Her breath tickles her lips as she releases a despondent sigh, body slouching forward with the additional weariness. The fruit smoothie in front of her, in its half-melted state, increasingly springs forth drops of liquid on the glass’s surface, chilling the skin on her wrist as she idly twirls the straw within. The colorful liquid does little to hold her attention, even when the world seems a little dimmer in her eyes these days. She had so many plans, so many brainstorming sessions, and yet, they all came to an abrupt halt.
It has been a few days since then. Since she worked with Knights and got the news.
Knights held a short concert, an impromptu little thing while both Leo and Izumi were in town for a short period of time. Though she held a startlingly high position within Ensemble Square, she was still a rookie in a sea of newbie producers. Despite all of her inexperience, Knights agreed in unison that she was the only one they trusted unreservedly. With the warm sentiments nestled deep in her heart, she organized their concert to befit true royalty. Even as a few things stumbled here and there, she rectified them without catching their notice – so she hoped.
Fortunately, the concert went smoothly, concluding with the five members of the unit saying their goodbyes with smooth words and heart stopping fan names. Their Princesses were always so pleased, seemingly feeling like they were truly one of wonder. She was no exception, always falling to Knights’ charm. Or rather, to one knight’s charm.
“Anzu~!” A voice trilled loudly through the dimness of backstage. Overly warm arms slipped over her shoulders, enclosing her in a back hug and jostling the headset she was wearing. “How’d we do? Did you enjoy yourself?”
“Leo-san, thank you for your hard work.” Anzu said coolly, tilting her head mildly as Leo nuzzled his face into her hair. From the corner of her vision, she saw the other members of the unit make their way to them. With a mild struggle, she twisted in their direction – making Leo move with her. “Everyone, as well. Thank you.”
“Don’t be so cold~” Leo whined, pushing his forehead harder into the side of her head.
“Leo-san, kindly get off of our producer. I’m sure she is too polite to say such things, but you are all sweaty. It is ungentlemanly to subject a girl to such things.”
“Oh~ Leave them be, Tsukasa-chan.” Arashi giggled as she walked up to their growing group. “Thank you for everything, Producer-chan~”
Anzu felt her lips naturally form into a soft smile at the praise. “My pleasure. Everything is prepared in your dressing room. Once you’re done changing, feel free to leave. I have things under control.”
“Leo-kun, go change before you get your filth all over her.”
“Our producer is probably used to this by now though, Secchan. She’s not even squirming~”
The harmonious voices of the remaining Knights members drifted into her ears, much like the melodies that reverberated from the stage not so long ago.
“No way~” Leo argued playfully. His arms uncurled, stretching forward and linking his hands together, casually resting his weight on her. “I want to be as close as possible for as long as possible! You don’t mind, right, Anzu?”
“We are working, Leo-san.” She replied with a smile, though made no movements to distance herself from his warmth. The beating of his heart, full of excitement and adrenaline, pounded against her back in a comforting reminder that he was by her side.
Leo’s voice raised a pitch in his wail, “Eh~ Even my own girlfriend.”
“Leo-san, do not act like such a child. Let us change before we cause her trouble.” Tsukasa chastised, trying as he might to dislodge one of Leo’s arms that he had around her. “Have you always been so strong?”
The limbs around her reattached firmly, bringing her body closer than ever to his. Their cheeks press together, soft skin sticking with the makeup and sweat between them. Sure, Leo did smell a little of perspiration, but what she truly noticed was the overwhelming scent of the world of idols; of the stage lights and of the random mix of perfumes from the crowd. Of the stage effects the staff fired off safely and of the scent of the other Knights’ members.
Arashi, putting a hand to her own cheek, asked, “You’re not too warm, Producer-chan?”
“Chu~!” Leo suddenly proclaimed, turning his head and pressing his lips to her temple. As quick as he executed the action, Leo’s lips left her skin with a soft, moist smack – a cheeky grin replacing his pucker.
“Ah.” Anzu uttered the sound in shock; mind blanking out and leaving nothing but white noise in her thoughts. Her eyes remained staring straight ahead but becoming unseeing and mouth hanging slightly agape.
Ritsu and Arashi stifled their amused laughter, heading towards the dressing room with a wave and turning to hide their faces. Izumi, on the other hand, only shook his head, averting his eyes in an attempt to feign he didn’t see a single intimate moment and save her the embarrassment before following the others – grabbing a flabbergasted Tsukasa along the way.
Rivulets of lava skirted down her arm and spread on her palm like kitten scratches on her skin. Boney fingers interlocked between her joints and gently tugged on the whole limb like a beckoning to promises too good to be true yet too tempting to ignore. Anzu found herself succumbing to Leo’s whims, her feet following after his step by step.
“Come. Stay a little longer with me.”
As the doors passed by on their journey, she snapped out of her daze. “I can’t go into the dressing room, Leo-san. Besides, I have to make sure all of our guests safely make it out and security has everything under control.”
“Just for a few minutes?” His hand squeezed hers. “The others will change in the smaller, spare rooms. I need to tell you something.”
“Yep~ Something~” Leo sang. He stopped in front of Knights’ dressing room, opening the door without any form of prior notice.
Anzu quickly averted her gaze, turning to stare at the wall as the bright lighting inside sprayed out. “Sorry, everyone.”
“We have yet to undress, do not worry. I’m sure it was Leo-san’s idea.” Tsukasa said knowingly. “Please come in, you’re welcome any time.”
“Don’t stress her out too much, Leo-kun. She still has a job to do and can’t play girlfriend with you.” Izumi lightly scolded, gathering his clothes and going behind a wide screen.
She felt the growl that vibrated from Leo’s throat crawl all the way up her arm. “She’s not playing!”
The model snickered but added no more to his words.
“Leo-san, what is it that you wanted to talk about? I really do have to get going.”
“Right…” Leo uncharacteristically drawled out. “You guys change in the spare rooms or something, I’ll change out here.”
“That’s inappropriate! I do not approve of this!” Tsukasa squeaked in astonishment, his face quickly becoming the same color as his hair.
“They’re lovers though?” Ritsu shrugged. “It’s Tsukippi, I doubt anything will happen. Besides, she can handle him.” The self-proclaimed vampire physically grabbed Tsukasa’s shoulders and turned the younger boy around to head towards the back rooms.
“Don’t talk about anything too private, we can still hear you~” Arashi warned playfully, following Izumi’s lead to one of the divider screens.
“Here,” Anzu said, handing Leo his civilian clothing. “I’ll turn around so tell me when you’re done.”
Leo chuckled. He accepted the clothing and shook his head in amusement. “You really don’t need to, but whatever my queen wants.”
She clicked her tongue under her breath, feeling her cheeks warm up as she sat on a spare stool and turned her back to her boyfriend. “Just tell me already so I can get back to work. You know what orders I’m under concerning favoritism. And who knows who will talk.”
“I’ll protect you, so you don’t really have to worry, though?”
“That would put your dreams at risk. I don’t want that either.” Anzu pouted, clasping her hands in her lap.
“Hm~ You really are the best queen I could ask for, wahaha!”
“Leo-san-!” She turned her head to chastise him further for making her flush with such a pet name, but quickly turned back around. “A-Anyways, can you just tell me, please?”
The rustling of his clothes flittered into her ears before his somber voice did. “I’ll be away for the next month.”
She felt her heart sink into the pit of her stomach and stew in painful acid. Anzu clenched her jaw, her teeth grinding against each other in the effort to hold her tongue from telling him that she’d miss him too much if that were truly the case. But this was the life he wanted, who was she to stop him. She’d rather help him, no matter how infrequently they may meet or how limited their days became. “I see. When will you be back?”
“Around May 7th, probably.”
“Eh?!” The date echoed within her brain like a fly away balloon letting out air. She spun around in her seat, eyes wide and fists clenching tighter, uncaring of his state of undress this time. “The seventh?”
He hummed an affirmative sound, eyes softening. Leo smoothly walked up to her and knelt down, cupping her cheek with his warm palm and laying his other hand on top of hers. “I’ll be with Sena for a majority of it in Florence. I’ll call every day, so don’t look like that.”
“But…” Anzu looked away, his glittering emerald eyes asking for more honesty than she wanted to give. If she told him the truth, he would feel guilty. “No, never mind.”
His sudden whisper directly in her ear made a shiver shoot down her spine. When did he even move? “It’s just…” She cleared her throat, feeling it contract and making it hard to breathe. “We won’t get to spend your birthday together. Or I can go to Florence on that day, instead?”
Leo turned his head, planting a kiss to her cheek. “Nope~ The Queen must stay here and rest when she can. I can’t have you working harder than you already are.”
“But…” She repeated, letting the word fade away to nothing into the space between them. “It’s the first birthday we get a chance to spend it together as a couple.”
Anzu scrunched her nose as Leo nuzzled it with his own before backing away with a grin. “You’re seriously the cutest, you know that? Wahaha! But it’s just a day, Anzu. Let’s celebrate on the 7th! Whatever you want. Rittsu, Naru, and Suo~ will help you plan it, so work with them and lighten the weight on your shoulders, okay?”
Whatever she wants. What a strange thing to say for his own birthday. Anzu sighs again, watching idly as the chunks in her smoothie crack and fall like breaking ice caps. He never brought up his birthday again that day, even when he waited for her to finish work and walk her home.
“Do that more and your happiness will fly away, Producer-chan.”
She sits up straight at the concerned voice, turning her head and focusing her eyes forward. Arashi’s amethyst eyes shine beautifully in the sunlight streaming in through the windows, finally making even the dim world seem a little brighter to her. “Oh, hello.”
“Mind if we sit with you?”
“Please, go ahead.” Anzu replies. She waits for the two to take a seat before speaking again, “Suou-kun isn’t with you today?”
“Suu-chan had an errand to run.” Ritsu casually shrugs, leaning his elbows on the table. “I’ll finish that if you don’t want it anymore~”
“Ritsu-chan.” Arashi says his name in exasperated amusement. “Anyways, why so down, Producer-chan? Is it because it’s Leo-kun’s birthday today?”
She sheepishly looks away while sliding the half-finished smoothie towards Ritsu. “…Maybe.”
“Tsukippi said not to worry about the day, right? You can depend on us to get your little party all set up by the time he’s back~”
“Still…” She laments breathily. “This is coming from the same man who went around screaming and yelling that it was his birthday last year. I was hoping I could give him a special memory this year, too…”
Anzu closes an eye instinctively as a hand gently pats her head and strokes her hair. The floral perfume wafting from Arashi’s wrist tickles her nose and draws pretty images out of her memories like a b-roll. Like the times Leo drags her by the hand and runs through the park as cherry blossom petals fall around them. Arashi’s soft lips curve into a reassuring smile, evaporating all of her worries as though they never existed.
“No matter what you do, big or small, I’m sure he’ll treasure it.” Arashi reminds her. “Are you upset that he hasn’t answered his phone today?”
Anzu finds herself tilting her head curiously. “He hasn’t answered you either?”
The loud sips Ritsu takes from her original straw draws their attention away from each other and towards him instead. “He’s coming back in a couple days, I’m sure he’s just wrapping things up. Or it’s dead, you know him.”
“Leo-san did answer when I called him in his time zone’s midnight hour to say happy birthday, but I haven’t heard from him since.”
Arashi lets out a high-pitched cooing sound, cupping her own cheeks as they flush a peachy pink color in warmth. “You two are so cute~! You woke up so early just to call him at exactly midnight. I’m a little jealous~”
Her heart picks up its pace, pounding against her ribcage in embarrassed beats that travel all the way to her throat and making it hard to swallow. “It… mm… I needed to wake up anyways, and he’s usually awake in the middle of the night. I just wanted to be the first one to say it, is all…”
“How are you going to make it through your big birthday bash if you’re already as red as Suu-chan’s hair with just us?” Ritsu snickers. “Which, by the way, is ready, exactly as you wanted it. Knight’s oath~”
Anzu pats her cheeks – hoping to tamp down the heat – and gives the two Knights her most sincere smile. “Thank you for helping me.”
“Leo-kun’s favorite restaurant is reserved, guests are invited, all of the video messages of anyone who can’t make it is recorded and put together…” Arashi lists off, mentally checking them off as she stares towards the ceiling. “All of the nitty gritty is taken care of as well. As per Old King’s orders, you don’t need to lift a finger and the knights will take good care of you~ Depending on big sister isn’t so hard, now is it? Fufu~”
“Mm. I’m really grateful to have you all with me, especially since things are still so busy around ES. I’m sure things will go smoothly in a couple of days when Leo-san returns. I hope you’ll let me repay you?”
Ritsu’s usual, mischievous laugh leaves his lips like a siren’s song. “Repay? I don’t know if that’s needed, since we’re benefitting just as much. Might’ve even stolen something away from you.” He stands from his seat, empty smoothie glass clicking against the table. “Now that you’re feeling better, there is something we wanted to ask you to do with us tonight. If you’re that set on repayment.”
“Right, right.” Arashi agrees in a sing-song trill. “I want to try some new makeup looks on you, too, if you don’t mind. I got some new products that I think go really well with your skin tone. It’s just about evening now, you’re free from work, aren’t you?”
The evening from that point on becomes a blur to Anzu. She is ushered to the showers in ES and promptly sat down in one of the studios on New Dimension’s floor to be pampered thereafter. As she stares at her dolled-up face in the vanity mirror – makeup making her skin smooth but kept to a minimal, natural look – she can’t help but wonder what she is getting dragged into without resistance.
“The car Suu-chan sent is here.” Ritsu announces, laying on the couch and tilting his head too far back to be comfortable. His phone lays face down on his stomach, the light from the screen desperately trying to seep out.
“Am I allowed to ask where we’re going?” Anzu grumbles. A hand is offered to her in front of her eyes, making her look up. Though wary, she takes Arashi’s hand and stands from her seat.
Arashi giggles as she informs her of the situation, “Leo-kun told us to treat you like a real queen on the day of, since he hates seeing you disappointed.”
“And also growling at us saying not to get any ideas because you’re his queen.” Ritsu adds with an amused scoff. He rolls off of the piece of furniture, landing lightly on his feet and standing to his full height. “Well, let’s go. If we keep them waiting any longer, we’ll get an earful.”
“Come, Anzu-chan~ Your carriage awaits.”
Though they tell her in the car that they are grabbing dinner at a restaurant, her two knightly escorts refuse to speak more on the subject, saying that surprises are only fun if they aren’t spoiled. They further put the nail in the coffin by adding that this whole thing is Leo’s idea so it will, undoubtedly, make him happy to know that his plan is a success. Reluctantly allowing her capture, Anzu gazes out at the rushing city landscape through the car window in silence. The area is familiar, but the path doesn’t fully trigger her memory until the car parks in front of the restaurant doors.
“Here?” She asks in surprise.
“Old King’s orders~” Arashi sings, pushing Anzu’s shoulders gently from behind.
“Mhmm.” Ritsu hums, leading the way to the front doors while stretching his arms high above his head. “Tsukippi’s favorite restaurant.”
After talking to the host in the waiting area behind the receptionist counter, they are led to the side wing of the building and stop in front of large double doors. Loud music slips around the edges of the solid wooden frame, reverberating against her eardrums. The host opens the doors, unleashing the tidal waves of chatter and instruments.
Multiple pairs of eyes turn their attention to the newcomers.
“Onee-sama, I’m glad you safely made-”
“Anzuuuu~!!!” Orange hair captures her gaze as it quickly nears her. “Uchuu~☆!”
“U-Uchuu-?!” Anzu stutters out automatically in her astonishment.
“Wahaha you always respond so well to me!” Leo laughs loudly. He spreads his arms wide and quickly engulfs her in a hug, spinning them around. “Ah~ I missed you!”
Though her feet leave the ground without restrictions, her voice sticks in her throat and refuses to dislodge. The great room blurs together in a smooth, indistinguishable blend; decorations, food, people, all of it creating a single abstract work of art in her eyes as her mind races to catch up.
Leo sets her down and tilts his head, emerald gaze shining in amusement. “Surprised? You’re not saying anything~ If you won’t, I will! You look really pretty today~ Like every day!” Slowly, he lowers his head, lips and warm breath ghosting across the shell of her ear as he murmurs, “But won’t you at least wish me a happy birthday?”
Anzu brings her hands up, pushing against his chest and turns her head away to hide the effect he has on her. She hopes to not catch anyone’s attention – though the two of them likely have all of it by now. “Leo-san!”
Her boyfriend only laughs more, landing a kiss to the top of her head and releasing her from the hug. “Anyways, thanks for planning something so special for me. I… I’m really happy to be able to see everyone.”
Calming down her heart, Anzu finally takes a good look around. All of the guests she planned to invite are surrounding them, looking cheerful and entertained within the four walls that she chose as the party venue, the decorations she carefully selected from many accompanying their merriment. “What’s going on?”
“You’re so smart, but sometimes you’re so innocent and trusting that the answer just never crosses your mind.” Leo fusses lightheartedly. “I love you~!”
“Eh? What does that mean?” She asks.
“Truth is, we have been deceiving you, onee-sama.” Tsukasa interrupts as he fidgets in his stance, head bowed. “Please forgive us for this betrayal!”
“Since before our concert, we were under orders to ‘help’ you by taking your ideas and executing them ourselves on Leo-kun’s real birthday.” Arashi admits sheepishly.
Anzu spins towards the orange head once more. “If you knew you were going to be back today, then why…?”
“Because he’s annoying.”
“Oh, there you are, Izumi-chan. Welcome home.” Arashi greets with a pleasant smile.
Izumi nods, reaching out and patting Anzu on the head. “I’m back.”
Leo sticks his tongue out briefly at the international model. He retreats the soft appendage back between his lips and softens his expression as he turns to her. “It’s because you’re working too hard. I’m worried about you a lot, you know?”
“I’m fine.” Anzu protests with a pout.
“No, you’re not.” Leo reaches up and brushes a lock of her lightly curled hair – thanks to Arashi’s skillful work – through his fingers. “I took a look at your timetable, so don’t even think about saying you had nothing scheduled for today way in advance that it’s impossible to move.”
Anzu feels her teeth click together as her mouth clamps closed.
Leo’s expression eases from his scolding face. “I’m sorry for lying to you. But if you didn’t have to worry about me today, you’d be less stressed getting through your work, right?”
“But it’s your birthday! Even so, I want to-” Her words are halted when Leo presses his fingers to her lips.
His warmth encompasses her as he steps closer; familiar scent wrapping her in a cozy blanket and securely holding her hostage. “You’re the best I could ever ask for. Thank you, for caring so much about me.” Still, Leo shakes his head gently, his bangs brushing against hers with the motions. “I wanted today to be special too, but not at the cost of you.”
“So,” He steps back again, looking around him and grinning at the others. “I asked for help.”
“We don’t want to see you exhaust yourself either, you know?” Arashi adds in her soothing voice. “Lean on us more?”
Anzu’s eyes prickle dangerously, but she holds back the tears and smiles at them. “Yes. Of course, let’s always help each other out when we can.”
“Not as just producer and idols, but as comrades and friends.” Tsukasa says. He puts a hand to his heart. “That is a promise, Anzu-san.”
She nods. “A promise, then.”
“Now that you’re not mad that I went through your phone~” Leo bounces on the balls of his feet. “After all of that careful planning I found, I never did find if you got me a gift or not~”
“You outed yourself more than necessary.” Izumi sighs.
“Uh…!” Anzu gasps, her body going rigid. “That is… It’s… You guys-”
Anzu whips her head to the side, reflexively splaying her hands as Ritsu holds out a slender box towards her, directly in her line of sight. “When did you…?”
Ritsu winks at her. “Thought you might need it.”
This box was in her bedroom, wasn’t it? She supposes it doesn’t matter now, what is done is done, and Leo is in front of her on the day of his birth. Perhaps she will question them later for invading her privacy without her knowledge. All of them.
“Um… Well, then…” Anzu holds out the small rectangular box with both hands, fingers curling around one edge to keep it suspended. “Happy birthday, Leo-san.”
Grabbing the box with one hand and one of her hands with the other, Leo brings her fingers to his lips. “Thank you.”
Tsukasa’s unamused tone is noticeable even through the music echoing within the large room, “You’re just showing off now, Leo-san.”
“Can I open it?” Leo asks, ignoring everything else around him except for her.
His dexterous fingers pull the ribbon free from its bow more elegantly than the motions should be, in her eyes. The shining ribbon falls from the box loosely, Leo quickly gathering it up between his fingers before it falls to the ground. Opening the lid, he blinks in surprise. “A flash drive?”
“I hope you like it.” Anzu says in a small, unsure voice.
“What’s on it?” Leo picks up the small device, ribbon loops hanging from his fingers, and brings it up to his eye level. “Hm~ Something for when I’m missing you overseas? I didn’t know you were like that~”
“Tsukasa-chan!” Arashi gasps worriedly as the red-haired boy doubles over and coughs violently into his arm.
“Idiot.” Izumi snorts, keeping a careful eye on Tsukasa. “Don’t just say stuff like that so casually, especially out in the open.”
“Anzu, you and Suu-chan might really pass out if your faces become any redder.” Ritsu teases even as he strokes her back. “Don’t worry, we don’t judge here. You should express your feelings as much as possible~”
“N-NO!” Anzu squeaks out loudly. The room is suddenly too hot, like the chandeliers high above are receiving too much electricity and pouring out nothing but blindingly scorching light. “It’s a song! A song!!”
“A song?” Leo asks casually, still studying the flash drive.
“You… taught me how to make music. So, I composed you a song.” She clarifies timidly. “It’s probably not at all great, but it’s the first one I managed to finish and am happy with. Everything but the vocals are recorded, though. Maybe you could sing… it…?”
Leo fails to answer, eyes transfixed on the piece of plastic and face set to a serious expression.
“It’s not up to your standards, I know.” The words rush out of her mouth in a panic. “I’ll get you another gift if you don’t like it, I promise. I-”
“You’re really… I’m no match for you.” Leo’s voice is choked out, yet the smile spreading across his quivering lips couldn’t be wider. “You’re giving me your first song?”
“Yes… I am.”
Leo turns his eyes away from the device, his emerald orbs swimming with a sheen of liquid and glittering more brightly than the overpowered chandeliers. “…Thank you. I don’t even have to listen to it to know it holds all of your heart and efforts in it. This is the best song in the world.”
“I don’t know about that.” Anzu playfully retorts. “Your songs are right there.”
“Hey, instead of me singing this, why don’t we sing together?” Leo suggests abruptly. “Working with us so often and managing vocal lessons with other idols, I’m sure you picked up something. Besides, even just speaking, your voice always draws me in like a magic spell. It’s even prettier than Sena and Suo’s~!”
Anzu replies skeptically, “You’re the idols, you know? I don’t think I could compare to you guys.”
“But it’s meaningless if it’s not you with me.” Leo frowns. “It’ll be our duet! The song that we will play for our first dance at our wedding that perfectly matches us! The most beautiful song in the world filled with inspiration and love and happiness!”
Her mind blanks to white noise.
“You did not-!?” Izumi’s back goes stiff as his eyes widen. “You did not just propose to her like this!?”
“Wahaha, what’s the problem, Sena? So what if I do it now or later?”
“Do it properly, you idiot!” Izumi shoots back, still reeling from the day’s ongoings.
“You cannot just say what is on your mind, Leo-san!” Tsukasa screeches alongside the model. “There must be finesse to such words!”
“I’m pretty proud of you, Tsukippi. It’s not easy expressing yourself so wholly.” Ritsu comments.
Arashi curls her fingers around Izumi and Tsukasa’s shoulders. “Now, now, let’s calm down. Look, Anzu-chan is in shock.”
Tsukasa looks to be on the verge of tears in his frustrations as he argues, “Such words of marriage are sacred! They cannot just be shouted on a whim!”
“At least prepare a ring or something next time.” Izumi huffs in defeat, crossing his arms and turning his head away.
Anzu watches as Leo slips away from his unit mates and makes his way back to her side. The closer he gets, the hotter the flush on her cheeks becomes, pinkening her skin prettily. With the gift firmly back in its box, Leo grabs her hand and tugs her close. His lips leave a lasting impression as they press onto her cheek.
“I’m not joking, about anything I said.” Leo whispers. He leans his forehead onto hers; their faces close enough that she can see her reflection in his eyes. “Thank you for the best birthday I’ve had yet. I love you. More than the moon loves the night sky.”
“I love you, too.”