That already looks like it's going to bruise."

Mayuko rubbed her bare arm self-consciously, wincing. "It's fine." She tried to switch the subject. "What are you doing here?"

"You know why I'm here," Hatori answered. His voice was full of disapproval and hurt, but soft. "Why didn't you come see me? You didn't even cancel your appointment." He tried to meet her eyes, but Mayuko stared at her shoes. "I waited for you," he added.

"I'm feeling fine," Mayuko lied. She still didn't look up. She didn't want to have to lie to his face. "You don't have to worry about me."

"But I am worried about you. And not just your health," Hatori added. He gave a hopeful smile. "I'm not here as a doctor, you know. Just to be clear."

Mayuko shuffled her feet. "I have a boyfriend," she said robotically.

"Does he make you happy?" Hatori asked. "Because you don't look happy." He leaned in closer, reaching out to take her hand, but Mayuko twitched it out of his reach.

"You should go," she said, glancing over her shoulder at the restaurant's backdoor and inching towards it slowly.

"Is that what you really want?" Hatori's voice was heartbroken. Mayuko couldn't bear to hear him so sad. She looked up, eyes widening when she realized how close he was. Hatori was leaning down over her, one arm braced casually above her head on the wall, his face only inches from hers. Then Hatori leaned down and kissed her.

Mayuko sucked in a breath, frozen for only a moment before she pushed him away. "You should go." It came out harshly as she panted slightly. "If Akito sees us, he'll kill me." Then she turned and fled back into the restaurant, pulling the door closed behind her and leaving Hatori outside in the dark.

[Close-up focus on Hatori's face looking wistful, then the camera cuts away to a wide shot of Hatori waiting, alone, by the closed back door.]

"Cut!" Shingai called out, motioning for both of the actors. Kyoko looped around the set and stepped down from the side, trotting over to the director. She hoped her cheeks weren't flaming. "I wanted to let you run through it fully the first time," the director said once Kyoko and Ren stood in front of him. "How did the blocking feel? Okay?" Kyoko snuck a glance at Ren before following his lead and nodding. Shingai glanced between both the actors, then gave a tiny shrug. "Alright, then, let's run it again." Shingai motioned for places, the actors and crew hurrying to reset for another take.

They ran through twice more, but the perfectionist director shook his head at the end of each take. He crossed his arms, pacing a few steps back and forth while he tried to formulate his thoughts. "It's too stiff," he said, looking at both actors meaningfully. "Kyoko-chan, you're too frigid. Remember, at this point Mayuko is attracted to Hatori, but she's been pretending that she doesn't notice his feelings or her own, because it's safer for her. I'm not getting the sense of acknowledgement and release. You need to linger in the kiss, so that the audience can see Mayuko's walls breaking down." Kyoko nodded, and Shingai turned to the taller actor. "And Ren, you're being too passive here. We need a little more frustration from Hatori. There's too much of your usual gentlemanliness, we need to see a bit more fighting spirit, alright?"

Ren nodded, trying to ignore the creepy smile on Yashiro's face from over the director's shoulder. The actor sighed internally. His manager was becoming more and more like the President every day.

Shingai motioned to his assistant. "Five minute break, and then we'll try again."

The next take was going better, but the director called cut right as Ren moved the final few inches to kiss Kyoko.

"Cut! Ren, can you hold?" Shingai asked. Ren pulled back, trying to straighten up. "No, closer to Kyoko!" The director called, and Ren was forced to lean back down slowly, inch by inch, until he was properly where the director wanted him, two inches from Kyoko's lips. Kyoko was flushed.

"I'm so sorry!" Kyoko whispered, careful not to speak too loudly since Ren's face was so close to her own.

"What are you apologizing for?" He smiled, raising an eyebrow.

"This is so awkward!" The teen said. She tried to look anywhere but his face, except that Ren was so close it was an impossible task.

"Kyoko-chan, tilt your head more to the left," Shingai called out. Kyoko did her best to adjust, slowly tilting her head by degrees, until the director told her to stop. "Can we get some more light? Her face is too in shadow!" The director called, and the gaffers scrambled to adjust the lights.

"Just ignore the cameras," Ren whispered. "Forget they're here and focus on me."

Kyoko looked up at Ren. His eyes were dancing with amusement as he looked down at her flushed face. She bit her lip and looked away, trying to keep her cheeks from heating up anymore. Ren didn't seem flustered at all by their closeness. Of course he wasn't, Kyoko thought begrudgingly. Ren had tons of kiss scenes under his belt, with a slew of gorgeous actresses. The thought made her brow quirk into a frown. A deep-seated, stubborn part of her was rearing its head. If Ren could do this, then so could she. After all, she was a professional. Kyoko took a deep breath and sunk into character, letting Mayuko's feelings wash over her.

They nailed it on the next take, just in time to break for lunch. Yashiro wandered up to both of them with a bottle of water, and wisely said nothing to either actor about the contents of the scene they had just filmed. Ren was grateful for his manager's discretion as they sat down to lunch together. Kijima was out for the next few days at an audition, and while Ren did consider the man his friend (insofar as Ren had any friends), he was grateful for the quiet. The last few days had been tumultuous enough, and it was nice to be just the three of them. Kyoko was happily telling an interested Yashiro about her best friend's messages earlier that morning.

"Ah, so she's arrived then? That's good," Yashiro said lightly. "I'm glad she texted you."

"Yes!" Kyoko said, happily beaming. Ren couldn't help catching the hopeful way his manager kept glancing discreetly down at his own phone, as if also waiting for a message. The thought amused the actor — his effusive, caring, at times downright devious (although always well meaning) manager pining after the cool and collected Kotonami Kanae. Ren filed the thought away. It would be nice to have something to tease Yashiro about, for once, instead of the other way around.

When the actors returned to set after lunch, the studio had once again been transformed. Instead of the back of the cafe, the stage had been converted into an exam room in a doctor's office, complete with the uncomfortable examination bench covered in crinkly paper and posters of various internal systems decorating the fake walls.

[Close-up on a pair of feet wearing mismatched socks. The camera slowly pans up to reveal the feet and legs belong to Mayuko, who sits nervously on the exam table. She struggles not to fidget with the hem of the examination gown, looking down to tug it over a large bruise on top of her knee. Someone knocks on the door and she looks up, startled.

The camera switches to a view of Hatori in a white doctor's coat. He smiles nervously and adjusts his glasses.

Cut to a two-shot of both characters frozen for a beat while they stare at each other.]

"You're not Tenjo-sensei," Mayuko stated blankly.

"Ah, no, I'm not," Hatori tried to give his best reassuring smile. "I'm Asamoto Hatori, I'm finishing up my medical residency here," he explained, his eyes scanning the paper on his clipboard. "Nice to meet you, Izawa Mayuko-san."

Mayuko's eyes narrowed. "Where's Tenjo-sensei?"

"Tenjo-sensei is on an extended leave," Hatori answered as calmly as he could. "I've been taking her patients while she's gone."

"When is she coming back?" Mayuko hedged.

"In a few months?" Hatori guessed. "I'm not quite sure, nobody bothered to tell me since I'm new around here." He looked back down at the chart with a frown. "It says here that you collapsed at work?"

"Yes but I'm fine," Mayuko said. "It's just that my coworker... she insisted I see a doctor."

"Any history of fainting spells? Low blood pressure?" Hatori asked methodically. Mayu shook her head. "Did you injure yourself when you collapsed? Hit your head?" Mayuko shook her head again. "Have you had any headaches or problems with your vision recently?" Again, Mayu shook her head.

"I don't think this is really necessary," Mayuko said in a quiet but firm voice. She shifted awkwardly on the exam table.

"If you collapsed at work, something is definitely wrong," Hatori replied. He cleared his throat. "Is there any chance that you're pregnant?"

"I— I don't think so," Mayuko stuttered out, hands twisting in her lap. The last thing she wanted was to be pregnant with Akito's baby. Then she would be stuck with him forever.

"Izawa-san," Hatori began gently, "Are you nervous?"

"N-no, it's just…" Mayuko mumbled. "I really liked and trusted Tenjo-sensei…"

"Maybe you could learn to like and trust me too?" He offered with an earnest smile. Mayuko avoided his eyes, her hands twisting again in her lap as Hatori's smile faltered. He waited for a moment, then tried again. "It's alright, I know not many people like coming to the doctor's office. But don't worry, I won't take it personally," Mayuko still didn't laugh, instead she seemed to flinch. Hatori frowned. "I know it can be scary, but there's no need to be worried," he said in his best patient-bedside voice. "Whatever is wrong, we're going to figure it out. I'm here to help you."

At that, Mayuko didn't flinch. Instead she froze, holding in a bitter laugh. This poor, nice man was trying to help her. But what could he do? Collapsing at work was the least of her problems. Her thoughts seemed to show on her face, because Hatori frowned, but Mayuko didn't notice him watching her.

"Well, let's start with some blood tests to rule out anything there. You can make an appointment for the blood work and a follow-up with the secretary out front. And in the meantime, be careful to get plenty of rest, okay?" Hatori said. "Do you have any questions I can answer for you?"

Mayuko shook her head, already hopping down from the examination table, relieved. She reached for her purse and pulled out a small cellophane bag with a stack of cookies, holding it out to Hatori. He looked surprised, back at her hands and to her face and back down to her hands again. "Uh, I normally bring these for Tenjo-sensei, since they're her favorite. But, since she's not here… might as well not let them go to waste," Mayuko offered hesitantly. "Unless you don't want them," she added.

"No, no! Wow!" Hatori exclaimed, lighting up. "Thank you so much! Did you make these yourself?!" He asked excitedly, a boyish grin on his face. "That's really nice of you! I haven't had anything homemade in months. I'll savor them," He added, cheeks going slightly pink.

"It's nothing," she insisted. Then she looked pointedly between the doctor and the door, waiting for him to leave so she could change back into her clothes. He startled, getting the point.

"Right! Right, sorry, I'll just— be going then," he said, awkwardly making his departure. "Don't forget to take it easy, alright? Nothing stressful, and don't overdo it, especially not in this heat," he added sternly. Then he smiled. "Nice to meet you, Izawa-san."

[The door closes. Cut to Mayuko's confused face, then she sighs in resignation and begins to reach for her clothing.

The camera switches to a view of Hatori in the hallway outside the exam room. He clutches the bag of sweets to his chest, then looks around furtively before opening the bag and picking up a cookie. He takes a bite, and the camera zooms in as his face dissolves into bliss, and he stares at the cookie in his hand with wonder before glancing back towards the closed examination room door.]

Thankfully for Ren, he didn't have to repeat the cookie-eating part of the scene, although they did do a few more retakes before Shingai was satisfied. Then there was the follow-up scene to film, which was short and only took Kyoko and Ren two tries. They ended up finishing ahead of schedule for the day.

"Do you want to come over for dinner?" Ren asked Kyoko once she emerged from her dressing room.

Kyoko blushed. He was asking so forwardly! Normally Ren waited until they were in the car to discuss plans. But since nobody else was on set with them, it was just Kyoko, Ren, and Yashiro standing in the hallway. Kyoko nodded. "I'd like that."

Yashiro immediately excused himself, claiming he needed to go back to the office and throwing Ren a thumbs up.

"So, dinner?"

"If you don't mind, I can cook!" Kyoko offered immediately.

"I never mind it when you cook, maybe some other night?" Ren offered. Anytime Kyoko spent in the kitchen wasn't really time they got to spend together, after all, and it had been so long since they'd had a proper date night.

Kyoko looked at him. "How many nights are you planning on spending together?" she asked dubiously.

"That depends," Ren said, the hint of a smile playing about his eyes. "What are you doing tomorrow?" Kyoko's face went sour, and she turned her head away and muttered something under her breath. "You better not be calling me a playboy again…"

Kyoko flushed, embarrassed that he could see right through her. But really, he couldn't expect her to take him seriously when he said such things, right? They had already seen each other every night this week! Not to mention, they had spent all day together on set. Certainly he must be getting bored of her by now, right? She frowned.

But Kyoko was wrong. Ren was not bored yet, apparently. They got back to his apartment, ordered delivery from one of their go-to spots, and then Ren had sat down right next to her on the couch, one arm resting on the back of the couch and supporting his chin with a hand.

His eyes scanned over her, and a soft, contented smile was on his face. Such a look put Kyoko on high alert. At any moment he could crank that smile all the way up to its full blinding intensity and obliterate her. She sat as stiff as a mannequin.

"Um, T-tsuruga-san, was there something you wanted to talk to me about?" Kyoko said at last, cracking under the weight of his attention.

Ren was still smiling as he shook his head. "Is there something you want to talk to me about?"

"N-no," Kyoko stuttered. "I-it's just that… you're kind of… staring at me, so…" she made a helpless gesture, and Ren finally looked away.

"Sorry about that." Ren cleared his throat. "I didn't have anything in particular to say."

"Really?" She asked, a hint of suspicion in her tone.

"Really," he affirmed, his content smile settling back over his face as he looked at her again. "It's just that I enjoy looking at you."

Kyoko turned bright pink. For the second time that evening, she had to turn away so she could mutter something about his shamefully flirty behavior. How can he say something like that with a straight face?! She flailed internally.

"I didn't mean to embarrass you," Ren said apologetically. He shifted back on the couch, turning so he wasn't facing her quite so directly. "Or make you uncomfortable."

Kyoko wanted to protest that she wasn't uncomfortable, but all she could do was shake her head. Because it was uncomfortable to have him look at her like that. Not in a bad way, just that it was strange, and Kyoko didn't know how to deal with it. She was hardly anything to look at. If she was as gorgeous as Tsuruga Ren, it would make sense that he would want to stare at her. But Kyoko was keenly aware of the difference between them in that capacity. Ren was so gorgeous that looking at him was like looking at the sun — she couldn't do it directly for more than a few seconds.

Perhaps that was it, Kyoko mused internally over dinner. If Tsuruga Ren's radiance was like the sun, then maybe she was more like a lamp. No, even a lamp was too much for her. Perhaps a nightlight. Not the center of attention, not something to marvel at, but useful, in its own way. Not the kind of thing you mind having around. Practical, even. Maybe that was why he liked looking at her, Kyoko concluded. Despite being a famous movie star, Ren's personal taste seemed to skew almost comically mundane. Her heart prickled at the conclusion, but her brain found no fault with her reasoning. A small voice fervently wished she could do something to make Ren look at her like she was beautiful. Kyoko mercilessly stomped down that part of her, burying it under the floorboards of her mind and deciding she could mark the 'mystery of Tsuruga Ren's stare' as solved.

After dinner, they settled back onto the couch. For a few minutes, both actors pretended they were actually watching whatever was playing on the television. Ren gazed forward, pretending not to notice Kyoko's frequent sideways glance at him. She was curled up under his arm, the side of her leg pressed against the length of his, his arm around her shoulder. It was enough, he told himself, that she was sitting here, cuddling with him. He didn't need more, and he wasn't going to push her.

Kyoko fought the urge not to squirm. He wasn't staring at her anymore. She should be relieved, but instead it made Kyoko almost itchy. A pesky part of her mind that sounded entirely too much like Setsu felt like whining, now that his attention was occupied elsewhere. She could feel the heat of him through her clothing. It wasn't fair, Kyoko thought frustratedly, that she was practically vibrating with tension while he seemed perfectly relaxed. His fingers were tracing lazy circles on the top of her shoulder, setting her pulse racing whenever they skimmed her collarbone. It was embarrassing, to be getting flustered when he sat there, seemingly immune to their proximity. It made her feel like she was back on set earlier today, feeling like an amateur during their kiss scene, while Ren kept his cool. She remembered the way his lips felt against hers, how the cameras and onlookers had melted away as he kissed her. Something stirred inside her.

She glanced up at him. Even just in profile, Ren was devastatingly gorgeous — his straight, perfect nose, the shape of his lips, his cleanly defined jaw, the strong but graceful line of his throat. Kyoko swallowed as her eyes traveled down.

Ren's soft voice startled her. "Who's staring now?" he asked. The amusement was plain in his voice, and he raised an eyebrow to look at her with a sly smile. Kyoko looked away, blushing furiously.

"S-sorry," she murmured, shifting to move away. But Ren's hand on her shoulder stopped her.

"Don't be," he said in a strangely breathy voice. "I like it when you notice me."

Kyoko turned back to stare at him in open-mouthed wonder.

"Okay, well maybe not like that," he said under his breath.

Kyoko couldn't believe what she'd heard. Tsuruga-san had not just admitted that. And more than that, he was blushing! Ren. Tsuruga Ren. She peered at him, and the faint hint of pink on his cheeks and ears seemed to deepen at her approach. Maybe — a part of her wondered — he wasn't so indifferent to her presence after all? Hope sprang up in her chest at the same time as a voice inside her that sounded like Nacchan decided that it was worth investigating. After all, it was only fair, right? Kyoko bit her lip, hesitating. Ren had just said he liked it when she looked at him. That was an invitation, wasn't it? Part of Kyoko danced with excitement, but another part of her scuttled backwards — what if it wasn't? What if she did something wrong? Wouldn't he dislike it?

But Ren had said that was okay. And… he loved her, right? Kyoko asked herself. He said that he loved her. He seemed happy to have her nearby. And he had just said that… he liked it when she looked at him. So… it should be okay, right? Kyoko still wavered.

Before she could think long enough to talk herself out of it, Kyoko pivoted, swinging her right leg up and over to land on the couch on the far side of Ren so that she sat straddling his lap, facing him.

Ren looked almost alarmed, and his ears turned red. She had never seen Tsuruga Ren look so flustered. Part of Kyoko felt like grinning smugly in triumph. "W-what are you doing?" he managed to ask.

"Looking," she replied archly. When Ren remained frozen, her confidence popped like a balloon. "I-is it not okay?" Kyoko whispered, suddenly shy.

Ren's face softened. "Of course it's okay," he murmured. His hands tentatively moved to her waist, his fingers barely touching her, almost like he was afraid. His eyes moved slowly up from her waist to meet her steady gaze.

"Do you like what you see?" Ren asked.

Kyoko blinked at him. It was a perfect playboy line, and yet he didn't sound self-assured, or even flirty. Actually, Tsuruga-san sounded almost nervous. Kyoko was dumbfounded. He was Tsuruga Ren. Japan's #1 star. The entire nation agreed he was handsome. He was a model. And yet he sounded insecure, like he was worried she was going to say no.

Kyoko shook her head. Her fingers glided over his own at her waist, then ran up his arms to his shoulders. Her right hand continued up, tracing along his collarbone, up the side of his neck, skimming along his jaw to rest under his chin. She could feel his eyes on hers. "You're beautiful," Kyoko whispered reverently. Really, beautiful did not begin to capture it. Ren was stunning, in an otherworldly kind of way, like a fairytale prince from a storybook come alive.

Beautiful was not really what Ren had been going for, but it was hard to find fault with the worshipful tone of Kyoko's voice. He bobbed his head down slightly to place a kiss on her fingers, making her eyes flicker from his own down to his mouth and back up again. Ren took a shaky breath as Kyoko scooted closer, the solid weight of her hips on top of his legs making his fingers tense against her waist. Her eyes flickered up to Ren's with a question.

"Kiss me, Kyoko," Ren whispered. He had meant to encourage her, but it came out more like he was begging. Fine, he was begging. Ren didn't care. "Please."

She did as he asked and Ren's eyes slid shut as his brain tried and failed to process the experience. Kyoko was in his lap. Kissing him. The muscles of her inner thighs flexed involuntarily, squeezing against the outside of his own, and Ren couldn't help the groan that escaped his mouth. Ren kissed her with an urgency that made Kyoko's head spin, his open mouth pressed insistently against her own with a desperate need that was intimidating and exciting and electrifying all at once. Kyoko forgot about everything else except kissing Ren back just as much, until her lungs protested their neglect. She pulled back, barely enough for a sip of air before he found her mouth again. Something in Ren seemed to have snapped, like some long submerged need finally bubbling to the surface. His hands found her hips and ran down and around until he gripped the back of her thighs, yanking her forward so her hips were directly on top of his own and the whole front of her body was pressed against his. Kyoko felt an insistent drumbeat reverberating through her chest and she wasn't sure if it was coming from Ren's heart or her own. Whichever it was, it was beating so loudly Kyoko couldn't hear her own thoughts. One of her arms had gotten pinned between them and Kyoko had to fight to wiggle her arm out. She accidentally elbowed Ren in the ribs in the process, but he didn't seem to notice or mind since the only noise he made was a hum of approval as she wrapped her now-free arm around his shoulders.

Kyoko squirmed, trying to appease a needy voice in her head that insisted she needed to be closer, despite already being pressed against Ren's chest. Impulsively, she grabbed fistfulls of his shirt in both hands and twisted as she leaned backwards, hoping she hadn't misjudged the angle and that she wasn't about to topple herself and Ren onto the floor. He followed her easily, leaning down over her and bracing his weight on one forearm on the edge of the couch, keeping them both from toppling over the side. His other arm was supporting her spine, lowering Kyoko onto her back and then sliding his hand out from underneath her. Finally, his mouth broke away to trail kisses down her neck while he groped blindly at the sofa with his free hand, haphazardly tossing cushions over the back of the couch to make more room. Kyoko let herself be pulled along. She wasn't sure how much time passed. At some point Ren shifted them so that they were laying on their sides, her knee between his thighs, his arm under her neck for a pillow. He gave her a slow, lingering kiss, then pulled back.

"We should probably stop," he whispered regretfully, still gazing at her mouth.

"Oh." It came out breathy and disappointed. Kyoko winced. "I m-mean, if that's what you w-want, then—"

"It's not that I want to stop," Ren smiled fondly at her as his fingers threaded through her hair, tenderly tucking a strand behind her ear. "Actually the opposite." His hand moved down and he gave her shoulder a squeeze. "But I don't want to make you uncomfortable."

"I'm not… uncomfortable," Kyoko whispered. Excited, yes. Nervous? Definitely. But not uncomfortable. She licked her lips then moved forward, but Ren's hand on her arm held her back.

"You say that, but your face is bright red," he remarked tenderly. Kyoko lifted a hand to feel her heated cheeks. "Which makes me think we should stop."

Kyoko's face fell.

Ren's smiled tightened almost imperceptibly. "I could kiss you all evening," His eyes trailed over her face with a soft, heated gaze. Then he dropped his gaze, shifting back away from her to sit up. "I'm— I'm pretty… wound up," Ren cleared his throat pointedly, looking uncomfortable as he shifted his legs guiltily.

Kyoko sat up too, a cold ball of anxiety began accumulating in her stomach.

Had he not liked it? Was he suddenly bored with her? Kyoko knew he'd probably done more… stuff... before. Kyoko winced, feeling pathetic and small. She could only begin to imagine the kinds of beautiful women that Ren was used to. Mature women, who knew what they were doing…

"D-did… did I do something wrong?" She asked in a tiny voice, scrunching inwards on herself.

"What? No!" Ren looked alarmed. That was the last thing he wanted her to think. Ren reached out to hug her, then recalled his present state and froze before withdrawing back. "You did nothing wrong, okay?" Ren said emphatically, staring into her eyes with strange intensity. "Whatever you're worried about, I promise, it's not that." Kyoko did not look very reassured.

"It's just that…" she looked miserably at her lap. "I'm… I know I'm not… not what you're used to," she managed at last.

"Kyoko, I don't want anyone else; I want you." Ren moved a fraction closer, taking her hands. The steady certainty in his eyes settled over her like a warm blanket. "I want you," he repeated before looking away guiltily. "Which is why you should go home."

"But I—"

"Do you want me to show you?" His voice had turned deep and molten, and Kyoko knew without looking at him that it was the Emperor of the Night speaking out of Ren's mouth.

Kyoko knew what sex was. She had a general idea of the mechanics — sex education had been mandatory the last year of middle school. But all the scientific diagrams and textbook descriptions had done a very poor job of conveying what it actually felt like. Concepts and experiences that had seemed so abstract gained a sudden clarity when Ren's voice caused a full-body thrill to run through her in a way that made her equally curious and terrified. Ren gave a low laugh that sounded more like a jungle cat's purr and Kyoko jumped.

"NO THANK YOU!" Kyoko squeaked furiously. Her eyes were shut tight and she flailed backwards, trying to put distance between herself and the emperor.

Ren couldn't tell if he felt relief or despair at her reaction. Mostly it was just adorable. His hands twitched, and he wanted to hold her. But instead, Ren made himself stand up.

"We really should get you home," he offered her a hand up from the couch. Kyoko risked opening one eye to look at him, then sighed with relief when she saw there no Emperor in sight. Kyoko staunchly refused to believe any part of her was disappointed. She took Ren's hand, allowing him to help her stand and helping him put the couch cushions back together before grabbing her bag.

"I'll pick you up tomorrow?" He asked when they pulled in behind the Daruma-ya. Kyoko nodded, unbuckling her seatbelt. Then, after a moment, she leaned towards Ren, her eyes already fluttering half-closed. She planted her lips firmly on his, one hand gripping his shoulder for balance. After a breath she pulled back.

"See you tomorrow," she said softly.

Ren blinked rapidly. "Yeah," he managed, clearing his throat in an attempt to smooth out the rough edges that had crept into his voice. "Tomorrow."

It was not his most articulate moment. But before he could correct it, Kyoko was already out of the car and waving at him from the Darumaya doorway before slipping inside. Part of him wanted to summon her back, but then he grinned. There was no need. He only had to wait until tomorrow, and then he would get to see her again.

«×»«×»«×»«×»«×»

It was the middle of the night, and the lights were still on in the living room. Shoko stumbled past the kitchen where she had been heading and poked her head through the doorway, blinking.

Sho sat on the floor by the coffee table, crumpled paper spread out around him. He was scribbling furiously, then with a frustrated sigh, Sho crumpled up the paper and tossed it away. He immediately picked up a new sheet from the table and bent down, one hand flying across the paper while the other plucked out chords on an imaginary guitar. Shoko cleared her throat pointedly, but the musician did not look up. With a sigh, she strode over towards the couch.

"Careful! Don't step on that!" Sho's head snapped up and he snatched a piece of paper from near his manager's foot.

She brushed off his rudeness, settling on the couch behind him to survey the mess that was now her living room floor. The manager sat and watched in silence until the musician finished writing. "Sho, it's 2:30 in the morning," she said practically. "I thought you finished this yesterday?"

"It's not good enough," he muttered, only half paying attention to responding while his eyes scanned over what he had just written, pen flicking out to scratch out some words and circle others, drawing arrows in every direction until the whole paper was a mess.

"Can't it wait until morning?" Shoko asked.

"Just go back to bed," Sho replied, picking up another piece of paper from the table to jot down a chord progression. He closed his eyes, nodding along to the beat that was beginning to take shape inside his head.

"Sho, we basically already finished," the manager stated calmly. "And we don't have time to re-record."

"We'll make time," Sho said simply. Shoko gave up. She knew by now that it was useless to try and persuade Sho of anything when he was in a mood.

"Alright, then," she rose gracefully from the couch. "Do what you have to do."

Sho grunted in response, already reaching for yet another piece of paper, his brow furrowed in concentration.

He knew the current song he had was fine. It was a good song. But it wasn't it. He needed exactly the right words, the right melody. It had to be perfect. Nothing but perfection would be able to win her back.

Sho reached for another piece of paper.