Actions

Work Header

Discord in the Chat

Chapter Text

Em loved coming home from work. She valued her coworkers and employees at her production studio, but it was quite draining to be around such a high-energy crew all of the time. She climbed the flights of stairs up to her floor in the apartment building, nodding as she ran into her quiet reclusive neighbor. She thought that he did something with the local university, but they’d never exchanged words. Em let herself into her apartment, locked the door behind her, grabbed a package of chips from the pantry and changed into more comfortable clothes. Then she booted up her tablet-computer and logged into the chatroom for the game Mystical Lovers Quest for the Crown , known to the gaming community as MLQC.

It was hard to describe MLQC. It was a visual novel with quests in-between unlocking story points, but it was also so much more than that. There were events with side quests and collector’s items, unlocking clues to piece together mysteries that cropped up throughout the game, and even significant romance subplots between main characters. The game helped her escape the anxieties surrounding her struggling production company and the pressures placed on her by her strict corporate backer for a few hours. And the fandom…well, they were supportive and kind (mostly) and she had particularly made friends with a group of four others. They met in the chatrooms to talk as they worked their way through the game.

Their private chat lit up and three of the four other members were online.

---

Pearlywings: @the_producer what’s up? Ur late

The_producer: Sorry, I was working late…my boss is a real taskmaster…wouldn’t let me leave until my report was fully proofed even though it’s not due until Monday

TheRealLZ: Sounds like he prides himself on a job well done. Nothing wrong with that.

Pearlywings: as expected of someone whose favorite character is Li Zeyan

Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: Your boss seems like the type of person who can’t manage people without micromanaging. He should trust you enough to let you do your job.

TheRealLZ: Really @Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says? Work needs to be done well or else it reflects poorly on the company.

Pearlywings: hardass

The_producer: guys, c’mon. Let’s just play. I need to work through the new chapters that were released.

Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: What is our goal for the session? How many plot points?

TheRealLZ: I have a meeting in an hour. Shall we do two and discuss?

Pearlywings: a business mtg? At this hour? WTF man

The_producer: ugh. Turns out my boss needs to check over my report one more time in an hour so I don’t have much time either. Two will have to work for now.

TheRealLZ: See? Everyone should be productive when they can.

Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: Too much work is harmful for the brain. You need rest to be the most productive.

Pearlywings: we’re burning peak gaming time here. Let’s go. Talk to you guys in thirty…but stay tuned for live reactions

---

Em opened the app on her tablet. The soothing piano music that signified the opening was one of her favorite sounds. She opened up the new chapters and got through the challenge level to open a story node. The main character was investigating a case of superpowers gone wrong with the scientist character, Simon. A lot of the community didn’t like Simon, but Em thought he was an interesting character, if a bit sad. The node ended in an abandoned warehouse. She opened the next node after decimating the challenge between story points. Because Em tended to live paycheck to paycheck and owned her own business, she couldn’t spend a lot of money gaming, but she’d managed to grind and get one of the recent cards that had come with the chapter release.

She opened the next story.

---

The_producer: WHAT THE HELL WHAT THE ACTUAL HELL

TheRealLZ: I told you, Simon was up to no good. @Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says? How do you feel about this?

Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: An interesting twist…I still like Simon. I find him relatable.

Pearlywings: relatable? I think you have some issues man.

Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: I think he is trying his best under the circumstances.

Pearlywings: he literally betrayed the main character and she tried to kill herself with a pen to make him stop

Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: It was an intriguing turn of events that gives him a lot of depth. We should wait and see how it turns out in the end. I think he really cares for MC

The_producer: THE PEN THE PEN THE PEN WTF IM CRYING

TheRealLZ: I forgot you were also a Simon fan @The_producer. Maybe give your affection to someone more worthy next time. Like Li Zeyan. He is very responsible and loyal it seems.

The_producer: But I like them all T_T How can they do this to us

Pearlywings: I’m pretty shook man. That was brutal. Where was Bai Qi? Where were the police?

TheRealLZ: I am certain that the BS organization has the police under their thumb. The police are not hard to control with enough power and money, especially in fictional works

The_producer: …

Pearlywings: …

The_producer: sometimes I wonder if @TheRealLZ is a real person…maybe he’s a bot

Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: I would prefer if he was a bot, I think, rather than a man with nothing to do than work.

The_producer: I need to sign off…I’m legit crying guys. I need to get me head on straight before the boss calls or else I’m going to spell “Financial” with three Ns and a K instead.

Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: Good night

Pearlywings: Bye

TheRealLZ: I also need to excuse myself so I can mentally prepare for my call with a difficult employee…good night.

---

Somehow Em managed to get through the report review with her boss Victor relatively unscathed. She did try to spell financial with an extra “N” though.

“Are you feeling well?” Victor asked at the end of the meeting in an uncharacteristically warm tone. He seemed pleased about something. He’d only yelled at her for five minutes when she’d made stupid mistakes rather than the usual ten.

Em took a deep breath. Her mind kept wandering to the story of MLQC. How could Simon do that? She kept replaying the scene of the pen in her mind.

“I’m fine,” she responded, “Just received some unfortunate news.”

She didn’t dare mention that the unfortunate news was about her favorite character betraying her in-game.

“I’m sorry to hear that. But your report is looking good. Keep up the good work.”

“Did you just praise me?”

“No,” Victor said, abruptly hanging up.

 

That night Em lay awake, thinking hard about the plot. She’d have to go look for some nice fluffy fanart to heal her soul tomorrow. She eventually fell asleep, not noticing the ping in the chatroom.

KiraKira: sorry guys I had a work event what did I miss

KiraKira:…

KiraKira: WHAT THE FU-   

Chapter Text

Em tapped her pen against the desk in irritation.

She wanted to go home and read more of the new chapters that had been released, but she was stuck at the office working on yet another report for Victor!

Normally she loved her job, running her production company and creating content for Loveland City, and her company had been doing well lately. She’d been able to pay their bills, pay the employees, and have more take-home pay than usual.

So why was Victor trying to up the ante? He wanted her to contact a legitimate pop star. A POP STAR. An actual celebrity with agents and bodyguards and other personnel. How was she supposed to come up with a plan for that?

Her phone buzzed. Another notification for MLQC, taunting her.

~Stamina replenished! Come and play~

Her phone buzzed again.

Victor.

“Hello?”

“Em? How is the report coming?”

She glared at the document on her computer screen. It was almost complete, but she couldn’t think of a way to convince Loveland City’s number one idol, Kiro, that he should participate on the show.

“Nearly done,” she said, trying to tone down the annoyance she felt so Victor wouldn’t notice. She didn’t need a lecture on respect at this time of night.

“Go home then. Take a rest. Come back refreshed tomorrow.”

The pen clattered to the ground.

What happened to the taskmaster? Who replaced him?

“I’m assuming you’re having issues determining compensation,” Victor continued, ignoring her awkward silence on the phone, “I’ll take care of that part. Email me the report and I will edit and return it to you by the morning.”

She was having troubles determining Kiro’s compensation for appearing on the show but her sense of pride still prickled. She almost offered to stay all night to finish it, just to show him that she was capable, but then she remembered that she had more chapters to read.

“Yes sir,” she replied, half joking. Victor sighed over the phone, but he seemed almost amused to Em.

Em packed up and made it home in record time. She logged into the chat. Everyone was there.

KiraKira was screaming about the plot points they had all read last night.

---

KiraKira: I still can’t believe it. I mean, I know everyone thought Simon was shady, but I really believed he’d come and save us. BUT HE BETRAYED US. THAT SCENE WITH THE PEN.

The rant was followed by an incessant stream of emojis.

TheRealLZ: Stop spamming the chat.

Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: What’s got you all riled up, @TheRealLZ?

He added his own emojis to KiraKira’s thread.

TheRealLZ:…

PearlyWings: I’m just as shocked as you, @KiraKira, but we should have expected it. Simon was always telling us to run.

KiraKira: I know, but I thought he was just being dramatic. His character type is like that, you know.

TheRealLZ: He is terribly overdramatic.

Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: He has to be secretive because of his position. That makes everything seem dramatic. Cut him some slack.

The_producer: ^^^ THIS

TheRealLZ: You are still defending Simon? After all of this?

The_producer: Just call me team harem

PearlyWings: Why don’t we read the next set of plots?

TheRealLZ: Please. Let us end this madness.

---

Em opened up the app on her phone and read through the next set. Her phone seemed to grow heavier as she read. One hand clapped to her mouth, she struggled to hold back her sobs. Last thing she needed was for her neighbor to hear her sobbing over a mobile game.

 

She logged back in.

---

The_producer: …I don’t have words for this

PearlyWings: I was here for the action, but this is a lot.

KiraKira: I WANT THE FUN TIMES BACK

TheRealLZ: We cannot go back. There is only moving forward and hoping for a good ending.

Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: That was quite profound @TheRealLZ. Are you perhaps affected by the emotional state of the protagonist?

TheRealLZ: No. I am merely pointing out the fact that we know the plot up to here. There is no point reminiscing about the past.

---

Em smiled. It seemed like “LZ” was really affected by the plot points, even if he didn’t want to say so.

A private chat request popped up on her screen.

It was “Simon.” Curious, she opened the chat.

Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: Seems that TheRealLZ was really affected by these chapters…do you think he likes the MC?

The_producer: I thought he hated her this whole time! He’s always calling her an idiot :p

Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: I know. He really is too much like Li Zeyan in the game.

The_producer: Well, are you like Simon then?

Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says:…perhaps

The_producer: He’ll be happy if LZ ends up with MC in the end then, haha. I like all of them with MC, I couldn’t choose…

Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: I prefer Simon with the MC…but I also have a few other pairings I like.

Before Em could ask what Simon meant, she was distracted by the main group.

---

Pearlywings: I’m just saying, Bai Qi probably flies in a superman position.

KiraKira: Okay, but what if he just T-poses through the sky. I think that would be more intimidating.

Pearlywings: T-posing? Who is he trying to intimidate? Birds?

KiraKira: I don’t know! Who’s to say there aren’t other flying people! They have superpowers ffs.

Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: Personally, I believe he acts like he’s sitting down. MC rides on his lap when they fly together. @The_producer thoughts?

TheRealLZ: This is an inane conversation.

KiraKira: Okay, Mr. “No point in reminiscing” if you don’t like it you can leave.

*TheRealLZ has logged out*

KiraKira: He actually left?!?

Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: Interesting. I need to leave as well. I have some work left to do.

*Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says has logged out*

The_producer: I have no thoughts on BQ’s flying position, but I need to leave too. Work was exhausting today and I need to sleep.

PearlyWings: ‘bye

KiraKira: Bye-bye, Miss Chips <3

---

Em smiled at KiraKira’s reference. Her heart was full of nice feelings for people she didn’t even really know. They hadn’t even exchanged real names. That didn’t really matter, but sometimes she wondered about them. They all seemed to be in the same time zone, at least, based on activity hours. She shrugged, logging onto her Instagram. Not her real one, but the one she used to stalk her favorite creators.

When she did, she nearly dropped her phone.

Her favorite fanartist, Ink_Butterfly, has just posted for the first time in a weeks.

The picture was of two hands clasping. From the looks of it, it was Simon and Li Zeyan. Ink_Butterfly was well-known for their amazing fanart of the characters, and a propensity for crack ships. Em smiled and saved the picture to one of her collections.

The caption read: Hello, Mystical Lovers, I know I’ve been absent for a bit. But it was for a good cause! I’m opening up a store for prints and other merch of my fanarts. In honor of the event, I am going to open up a giveaway for three lucky winners who comment and reshare this post. The prize will be a free print I will sign and package myself. Good luck.

Em instantly commented on the post.

“If they can’t have MC, they can have each other. Beautiful work as always.”

Then she turned off her phone, still buzzing with excitement about the giveaway and Ink_Butterfly’s return to activity.

She finally managed to sleep, doing her normal trick to calm down, thinking her way through the plots of fanfictions she would never write, fanarts she would never draw.

Chapter Text

Even though Em knew the competition was ongoing and her winning was unlikely, she couldn’t help but to continue to check the comments thread on the giveaway post, counting up the number of comments and her odds of winning. Her odds of winning were very low.

The day the winners were going to be selected, she was distracted to say the least. Even Victor noticed.

“What’s wrong with you?” he grouched, slamming the report down in front of her, “This is atrocious. Are you well?”

He peered at her more closely. Em knew she was a bit flushed.

“Go home,” he said finally, “Whether you’re sick or tired, you clearly need rest.”

Em wanted to argue. She needed to stay. She was the owner of her company, so really Victor shouldn’t make decisions for her, but when she got back to her desk, Anna took one look at her.

“Go home, Em. You look feverish.”

Not feverish, excited! She wanted to shout, but how could she explain? She wouldn’t win, but she wanted to watch the livestream where Ink_Butterfly decided the winners. They were startlingly anonymous. No one knew who Ink_Butterfly was. They just produced good art. If she could see just a glimpse of a hand, hear a voice, she’d feel a little more connected to someone she idolized.

The livestream was going to air at 2000. She sat on the edge of her seat, headphones in, watching for the notification.

Ink_Butterfly is live. Her phone said. She clicked into the broadcast, one of the first people there.

There was a momentary pause as the phone was set down to record a screen with a random number generator on it.

Then Ink_Butterfly spoke. Em’s jaw dropped.

Ink_Butterfly…he had quite possibly the most intoxicating voice she’d ever heard.

“I will now begin the drawing,” his voice said. A slender pale hand with elegantly long fingers navigated the cursor to the “generate” button. Three numbers appeared on the screen.

“There were 231 entries,” he said while looking up the username associated with the numbers, “Thank you for your support.”

There was a tap, another pause, and then he read the usernames.

Hers was one of them. Hers was one of them!

“I see that all three of you are watching this stream,” Ink_Butterfly said, “Please DM me with your address and I will let you know when I ship the package.”

Em immediately left the livestream and went to her DMs, typing in Ink_Butterfly’s username and opening an empty thread. Her hands were shaking. Who would have thought she’d one day be talking to her favorite artist?

She typed out a short greeting and her address. Seen. Bubbles popped up as Ink_Butterfly started to type a response, stopped, and then started again.

Thank you, he wrote, I will let you know when your package is ready for shipping. I think it should be three to five business days.

Em put her phone down, turning off notifications. She didn’t want this weird high of excitement to end, so she didn’t log onto the chat room or play any new chapters. Instead, she sat and listened to the ASMR feature of MLQC over and over again. Simon’s voice almost reminded her of Ink_Butterfly’s.

She somehow managed to get her work done. Em wasn’t sure she would calm down until the signed print was in her hands, honestly. But no one said anything about her excitement. No one seemed to notice, which was a blessing.

By the end of the week, she still hadn’t heard from Ink_Butterfly about her delivery, but she figured he must be busy. Or he’d forgotten and it would be a pleasant surprise when the art print arrived.

She was certainly surprised when she saw her reclusive neighbor standing in front of her door, a flat package in his hand.

“Can I help you?” Em asked, keys in hand, staring at the package in his hands. He glanced over t her from behind his dark bangs.

“I think this package belongs to you,” he said in a quiet and vaguely familiar voice, “It was at my apartment.”

“Oh really? Sorry. I’ll take it off your hands.”

He shrugged, an elegant gesture.

“Not your fault.”

“Next time you can just drop it in front of the door, no need to stand here,” she responded, taking in the deep circles under his eyes, the pale, drawn expression of his face. He smiled briefly.

“I have only been here for a minute or two. And I decided I should probably greet you. We’re neighbors but I don’t think I’ve introduced myself. I’m Lucien.”

He held out his hand. The pale skin, the long tapering fingers.

The voice. The hand. Pieces of a puzzle were starting to work themselves together.

But that was impossible. She couldn’t be living next door to Ink_Butterfly…right?

“Em,” she said, shaking the outstretched hand.

“The pleasure is mine. Now if you’ll excuse me…” He stepped around her and went into his apartment. Em stared at the door before shaking her head. There was no way. She wanted to tear into the package and look at her new art, but she also needed to share with people who would understand. She logged onto the chatroom, which had settled down recently as they had finished the new chapters. Her heart still stung when she thought of Simon’s betrayal, but for some reason she was still excited for the new chapters that would be coming in a month or so.

---

*TheRealLZ and Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says are in the chat*

TheRealLZ: There’s no chemistry between LZ and Simon, I’m sorry. I don’t care what you want to think. It’s not there.

Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: Didn’t you read the chapter after MC was in the hospital? The first time they met officially? The TENSION.

TheRealLZ: You’re delusional.

The_producer: I like Simon x LZ. But have you considered Simon x LZ x MC?

TheRealLZ: absolutely NOT

Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says:…I like the way you think, @The_producer. And hello. Welcome.

The_producer: Hi! I have some super exciting news to share!

She put a few emojis into the chat.

TheRealLZ: What is it?

The_producer: Do you guys know the fanartist, Ink_Butterfly?

TheRealLZ: Of course. You’d have to be dead in the fandom to not know who they are, idiot.

Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: I am well acquainted with their work.

The_producer: WELL I entered his most recent giveaway and I actually won. I have the package in my hands right now.

TheRealLZ: Is that so? Congratulations. What print did you choose?

The_producer: one of his newest ones. I really love how he draws hands. They’re so expressive even though he doesn’t draw in the character.

TheRealLZ: Are you speaking of his most recent piece? The Simon x LZ one?

The_producer: yeah lol.

TheRealLZ sent a rolling eyes emoji.

TheRealLZ: I have had enough for one night. I need to sleep. I have a meeting with my difficult employee tomorrow. She’s been ill almost all week.

Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: Just because you don’t want to admit that Simon x LZ has potential doesn’t mean you have to run away.

TheRealLZ: Goodnight @The_producer

The_producer: goodnight >o<

Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: What, no goodbye message for me?

TheRealLZ: …goodnight

*TheRealLZ has logged off*

Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: Ah, he’s so fun to tease.

The_producer: you’re so mean to him lol.

Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: @TheRealLZ when you see this message, know that if you didn’t give such funny reactions I’d leave you alone

The_producer: I’m going to go. I want to open my print and figure out where to put it!

Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: Sounds good. I too have something I need to take care of.

*Simon_Is_As_Simom_Says has logged off*

---

Em sighed. The chatroom got a little weird when there were only two of them in it. Not bad, but strange. She vaguely wondered where KiraKira and Pearlywings had been that night, but considering she knew nothing about them she could only wonder so much.

As she was about to open the envelope, there was a knock on her door. She glanced at the clock. It was getting late, but her curiosity got the best of her.

“Coming,” she yelled on her way to the door. She looked out the peephole, surprised by who she found.

“Lucien?” she asked, opening the door. Her neighbor rocked back on his heels.

“Hi,” he said, “This is a bit strange, but today wasn’t the first time we’ve met.”

“It isn’t?” she cocked her head. Even if he was Ink_Butterfly, she’d never met him.

“We’ve been talking for a little bit already. You probably know me as Ink_Butterfly, or better yet, Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says.”

“What?” she exclaimed, nearly losing her grip on the precious package. Lucien’s gaze remained calm.

“Sorry, I just put it together tonight…I never thought that someone who won my giveaway would be my neighbor, which was already surprising, and then I realized we already knew each other from an internet chatroom.”

“I…wow…what are the odds?”

“Yes. What a coincidence. Apparently it’s more likely than you’d think. But you recognized me in the hallway earlier today, didn’t you? You should have said something. Trust your instincts more.”

“Would you like to come in?” she asked, “I was about to open the print.”

At first she thought he’d refuse, but he accepted her offer and sat on the couch next to her. Suddenly she was ridiculously nervous. Ink_Butterfly was sitting next to her. They’d been friends for almost a year now online. She took a deep breath.

“I’ve never watched someone react to my art in real time before,” he said, “I mean, when I was a child, there was one girl, but I lost touch with her…that’s what inspired me to keep going. I wanted more people to see, I wanted more people to feel what I cannot.”

Em looked at Lucien quizzically. He was giving her what felt like it should be an emotional backstory, but his voice was untroubled, placid, unaffected by the weight of history.

“I’ll do my best to give you a good reaction then,” she said, carefully opening the package.

“An honest reaction will do.”

The minute she slid the print out, she forgot that the artist was sitting next to her.

Even though she’d seen the piece on Ink_Butterfly’s…no…Lucien’s Instagram, it was different seeing it in person.

Everything about it evoked soft affection from the lineart to the shading to the colors. Muted but expressive.

“Does it affect you that much?” he asked, reaching over and catching a tear that was threatening down her face and onto the print.

“It’s gorgeous,” she said, “How can you not be affected by it?”

“I don’t understand how you are so affected. I’ve never understood.”

Again, Em got the distinct feeling that Lucien was brushing by an uncomfortable moment in his past, but his face was hard to read.

“Well, thank you, Lucien. This is gorgeous. I’m glad I won.”

“I’m glad that you appreciate my work. It’s gratifying.” He stood abruptly.

“I’ll be off. I apologize for the intrusion.”

“If you don’t mind,” Em said, “We could get together sometimes? I’d like to be friends.”

Lucien smiled and it almost reached his eyes.

“I’d like that.”

Chapter Text

“Thank you for lending your services, Em,” Lucien said, snapping one last picture of her sitting on the couch, “Sometimes it’s a little difficult to find just the right pose reference.”

He sighed and looked at the image on the screen.

“I can credit you as the reference if you’d like?” Em’s face flushed. As much as she wanted to share with her followers that she knew Ink_Butterfly personally, the thought of her image being put in front of his thousands of followers as a model was embarrassing.

“That’s okay,” she said, “I’m happy to help. Don’t worry about it.”

Lucien pursed his lips, staring off into the middle distance as he put the camera away.

“I’d like to compensate you,” he said, “I’m sure you have other things you’d like to be doing.”

“I certainly have other things to do, not necessarily things I want to do though,” she said, staring at a pile of paperwork that would require her attention over the weekend, “This is more exciting than most Friday nights, not that the chatroom isn’t nice.”

“We are a bit of a sad bunch,” he said, smiling slightly, “spending our nights online talking to people we probably won’t ever meet. Although I did end up meeting you.”

He gazed at her, eyes soft.

He was absolutely enchanting. Damn, why hadn’t they spoken before now? They’d been living next door to each other for almost six months now. How had she not noticed him?

“I’m glad. And I’m honored to help you with your work,” she said, “I’ve always admired your art, even from the early days.”

Lucien grimaced, fiddling with the straps on his camera bag.

“I can’t even look at something I did last week without cringing,” he admitted, “Sometimes I wonder why I even try.”

“What?” Em exclaimed, leaping off of the couch and toward the artist, “That’s ridiculous. Your art is brilliant. I can’t draw anywhere near that level.”

Lucien raised an eyebrow.

“Your doodles on your account are quite good,” he offered.

“You…you looked at them?” Her voice squeaked at the thought of Lucien looking at the things she’d drawn and thrown up on her trash account. They were mediocre. She was an amateur. He created polished pieces that apparently made her cry.

“Of course I did,” he said, voice warm, smiling down at her, “Once I found out that my neighbor was someone who followed me, I needed to know more. As a matter of fact,” he took out his phone and hit a button, “Now we’re mutuals.”

“What? What! You didn’t!” She checked her phone. Ink_Butterfly started following you.

“Oh my gosh. Ink_Butterfly is following me.” She took a screenshot to commemorate the moment.

“What should I do? This is crazy.”

“How about talking to him because he’s right here?” Lucien said, looking vaguely amused. Em had quickly come to learn over the past couple of weeks that all of Lucien’s expressions were subtle, vague, hard to read. She thought she’d picked up quite a few though. Amusement was one of them. Lucien was often amused. Usually when she accidentally started gushing about his art account, which happened frequently. Lucien was really the only person she knew in real life where she could geek out over her hobbies and he didn’t care. But she couldn’t figure anything out about his personal life.

She flung her arms around him anyway, barely thinking about the action, so overcome with happiness.

“Thank you,” she murmured into his shirt, “You have no idea how happy that made me.”

“I had no idea you’d be so affected,” he replied, looking down at her.

A strange tension built. Em’s heart sped up. She felt flushed, but there was no reason for that. They still barely knew each other, even though they’d spent a lot more time together since she’d won the raffle.

“Em, I want to know-” His voice had dropped into the sonorous range that gave Em tingles. She leaned forward, looking up, trying to figure out what he was going to say when both of their phones buzzed loudly in their pockets. The tension between the two of them dissipated.

Em pulled out her phone, took one look at the message from KiraKira, and burst out laughing.

“Lucien, look at this. I’ve never seen something so stupid.”

KiraKira had sent a meme of Simon’s head edited onto someone riding a tractor. Tears spilled down her face as she continued to laugh. 

Lucien sighed and this time the expression screamed disappointment.

Em pretended not to notice. It was better that way.

He eventually smiled gently, patted her head in his usual manner and went next door.

She made it to the shower before she remembered how he’d looked at her.

The steaming water felt cool on her burning face. She leaned her head on the tile of the shower, trying to cool her hot cheeks. He’d been so close to her, her idol, her friend, her neighbor. She remembered his voice the first time she’d heard it, and the way his pale hands folded over each other when he was anxious, the way he could copy a reference almost exactly and make it beautiful art.

Crap.

Maybe she liked Lucien more than just a friend.

Chapter Text

Chat Four: Meme Team Rising

“What has you so amused?” Victor asked. They were between meetings, and Em was checking the chat log on her phone. KiraKira had really leaned into the meme photo editing and was spamming the chat with shit posts. The longer Em looked at them, the funnier they were, but at Victor’s words, she felt her grin fade and she straightened up.

“Looking at memes,” she said, knowing that she couldn’t get away with lying to Victor. He raised an eyebrow.

“Really? Memes?”

“They’re funny,” she said defensively.

“Let me see then, if they are so funny.” Em nearly dropped her phone.

“You wouldn’t understand…”

“Really?”

“I mean, they’re pretty niche…specific to this one hobby I have.”

“So they are not something in which I would be interested then?” he asked, knitting his brows. He held out his hand for her phone anyway and she hesitated, unsure of how to get out of this situation. While MLQC was a relatively popular game, she didn’t really want her boss to know the full extent of her obsession.

She had a lot of questionable content on her phone. She partially blamed Lucien, who had taken to sending her unfinished fanarts. She flushed just thinking about some of them. Just as she was about to suck it up and hand him her phone, screw the consequences, she heard a pair of raised voices down the hall. Victor and Em looked at the rapidly approaching pair.

“Savin, c’mon, we have a few minutes left until the meeting. Give me back the phone.”

“Absolutely not. You’ve been staring at it all day. You’re addicted.”

“I’m creating content!”

“Content? Are you promoting your shows?”

“No. I’m making other content.”

“Like what?”

“Memes?” 

Em squinted at the tall blond who was trying unsuccessfully to retrieve his phone from a shorter brown-haired man in a suit. The blonde man looked vaguely familiar.

“That is our next engagement,” Victor said, “I arranged a meeting with Kiro for your show.”

Em nearly dropped her phone but managed to catch it at the last minute.

“I’m meeting the pop sensation right now?” Her voice cracked through the octaves. Victor tugged on his suit sleeves and brushed some dust from his jacket.

“Yes. You needed an incentive for him to accept your proposal and I provided it. Now you do the rest.”

Em had never seen the proposal after Victor took it and she had no idea what Victor had promised BS Entertainment in order to use their most popular idol. But it was almost certain that she now owed the CEO big-time, so she’d have to perform well.

Kiro and his agent, Savin, approached. Savin politely inclined his head and presented a business card. Em took it and stowed it away carefully, trying hard not to stare at Kiro, who was looking at her with open curiosity. She suddenly wished she’d dressed up a little more, maybe put on a different lipstick color. Although the one she was wearing was the one that Lucien had said he’d liked the most. And he was right. For a colorblind artist he sure knew how to pick his colors. It was a flattering shade that she normally didn’t dare wear.

Nope. Nope. Not down that train of thought, not now.

“Into the boardroom,” Victor said, steering Em and Kiro into the empty meeting room, “Savin and I need to discuss some business matters and tighten down the contracts. Em, work with Kiro on the direction you would like the show to take.”  He practically shoved her inside and turned, closing the door behind him.

Em and Kiro stared at each other, before bursting into awkward laughter like two kids who’d just been introduced and then told to play nice.

“Is he always like that?” Kiro asked, wiping a mirthful tear from his eye.

“Domineering and patronizing but ultimately cares about my and my company’s wellbeing and doesn’t know how to show it? Yes.”

“Hah. Well then. I’ll officially introduce myself. I’m Kiro.” He flashed her his famous grin. Em felt a creeping warmth across her cheeks.

“I’m Em. Nice to meet you. Would you like to start talking about the show?”

Kiro nodded but held up a finger.

“I have to send something off really quick though,” he said, pulling out his phone, “I pickpocketed Savin.”

Em covered her smiling mouth with her hand. Kiro hit a few buttons and then sent his message. Em ignored the buzzing of her own phone, wanting to get down to business. If she didn’t then Victor was sure to yell at her when he got back. Besides, Em was excited to work with Kiro now that she’d met him. He wasn’t intimidating at all.

“Let’s start with the main theme then…” she said once Kiro was paying attention.

The two of them worked amazingly well together, deciding on a direction for a mini-documentary on Kiro’s rise to stardom with a few comedic aspects to highlight his fun-loving and sunny personality. Em found that they had a similar sense of humor.

They finished early, and Kiro pulled out his phone again. Em removed her phone from her pocket, seeing a couple of messages on the chat. She opened it and burst out laughing. Kirakira had sent memes again. Her phone buzzed as she was looking at it with another incoming image of Ling Xiao as a cowboy.

Tears were streaming down her face as she cried with laughter. She set her phone down to wipe away the tears.

“You’re The_producer?” Kiro’s voice whispered in her ear. She started, nearly hitting his chin with the top of her head.

“What? I’m the producer of the company, I thought you knew.” Kiro shook his head.

“No, I mean, your username. The_producer.” She glanced at her phone where the chat was open and in full view. She gulped.

“Sorry. That’s just a chatroom for one of my hobbies. I should’ve been more careful.”

Kiro laughed.

“Not at all. Pleased to meet you, Miss Chips, I’m KiraKira.”

“You’re KiraKira?” Em exclaimed, “You’ve been sending those memes?”

Kiro held up a single finger in front of his mouth and winked.

“It’s a secret, okay? If the internet found out, they’d be hounding me for private chats.”

“I’ve been chatting with a superstar?”

“I prefer the term meme artist.”

She clapped a hand over her mouth to keep herself from laughing.

“I can’t believe it! I found you, Miss Chips, hah! This is exciting.” He leaned over and grabbed her phone.

“Wanna help me come up with some memes?”

Savin and Victor returned at the predetermined time, only to find Kiro and Em giggling uncontrollably while staring at their phones.

“Kiro!” Savin exclaimed.

“Em,” Victor said, voice calm but deadly, suffocating Em’s gleeful mood immediately, “Did you do anything I asked you to?”

“Of course Victor, I wouldn’t pass up such a valuable opportunity.” She handed him the sheath of papers she had used to outline the episode. Victor glanced through it briefly. Em held her breath.

“Passable,” he said finally. Em let out a relieved sigh. “Passable” was high praise coming from Victor.

“My apologies, sir,” Kiro said, “I was a distraction. I hope I didn’t prevent Em from doing her job appropriately.”

“My employees should be able to keep themselves in line,” Victor said, “But it appears everything was done as it should have been.” He waved at Kiro, as if he was dismissing the star’s apology.

“So sorry, Victor. Thank you for taking the time to meet with us. This partnership will be beneficial to both parties.”

Savin and Kiro left. Victor rounded on Em.

“What were you doing?” he asked, voice cold.

“Increasing my sense of camaraderie with a valuable guest,” Em responded, less frantic now that her proposal had passed the inspection. Victor huffed.

“Next time you wrap up early, use the time to continue working on another project.”

He turned and walked out of the room. Em let out a sigh of relief, before looking at the last message Kiro had sent.

KiraKira: Spot the difference.

The image he attached was a picture of Victor taken from who knows where next to a picture of Li Zeyan from the game. The similarities were uncanny. She smiled.

Chapter Text

“How was your day?” Lucien said, long fingers wrapping around a mug of tea. The warm steam rose up, the scent of the tea and the low lighting creating a cozy atmosphere. Em had gone to Lucien’s apartment to keep him company as he worked on a few new pieces for his online store, and she worked on her report. They had each spent hours in comfortable silence, working on their projects, low music playing, the scent of the flowers out on Lucien’s balcony wafting in through the open door. And now they had finished. Em turned her own mug around, contemplating the question.

“It was fine,” she responded at last, “My final report for the Kiro show is due tomorrow. We have a meeting with his team.”

“Does he act anything like KiraKira in person?” Lucien asked, tilting his head, an expression Em had never seen on his face before.

“I suppose. He’s a bit quieter in meetings, of course, he can’t be laughing over memes in front of his agent, Savin. But when it’s just the two of us, he’s almost exactly the same.”

Lucien’s fingers tightened almost imperceptibly around the mug.

“The two of you? What about Victor? Or his agent?” His voice was tight, strained, the complete opposite of his usual relaxed tone. Em looked at him, unused to the hard expression in his eyes.

“It’s meetings about creative direction…Savin doesn’t need to be there. And Victor is far too busy to supervise me constantly.”

“I see.”

“How was your day?” Em asked, trying to deflect the strange mood that had built between them. She averted her gaze, unable to stand the emotion reflected in his eyes.

“My research is taking longer than we anticipated,” he replied, frustration clear in his voice, “but it doesn’t help when my valuable time is taken up with meetings. The head of the department always tries to find me. I don’t want to speak to her but she insists on weekly meetings.”

“She?”

“Yes, you’ve seen her before I believe, just last week actually, when you dropped by to visit me after one of my seminars.”

Suddenly Em vividly recalled the woman. Tall and lean, dark raven hair cascading down her back, eyes dark and deadly.

She’d thought that the woman was a student or person looking for directions! Not the head of the department. She imagined them meeting one-on-one, working closely together, both dark heads leaned in near each other, touching fingers as they reached for the same note set.

Em felt her own fingers tighten, jaw clenched.

The expression on her face felt like the one she’d seen on Lucien’s.  

Ah. It was jealousy then. Lucien was…jealous? She was jealous?

Ridiculous.

They hadn’t ever talked about anything more, and Lucien had never indicated anything aside from the occasional glances she felt lingering on her, the times when their hands touched and he didn’t move his fingers from hers. All of that could just be wishful thinking on her part.

She looked up just in time to see that faint flash of amusement.

He was doing it on purpose!

She glanced at the clock and practically spilled her tea across the table.

“That late? Already?” Lucien followed her gaze.

“I lost track of the time. Sorry to keep you. You know I don’t sleep.”

She stood.

“You’re a chronic insomniac,” she chided gently, “You should find something to help you.”

“I think I might have,” he responded, staring directly at her. She flushed.

“You should really close your door,” she said, redirecting the conversation, “Something might fly inside.”

Lucien shrugged.

“The flowers smell nicer tonight. It’s probably going to rain. Certain plants release scents as a storm approaches. And I like the cool breeze. That, among other things here tonight, relaxes me.” He smiled at her, eyes hooded, hands folded politely. Em’s heart skipped a beat.

“I…see…” she forced the words out, trying to distract herself from asking the question she really wanted to.

Did he want her to stay the night?

Did she want to stay the night?

Em grabbed her purse from the chair at the kitchen table and practically ran to the next door over. She entered her apartment and pressed her back against the door, sliding down to the floor, trying to ignore the tight feeling in her stomach.

Why was he so infuriating? Every time she thought she knew where they stood, he did something or said something that made her question everything. She was probably just overreacting, reading too much into it. After all, she’d been enamored with his art for years. How could she help but project those feelings onto him, especially once she’d found out that the person behind the art was such a handsome and intriguing man. He was also gentle, kind, caring, intelligent, and devoted.

How could she not like him? The tightness grew almost unbearable. What was she supposed to do with these feelings? Especially when she couldn’t be sure they were reciprocated? Em had spent enough time with Lucien in public. He was polite, verging on flirtatious with nearly everyone.

Her phone buzzed. She looked at it, expecting a group chat or game notification, but it was Lucien.

I seem to have made you uncomfortable. My apologies. I know you have an important meeting tomorrow so I won’t keep you up any longer, but I have something I need to say. I’ll pick you up after the meeting.

There was a pause. Em looked at the phone in her trembling hands.

A new message came through.

Thank you for being with me tonight.

She let out a shaky breath. How was she supposed to sleep now? A shower. She needed a shower. Something to douse the anxiety that had appeared so suddenly.

She got her things ready for the morning and then headed to the bathroom. As she turned the shower on, her phone buzzed on the counter. Em nearly threw her towel in her haste to get to the device.

I am attending the finalization meeting.

Em turned back to the shower and turned off the water, her excitement extinguished by Victor’s succinct text. She should have expected this development; she had the feeling Victor didn’t trust Kiro to do the job properly.

Exhaustion washed over her. Em put on her pajamas and crawled into bed before blacking out.

***

Em dashed down the stairs of the apartment building, trying not to trip as she rushed to the entrance. She’d overslept and now she was going to be late for her meeting with Kiro to finalize plans for the show. Normally, she wouldn’t mind being a few moments late, they’d had meetings before and one or the other of them was always a bit behind. He had a chaotic and unpredictable event schedule, she had an exacting boss. Victor wouldn’t let her leave work, even to meet with a client, if her report wasn’t perfect. Of course, the meetings with Kiro weren’t necessarily all work and Victor knew that.

Which was why Victor had decided to attend this meeting.

And that was why she couldn’t be late.

Em was still mentally banging her head against the wall as she rounded the last flight of stairs. She’d let herself get too distracted by Lucien and now she’d overslept, and she really wasn’t in the mood for Victor’s disappointment or admonishment, not for something so important. This show was very important. If it did well, the exposure from working with such a popular idol could lead to more opportunities for her company. And a return on Victor’s strangely massive investment.

Em dashed to the door and then screeched to a halt.

It was raining. Pouring. In her panic at oversleeping, she’d completely forgotten to check the weather. Lucien and she had even spoken about the weather last night.

“Crap!” she yelled, drawing a strange look from the few people in the lobby. She was really going to be late now.

Could she fake sick? No, this was too important. She’d just have to face the consequences of her decision.

Before she could head back to the stairs, she felt a warmth on her neck.

“I thought something like this might happen,” an amused, familiar voice breathed into her ear, a hand grasping her wrist, preventing her from turning fully around.

“Lucien!” she exclaimed, craning her neck to meet his violet eyes.

“Take an umbrella, I wouldn’t want you to get…wet,” he said, teeth grazing her earlobe. She shivered. He pressed an umbrella into her hand. He let go of her wrist.

“I’ll be by to pick you up,” he said, waving, casually as he turned away. Her hand clenched the umbrella, cheeks flushed.

That man! How could he do something like that and then walk away so casually?

Em gave herself thirty seconds to re-center before braving the weather. She made it to her meeting just in time.

***

The rain was letting up just as the meeting finished. They’d gone over time, of course, and Em was extremely glad when Victor adjourned the meeting, all details in place. The CEO had brusquely dismissed them, hurrying out of the room, Savin and Goldman trailing in his wake. Kiro however, lingered, thumbing his phone in his pocket.

“What are you doing now?” he asked, looking at her with his large blue eyes, the ones that caused fangirls everywhere to coo and sigh, “Do you want to play some games?”

On any other day, Em might have said yes. But not today, not while she was waiting for Lucien to show his face. She wondered what he had to tell her. She had her suspicions, especially following their interaction this morning, but she couldn’t decide if she wanted to be right or not.

Kiro seemed to notice her distraction.

“Hey, what’s going on, Miss Chips?” he asked, eyes turning serious, “Why do you seem so anxious?” He blocked her view of the door to the room, stepping in front of her, placing his arms on the table behind her, effectively trapping her.

“It’s nothing,” she said, craning her neck to see if Lucien had shown.

“Really? I find that hard to believe. You look nervous. Scared even.”

Em shook her head.

“Nervous? I guess. Not scared though.”

Lucien had never scared her. Frustrated her, confused her, caused her some anxiety, yes. But he was always so calm and gentle in nearly every situation. How could she be scared?

“Tell me about it then, Em, I’m your friend, aren’t I?”

She wasn’t used to such as serious look in Kiro’s eyes.

“Really, don’t worry about it. You have enough going on, you don’t need to worry about my personal troubles.”

“But I want to know,” Kiro said, pouting, “We should get to know each other better. That’s why I wanted to play games.”

He sighed and stood up, releasing her from his makeshift prison.

“Stop acting like a kicked puppy,” she teased, “I’ll play with you another day. And don’t forget to log into the chatroom more frequently. It’s been a bit lonely.”

It really had just been her and Lucien in the chatroom recently. TheRealLZ sometimes popped in, but always left almost right away after dropping a cryptic or profound sentence or two.

Lucien and Em had started calling him the cryptid of the chatroom, a god-like figure who dispensed precious wisdom before blinking out of existence.

PearlyWings had been gone for awhile, and Em hoped he was okay.

“Sorry, Em,” Kiro said, “You know that my schedule’s been crazy. I can barely even finish my dailies.” He waved his phone in the air.

“And I really need the dailies. I heard they might be releasing an MC event card.”

“MC event card!” Em exclaimed.

“That’s the rumor online…and I may or may not have hacked into their programming to confirm.”

Em slapped a hand to her mouth to contain her laughter.

The laughter faded as a shadow crossed her face.

Lucien had finally shown up.

“Are you ready to go, Em?” the professor asked in his mild tone, having entered the conference room on silent feet.

Em suddenly remembered the umbrella fiasco from the morning and her face grew hot, chest tightening.  

Kiro looked at her, then looked at Lucien, one eyebrow raised, a petulant expression on his boyish face.

“Who’s this?” he asked, shifting his position to stand in front of her.

“He’s…”

“I’m Professor Lucien of Loveland University,” Lucien said, “But you might know me better as Ink_Butterfly.”

Kiro’s jaw dropped.

“You! Ink_Butterfly?” He looked at Em.

“But then…how did he know who you were?”

“Oh, Kirakira, it wasn’t hard to find out,” Lucien replied, a small smile on his face. It wasn’t his amused smile. It was his predatory, coming in for the kill smile. It was a smile of satisfaction.

“I think you’ll find that I am also Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says.”

Kiro’s phone fell out of his hand.

“How long have you known who he was?” Kiro exclaimed, sounding hurt.

“Back when I won the raffle,” Em said, realizing that that had been months ago. Kiro pouted.

“You’ve been friends with one of the most talented artists in the fandom for months and you’re only telling me about it now? And why is he coming to pick you up from work?”

“We have something to discuss,” Lucien said, butting into the conversation, and grabbing Em’s hand, gently removing her from her place next to Kiro, “And anyway, we’re neighbors, so it makes sense we’d walk home together.”

“I-” Kiro started, picking his phone up and confusedly running a hand through his hair, “I guess I need to go…see you around Em.” He shot the two of them a plainly suspicious look before quickly exiting the room fingers tapping away on his keyboard. Em glared at Lucien.

“That wasn’t very nice,” she admonished. Lucien blinked slowly, the satisfactory smile crossing his lips again.

“I know.”

 Em snorted, rolling her eyes.

“Let’s go then, shall we?” Lucien asked, still holding her hand as they exited the building. She almost wanted to take her hand back, but they fit so well.

“Where are we going?” she asked.

“If you don’t mind, I think this conversation would be best held in one of our apartments. I just wanted the excuse to walk with you.”

At this point, Em would have to be stupid not to pick up what Lucien was going to tell her. But a large part of her still insisted it wasn’t real. He’d sit her down and tell her that they were good friends and that was it. And she’d be fine with that. Being friends with Ink_Butterfly, with Lucien, was more than she ever could have asked for.

They reached their floor.

“Your place or mine?” Lucien asked. Em hesitated. She would be far more comfortable in her apartment, but if things went south and they were doomed to friendship, she wanted to keep romantic expectations out of her apartment.

“Yours,” she decided firmly. Lucien raised one eyebrow as if surprised.

“Alright then. Meet you in ten?”

Em entered her apartment and took a deep breath. It was fine. Everything was fine. Either way, Lucien was her friend. She spent the ten minutes trying to calm her racing heart, but every time she tried, she remembered the way his teeth had grazed her earlobe that morning, the way that he’d held her hand, his tense standoff with Kiro, who, she belatedly realized, had probably been trying to ask her out.

With one last calming inhale-exhale, she moved to the apartment next door.

“It’s unlocked,” Lucien said right before she could knock. She entered, closing the door behind her with a click feeling like she was making an irreversible decision. Lucien was sitting at the kitchen table, glasses on, lab coat off, reading the paper. He held a pen in one hand, tapping it slowly against his lips. As she approached, he laid the paper down and gestured to the chair across from him, their normal configuration for their hangouts.

“I’m sure you have an idea of what I want to tell you,” Lucien started. Em shifted nervously in the chair.

“Yes,” she whispered.

“Em, you know I’m colorblind, right?”

“Yes?” she said, voice rising as she was caught off-guard by the seemingly unrelated question.

“I’m colorblind, a colorblind artist trying to make it through the world. But you, Em, you make me feel like I can see color.”

“Of course,” he continued, watching her incredulous expression, “There is no scientific basis for that, but since I met you, art comes easier, research comes easier, I feel…happier.”

“What are you trying to say?” Em asked, needing to hear it aloud, in plain words she could understand, not the poetic ramblings of an artist or the technical explanations of a scientist.

“I’m saying that I like you, Em. I want to date you, if you’ll have me.”

The kitchen seemed to sway.

No way. She suddenly wished for a cup, a piece of paper, anything really to distract her from what must be a dream.

Why would someone like him confess to her? Lucien’s expression clouded.

“If my advances are unwelcome, I can be your friend. I will try at least,” he said, finally, the words coming out slowly as if they were painful.

“No!” Em shouted, “No, I-I like you too.” If she’d been feeling hot before, she was absolutely on fire now. Lucien stood up quickly, nearly knocking over his chair. He gently pulled her up and into a hug.

“I’m so glad,” he murmured into her hair, “I almost stepped in when Kiro got that close. I almost couldn’t stop myself from laying a claim right there.” His fingers tightened possessively around her arms. It should have hurt, but instead a shiver went up her spine, anticipation building. Em craned her neck, looking at the professor.

“I’ve liked you for awhile,” she admitted finally, getting over her embarrassment, “Kiro didn’t have much of a chance.”

Then she rose up on her toes and kissed Lucien. He responded with force, and she could feel the emotions that he couldn’t express through mundane things like words. No, through the kiss, she felt what made up his art, what could only be expressed in the stroke of a pen and now, the meeting of lips.

Chapter Text

Pearlywings: Sorry for the absence guys. Work stuff. What did I miss?

Em watched the three blinking “online” icons of herself, Lucien, and Kiro.

Was anyone going to answer? What was there even to say? When she and Lucien had been the only two who knew each other, it felt like a strange coincidence. Now that three of them were acquainted, it almost felt like a lie to pretend the meetings hadn’t happened.

KiraKira: @Pearlywings thank goodness you’re back. It was getting suffocating in here with these two.

Em nearly dropped her phone. He wouldn’t! Just start off the bat with them dating? She didn’t even think they’d been acting that differently in the chat room.

Their DMs however…well that was a different matter.

Pearlywings: They’re a couple of crackheads that’s for sure

Em watched Kiro type for what seemed like ages.

“He won’t say anything if he knows what’s good for him,” Lucien said mildly from the kitchen table in her apartment. He seemed to not be paying attention, but apparently he’d noticed the whole exchange.

“What’s stopping him from saying anything?” she said, still staring anxiously at the phone. Kiro had stopped typing for the moment.

“If he says anything, I expose him,” Lucien replied, adjusting his glasses. Em looked at him blankly, face slack with shock.

“I expose him to the group chat,” he amended, smirking at her expression, “I’m not so ruthless as to completely embarrass him and potentially ruin his career.”

“Still…” Em said.

“He’ll receive what he gives. It’s the ultimate karmic retribution but since I don’t particularly believe the karmic system is particularly fast-acting, I’ll take matters into my own hands.”

As usual, Em was somewhat bemused by Lucien’s calm and rational logic in the face of any situation where the outcome could easily be driven by emotion. She didn’t pretend to always understand his motives, but she knew he usually had the intention to meet the best outcome.

KiraKira: Right? They’re absolutely insane. I’ve never met people so insistent on stanning characters that don’t deserve it.

The_producer: Come one, now! I love all of them.

KiraKira: Yes, you love all Simon and non-Simons equally. SOMEONE’S been a bad influence on you.  

Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: I take no responsibility for @the_producer finally seeing the light and realizing that Simon is by far the best character.

Pearlywings: You’re kidding! Bai Qi clearly the most upstanding and honorable character. He has MORALS unlike everyone else.

Em couldn’t help but blush a bit as she read the messages. Simon definitely moved up the ranks of her favorite character…mostly because he reminded her so much of Lucien. Almost as if he knew what she was thinking, Lucien set down his papers and came to sit by her on the couch, leaning over to rest his chin on her shoulder while looking at the screen of the chatroom with her.

“I suppose I’ve corrupted you then?” he asked, murmuring in her ear in the way that made her shiver every time.

“I don’t mind,” Em responded, turning to give him a quick peck on the lips. He made a muffled sound of surprise before trying to chase after her and deepen the kiss. Em ducked her head to avoid him, trying to tease him a little when she lost her balance, toppling onto her back on the couch, Lucien losing his as well, landing over her. She caught her breath from laughing at him as she’d tried to evade him, only to find him staring at her with dark intensity.

“Caught you,” he said, moving closer. Em’s fingers clenched in the fabric of the couch.

Bzzt. Bzzt. Bzzt.

Em’s phone made a series of urgent vibrations against the wooden leg of the table by which it had fallen. Lucien sighed before removing himself and helping Em up.

“You should probably check that. In case it’s work.”

Em accepted his help, pouting.

“If it’s Victor, I’m going to be mad at him.”

“That accomplishes nothing but impeding your progress at work,” Lucien said with a solemn air, “But don’t worry, I’ll make up for the missed opportunity twofold next time.”

His expression held nothing but a determination to uphold his promise and Em felt her stomach clench in anticipation. That man. He did things to her that she wasn’t used to but she’d be lying if she said she didn’t enjoy every minute of it.

She checked her phone, frowning.

“Not Victor?” Lucien asked, “Who do I have to be annoyed with then?”

“There’s a couple of different things going on here…” Em started, trailing off, suddenly realizing that maybe this was a bad time to explain these new messages on her phone. She remembered Lucien’s confrontation with Kiro, although to be fair, Kiro had been hitting on her quite obviously in hindsight.

“Tell me if you’d like,” he said, “Otherwise I won’t pry.”

Em fidgeted with her phone, trying to decide. But it was better, in her mind, to have everything out in the open.

“It’s an old upperclassmen friend of mine from high school,” she started, noticing Lucien’s piqued interest, “He reached out to my coworker, Minor, and then Minor reached out to me to see if I wanted to meet up with them tomorrow.”

“Do you want to go?” Lucien asked with an inscrutable expression. That wasn’t jealous Lucien, she’d seen jealous.

“I’d like to…I haven’t seen Gavin in quite a while. And if I don’t go I’ll never hear the end of it from Minor.”    

“You should go if you want to then,” Lucien said.

“It doesn’t bother you? Me meeting with another guy? Two guys?” Lucien blinked.

“Why should it? I trust you.”

“But a few weeks ago you were getting upset about me meeting with Kiro!” Em exclaimed, unable to help herself.

“You noticed then?” Lucien asked, quirking an eyebrow.

“Yes.”

“Well, that was because I hadn’t known if you felt the same. Of course I’d be jealous. But now we’re on the same page. Do you think I have to be worried?” He moved in closer, taking a strand of her hair and lifting it to his lips, toying with her. Her face felt warm and she fanned herself, not wanting to back away. He leaned into her and Em closed her eyes, waiting to continue where they’d left off before her phone had buzzed when Lucien merely whispered in her ear.

“Now, what else was going on? You said there were a couple of things.”

Her eyes shot open and she stuck her tongue out at Lucien as he moved away laughing.

“Payback for earlier,” he said, grinning.

“Oh, the other thing is that Pearlywings messaged me. He wants me to beta a fic.”

“He writes?” Lucien asked, actually seeming genuinely shocked.

“Yeah…he hasn’t published in a while though. He knows I have some job involving writing so he asked me to take a look.”

Lucien raised an eyebrow.

“You’ll have to let me know what you think then…see if I should give it a read too.”

“You read fics?”

“No, but I might start if you think he’s any good. It might give me some good ideas.”

Em looked at him suspiciously, uncertain what kind of “good ideas” he wanted. She also wasn’t sure that she wanted him to get ideas from the types of fics that Pearlywings wrote…

Later, when Em

Private Message: @Pearlywings

The_producer: I’m free to read them. Might take me a couple of days though. Work has been a lot and an old acquaintance of mine is dropping by tomorrow for a meet-up.

Pearlywings: Awesome. No rush though. I’ve had a crazy run of work events lately too. I’ve been on hiatus long enough so it doesn’t matter much if I don’t get to publish right away. But I want to make sure the new content I put out is good. And my one bro keeps bugging me to go out…

The_producer: I’ve missed your work! Crazy that we ended up in this same chatroom.

Pearlywings: It’s been a lot of fun. I’m glad KiraKira roped us into this with that one Instagram poll.  

The-producer: Yeah! I almost didn’t click on it at the time OwO but I’m glad I did  >o<

Pearlywings: gotta go. Friend is blowing up my phone trying to set plans for tomorrow. I’ll send you the file later. No rush

Pearlywings has logged off.

Em glanced at the clock. It was late. She had something to attend tomorrow with Minor and Gavin, but she wasn’t sure what yet.

Right before she went to sleep, she got a message from Minor.

KiNGMiNOR: We’re going out to eat tomorrow at the ramen shop. The one we used to go to.

Em: The one where Gavin was taking money from the owner?

KiNGMiNOR: I already TOLD you. He was getting paid fair and square for running errands while the man’s son was in the hospital!

Em: Fine, fine. I’ll see you there. What time?

KiNGMiNOR: I’ll let you know in the morning. Gavin is sleeping off his last mission. Apparently it was a long one.

Em: See you tomorrow then. Don’t do anything weird while Gavin is sleeping :p

KiNGMiNOR: No promises…but I don’t have any markers at the apartment so his face is safe for now XD

Em: Good night Minor :D

KiNGMiNOR: Night!

Chapter Text

“Oh, what are you reading,” Lucien purred into Em’s ear, causing her to jump, hastily locking her phone screen. 

 

“Lucien, how do you sneak up on me every time!” she exclaimed, turning to look at him, seeing the teasing light in his eyes. 

 

“Call it an occupational hazard.” 

 

Why would a scientist need to move like a ninja?” 

 

“To better observe test subjects,” he responded, settling himself on the couch next to her, leaning his head on her shoulder with comfortable familiarity. It had taken months for Lucien to become comfortable enough with Em to do something so objectively affectionate that wasn’t smooth or flirtatious but just...cute. Em leaned her head onto his. 

 

“What were you reading though?” he asked.

 

“The fic I needed to beta for Pearlywings,” Em said absently, “I’m waiting for Minor to tell me when we’re going to meet Gavin.” 

 

“So Pearlywings writes that kind of fic, does he?” Lucien asked, moving off of her shoulder, instead taking a strand of her hair and running it through his fingers.

 

“You saw that?” Em squeaked. He’d looked at the screen for a max of maybe two seconds. How?

 

“You know I’m a genius,” Lucien admonished gently, “I have a super high processing speed and good observational skills.” 

 

Em felt her cheeks heating. 

 

“I’m just checking for grammatical errors and plotholes really,” she said weakly, trying to divert the conversation. 

 

“Of course you are,” Lucien said, “But what kind of smut has that much of a plot?”

 

“I would argue that he writes mostly crack fic with some smut,” Em tried, knowing that she was already losing the argument. 

 

“Regardless,” Lucien whispered, “Shouldn’t we check to see if his writing is accurate? I know a common issue with smut is anatomical impossibility.”  

 

Em was saved from responding by the buzzing of her phone. Lucien glared at it. 

 

“Every damn time,” he swore, backing off. Em laughed and reached out, patting his cheek while he held her hand to his face, leaning into it for a moment. 

 

Em checked her phone.  

 

        KiNGMiNOR: Meet us at the restaurant in thirty.

 

“Well, I gotta go, Lucien,” Em said, waving her phone before heading back to her apartment. She took a moment after shutting her door to compose herself. 

 

Lucien had really just caught her reading smut. Her face burned. Lord, she was in trouble now. She inhaled deeply, and then changed her clothes, put on a bit of makeup, and grabbed her bag, heading out to the corridor. Lucien was waiting, leaning with feline grace against his door. 

 

“Can I kiss you goodbye?” he asked, tilting his head and planting a charming smile on his face.

 

“Of course,” Em said, knowing full well he just wanted to smudge her lipstick a little. They kissed, and she took some of her revenge by smearing some of her lipstick on his cheek.

 

“Goodbye kitten,” he said, waving. 

 

Em made her way to the ramen shop, peering inside to see Minor eagerly waving her over. 

 

“Em! Hey! Look, it’s Gav!” 

 

Em looked at the man sitting on the other side of the table as she took her seat next to Minor. Gavin looked just as she’d remembered. 

 

“Hi Gavin,” Em said, suddenly shy, remembering all of the misconceptions between them. 

 

“Long time no see,” Gavin said in a slightly hoarse voice, like he wasn’t used to speaking much. 

 

“Isn’t this great?” Minor said enthusiastically, “The three of us, back together again, who would have thought?” 

 

There was an awkward silence. 

 

“Hey don’t we go order some food, Minor,” Gavin said, getting up from the table and heading to the counter. Minor looked at Em, who waved him on. 

 

She used the time to open the chat app. 

 

Everyone is online 

 

The_producer: @pearlywings I finished the beta

 

Simon_is_as_Simon_Says: I am certain it was quite stimulating. I for one cannot wait for your return to the fanfiction realm. 

 

KiraKira: Oh! Pearly is returning to fic writing??? NICE

 

KiraKira has sent a sticker.

 

Pearlywings: @the_producer...why did you put this in group?

 

The_producer:...oops...would you believe me if I said I just wanted to hype your return to fic writing? 

 

TheRealLZ: Don’t any of you have work to be doing? It’s the middle of the day.

 

KiraKira: Yeah, on a weekend. 

 

Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: @TheRealLZ you’ve returned! I missed you dearly. 

 

Em snickered into her hand. Lucien had just been saying how he was missing teasing TheRealLZ. 

 

Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: Anyway, @TheRealLZ...how have you been

 

TheRealLZ: Busy, of course. Some of us have jobs and adult responsibilities. 

 

KiraKira: >0< DON’T REMIND ME IT’S MY ONE DAY OFF 

 

Pearlywings: Guys, I’m out right now. Don’t get mad if I don’t respond. 

 

The_producer: Same for me

 

Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: Don’t worry, @the_producer, @Pearlywings...we can entertain ourselves. I have a lot to say to @TheRealLZ about his favorite character’s recent development in game...and the absolute chemistry he has with Simon. 

 

TheRealLZ: Not this again

 

KiraKira: *goes to get popcorn*

 

KiraKira: Wait a minute, I think I can make a good meme out of this

 

Em smiled and then muted the chat. IF she knew anything about Lucien, he was going to really lay into TheRealLZ now. And it wouldn’t be pretty. Although it would be amusing. She’d have to get the play-by-play from Lucien later. 

 

Minor and Gavin returned with the food. 

“Some mild ramen for you, Em,” Minor said, “And extra spicy for Gavin, moderate for me.” 

 

“Thank you,” Em said, “How much do I owe?” She reached for her wallet, only to be stopped by Gavin. 

 

“Don’t worry about it, my treat,” he said. 

 

“Ah. Thanks.” 

 

The awkward silence returned. 

 

“So...Gavin, what have you been up to?” 

 

“I’m on the police force. They send me out on long term field missions. That’s where I’ve been for the last month or so.” 

 

“I’ve missed my bro so much,” Minor said, actually sounding as if he was tearing up. Gavin glared at him. 

 

“Tell her about your other stuff,” Minor suddenly said, smiling mischievously. 

 

“Other stuff?” Gavin and Em both looked at Minor in confusion. Minor’s grin widened. 

 

“Yeah, Em, Gavin’s become a real geek lately. He’s absolutely obsessed with that one game you, Kiki, and Willow play...MLQC or something? He even writes fic.” 

 

Em spat her water across the table. 

 

“I am so sorry,” Em said, frantically trying to wipe the water up, “I was just surprised.” 

 

“Minor, what the hell?” Gavin hissed. 

 

“What?” Minor asked innocently, “I was just trying to break the tension. Give you guys something to talk about.” 

 

“Really?” Gavin said, exasperated. 

 

“Yeah, of course. Look, I’ll even go get some more napkins to wipe up the mess while you and Em discuss game secrets or something.” 

 

Minor got up and started chatting up a handsome man at the counter. Gavin scowled at Minor’s back. 

 

“I’m so sorry, Em. You didn’t even want to come I’m sure. You must think…” 

 

“Oh no, no,” Em said, waving her hands in a combination of awkward embarrassment and excitement. She loved talking about MLQC. And Gavin? Who would have thought? 

 

“Minor explained the confusion from back at school anyway,” she said, “And it’s fun to meet more people who are into MLQC.”

 

“Yeah, but I’m not really the target demographic…” Gavin said, scratching the back of his neck, the tips of his ears turning red. 

 

“That’s not true! I know there’s a healthy romance subplot, but there are plenty of male players who are there for the storyline and maybe even the MC.” 

 

“Really? Most of my audience for the fics is female.” 

 

“I’m in a group chat with three guys actually,” Em said without thinking. Gavin froze. 

 

“Really? You know three other guys who play? I’ve been looking for some input on a crack fic I’m trying to write. I’d like to get some other opinions. I have one beta but that’s it.”

 

“Actually, my boyfriend plays, I can put you in touch with him if you want,” Em offered.

 

“Boyfriend?” 

 

Em paused, realizing that this was the first time she’d publicly said the word “boyfriend.” 

 

“Yeah, um, we met through a chat and happened to run into each other IRL and hit it off from there.”

 

“That’s great,” Gavin said, looking both contemplative and slightly upset. 

 

“Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you?”

 

“No, no, it’s not a problem, I just wasn’t expecting it. But I guess we haven’t seen each other in a long time.” 

 

“No, that’s true. But do you want me to give you his contact info now or does that make you too uncomfortable?” 

 

Honestly, at this point, Em was becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the whole idea. She had no idea what kind of fic Gavin wrote. She just hoped it wouldn’t give Lucien any ideas. 

 

“That would be great, I’m just a little embarrassed now,” he said. 

 

“Okay then, what’s your handle?” 

 

“It’s um, based on a pet bird I had when I was little but um, my handle is…” 

 

Somehow Em had a bad feeling she knew what his handle was before he said it. 

 

“My handle is @Pearlywings.” 

 

“Damn it!” she shouted as Minor came back over. Startled, Minor dropped his napkins. 

 

“Sorry Gavin, but I’m your beta.” 

 

Gavin’s face immediately went crimson. 

 

You’re The_Producer?” 

 

Em nodded, covering her own red face with one hand. 

 

“You mean...you read...oh no. OH NO. And your boyfriend...he…”

 

“I’m actually dating Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says.” 

 

“Did he read it too?” Gavin asked in a hushed whisper. 

 

“He got the gist of it.” 

 

“Are you guys okay?” Minor asked, looking at the pair of highschool friends, both covering their faces with their hands, surrounded by the napkins he’d accidentally scattered, Gavin still slightly damp from the water that Em had spat out. 

 

“She read my fics, Minor. She read my FICS.” 

 

It took Minor a second, but then it clicked and he roared with laughter. 

 

“Gavin! That’s hysterical. You dog! Showing that shit to a lady.” 

 

The owner of the ramen shop came over. 

 

“I’m going to have to ask you to take your food to go,” he said.

Chapter Text

“You’re telling me that your neighbor and now your boyfriend just so happens to be one of the best-known artists in the fandom?” Gavin whispered furiously in the hallway outside of Lucien’s apartment. 

 

“Yes! I told you before. It was just by chance.” 

 

“I can’t believe I’m going to meet Ink_Butterfly,” Gavin said as he brushed his windswept bangs back from his face, “But still. The fact that you, a well-known artist and researcher AND one of the most famous popstars are all in the same chat? What’s next, your boss?” 

 

“As if,” Em snorted, “That would be ridiculous.” 

 

“It really was quite a coincidence that we all happened to meet though, wasn’t it?”

 

Lucien’s gentle voice came through the door to his apartment which was now open. Gavin and Em, who had had their heads close together while speaking jumped apart. 

 

“I’m glad for it,” Em said, running forward to hug Lucien. He’d been busy with a breakthrough in one of his projects, and she’d been working to continue the momentum from their super successful episode with Kiro. 

 

“I missed you,” Lucien murmured into her ear, “We have a lot to catch up on.” 

 

Em kissed him on the cheek, suddenly extremely conscious that Gavin was there. 

 

“Well, Lucien, here he is, Pearlywings. Also known as my school friend, Gavin Bai.” 

 

“You’re quite the fic writer I hear,” Lucien said, shaking Gavin’s hand and gesturing him into the apartment as he walked in behind, arm still wrapped around Em’s waist. 

 

Gavin was looking curiously around the apartment. 

 

“Bathroom’s down the hall if you need it,” Lucien said. 

 

“Oh, thank you…” Gavin responded, “How did…”

 

“He’s observant,” Em said, giggling. It was always interesting to watch Lucien interact with someone else. He often figured out what they wanted before they even knew. 

 

As soon as Gavin was out of sight, Lucien pushed Em against the wall, Em tilted her face eagerly, accepting his kisses until they heard the water running in the sink. 

 

“Your face!” Em gasped, laughing. Lucien wiped at the lipstick around his mouth. 

 

“Let me help,” Em said, pulling a tissue out of her purse. 

 

By the time Gavin came out of the restroom, they were situated next to each other on the couch, Em decidedly not looking at Lucien for fear she might start laughing again at the memory of his face covered in her lipstick. 

 

“So, Gavin, have you thought about my proposal?” Lucien asked as soon as Gavin sat down on one of the chairs in the living room. 

 

“I’m in,” Gavin said, “A fic request for one of your illustrations? That’s a steal. But what kind of fic do you want?” Gavin hooked one arm behind the chair, sitting casually with one knee propped up. Lucien’s answering grin was wicked. 

 

“I’ll draw art for whatever fic you wish. Any kind of art. All I ask is that in return you write a Li Zeyan x Simon fic.” 

 

Em knew it was coming, but the look on Gavin’s face had her choking on her water. 

 

“You want an LZ x Simon fic?” Gavin asked, finally sitting upright in the chair. 

 

“That is correct. I can draw art for another fic of yours though. Any of them. Just tell me which one.” 

 

“Any of them?” 

 

Gavin glanced at Em. 

 

“He means it,” Em said, “Believe me, I’ve seen enough of his art. He’ll draw practically anything. It’s even better if he has a reference for it.” 

 

Gavin’s face colored slightly. 

 

“Well, this might be a little out there, but would you mind drawing a crack ship for me...I have a crack fic ready for Bai Qi and Kanya. It’s my guilty pleasure ship.” 

 

The tips of his ears were red as he awkwardly rubbed the back of his neck. Em had to turn away to stifle her laughter. She’d been so sure he was going to ask Lucien for a Bai Qi and MC piece or something. Not this. 

 

“I can certainly do that,” Lucien said, “Now, is this a fluff piece? Angst? ...smut?” 

 

“I think this one will be mostly comedy. So a little bit of domestic fluff. It’s just a one-shot about them trying to cook. I’m pretty sure neither of them can cook well though.” 

 

“Excellent, excellent,” Lucien murmured, “I have plenty of references for a couple cooking.” 

 

He squeezed Em’s knee without looking at her. She flushed with pleasure as she remembered the times they’d taken the reference pictures for the kitchen scenes. Lucien had a remote control for his smartphone camera that he used to take pictures or video remotely. It came in handy quite often.  

 

“So, Lucien,” Gavin said, becoming increasingly more casual around the professor, a fact Em found interesting. It usually took people a long time to warm up to Lucien if he wasn’t actively trying to win them over. Lucien could turn on the charm, certainly, but he often didn’t. He often told her that only a few people were worth the energy. 

 

And it wasn’t that he was being unpleasant to Gavin, but he wasn’t exuding his normal charisma. Perhaps it was their shared interest. 

 

“What kind of fic are you looking for with LZ and Simon?” 

 

The mischievous expression returned to Lucien’s face. 

 

“Whatever you think will piss the RealLZ off the most.” 

 

Gavin laughed. 

 

“You’re having me write this expressly to tick him off?” 

 

“Absolutely.” 

 

“How’s he going to see it? Do you think he reads fics?” 

 

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Lucien said, leaning back and slinging his arm over Em’s shoulder, crossing his legs and casually resting his free hand on his knee, “I have my ways.” 

 

They spent a few more minutes chatting, and then Lucien saw them out. 

 

“Let me take you to the lobby,” Em said, kissing Lucien goodbye. She had too much work left to do for Victor to spend much more time with her boyfriend, regardless of how much she missed him. Working while he was around could be too distracting, and the report was due tomorrow. Victor had been in a real mood lately as well. 

 

She saw Gavin off in the lobby, looking at the grey overcast sky as he walked away down the sidewalk, remembering the day Lucien had let her borrow his umbrella months ago. Skin slightly flushed, she took the stairs to get some exercise before she went to sit at her desk for the rest of the evening. As she approached her floor, she heard footsteps on the staircase. Lucien’s head popped over the landing above her. 

 

“Fancy seeing you here,” he said, “It’s quite a coincidence.” 

 

“Isn’t it though? It must be fate.”  

 

He smiled at the familiar response, one that had become almost their catchphrase since they’d met, his eyes crinkling in the way that practically stole her breath away because it was so precious. 

 

“Anyway, a little kitten forgot her phone in my apartment,” he continued. Em patted her pockets. Her phone was gone. 

 

“I forgot it did I?” she asked, eyebrows raised as she ran up the stairs to meet him and they entered their floor. 

 

“Regardless of how it got there, your phone is in my apartment now, and I assume you’d like to retrieve it,” he said, hands in his pockets, giving off an aura of innocence. 

 

“Your pickpocketing skills must be getting better,” Em teased, shoving him lightly, “I didn’t even notice this time.” 

 

At some point, Lucien had picked up the hobby of taking small trinkets from her, just because he could. He’d usually regift them by placing them in an odd spot, usually with a cute note or small doodle on a piece of scrap paper. 

 

Lucien flashed her a smile before opening the door into his apartment. As promised, her phone was laying on the coffee table. 

 

“Now, I know you have work to do, and so do I,” Lucien started as Em headed to the table, “But would you consider taking a few minutes to pick up where we left off?” 

 

His voice had dropped to that dangerous, husky tone that Em loved. She glanced at the time. It was late, but it had been so long since they’d seen each other, and then they’d met with Gavin instead. Was it even really a choice?

 

She turned to him; he’d followed her to the table of course, and he practically  lifted her off the ground, hugging her tightly, fingers wound in her hair. 

 

“I can’t bear it for too long anymore, this separation,” he murmured, “I think you need to tell Victor to cool down.”

“And I think you should tell Artemis to stop taking advantage of your willingness to work outside of business hours on your research,” Em responded, cupping his face in her hands. She kissed him and they spent a few minutes desperately clinging to each other, ignoring the sound of Em’s phone going off. 

 

It could wait. 

 

Chapter Text

Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: Three days 

 

TheRealLZ: Why do you continue to spam the chat with this cryptic countdown? 

 

KiraKira: It’s not cryptic! It’s a countdown to a special event! 

 

The_producer: A SPECIAL EVENT! A SPECIAL EVENT!

 

TheRealLZ: The fact that you all seem to be involved in this makes me suspicious. 

 

KiraKira: C’mon haven’t you ever heard of collabing before? I’m in charge of the promotional aspect. Which you’d know if you followed my meme account! 

 

TheRealLZ: I do not have the time to follow meme accounts. The fact that I am involved in this chat at all is ridiculous. 

 

KiraKira: Yet you still log on...and you haven’t blocked us yet ;) 

 

Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: I know it’s because you cannot get enough of our stimulating conversation :) <3 

 

TheRealLZ has logged off. 

 

KiraKira: Damn Lu, how do you manage to drive him away like that every time?

 

The_producer: He has a special gift 

 

KiraKira: Better yet...why are you still hanging around him @The_producer 

 

The_producer: Because he’s cute...especially when he smiles  

 

Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: Why thank you, Em. 

 

KiraKira: I’d be more likely to believe that if I didn’t have the sneaking suspicion that you two were together. Also I’ve seen him smile before. It was terrifying. 

 

Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: That wasn’t a smile :) 

 

The_producer: LUCIEN! 

 

Pearlywings: Guys, calm down. What if LZ comes back in?

 

KiraKira: I can take care of the chatroom after everyone logs out. I’ll erase the incriminating info

 

The_producer: Hi Gavin *waves* 

 

Pearlywings: What’s up. Lucien, how’s it going?

 

Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: I have the Bai Qi x Kanya piece done. Almost done with the LZ x Simon piece. 

 

The_producer: He won’t let me look at it. 

 

Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: Patience, kitten. 

 

KiraKira: Urgh. Please stop. 

 

Pearlywings: seconded. Go to DMs if you’re gonna be like that 

 

Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: Did you hear that @The_producer? They want us gone. 

 

Pearlywings: Only if you’re going to be gross. I thought this chat was supposed to be about MLQC 

 

Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: Speaking of that...MLQC just released a new chapter trailer. 

 

Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says shared a link. 

 

KiraKira: ASHDAKGJ 

 

KiraKIra: ASHDKAJF SDLG ADLG

 

KiraKira: I-

 

KiraKira: I- !!!!! That looks so INTENSE WTF 

 

The_producer: IKR!!! 

 

Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: She started crying at the trailer. 

 

The_producer: Why would you tell them that!

 

Simon_Is_As_SImon_Says: I found it cute. 

 

The_producer: LZ’s line at the end really got me, okay???

 

Pearlywings: Oh man. OH MAN. That really got the fic ideas rolling. I’m going to have to head out to write some down. 

 

KiraKira: YES. MORE CONTENT GAV! 

 

KiraKira: WE NEED MORE. I’m so HYPED. THREE DAYS Y’ALL 

 

KiraKira: Sorry, but Kiro has had his phone confiscated. 

 

The_producer:...

 

Pearlywings: …

 

Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: …

 

The-producer: RIP 

 

Pearlywings: RIP 

 

Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: RIP Kiro 

 

Pearlywings: That was fun while it lasted but I need to go now. DROP IN THREE DAYS!!! 

 

Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: I’ll be ready 

 

Pearlywings: I’m excited about it. It was definitely a challenge to write! I’m having Minor beta it too. 

 

Pearlywings has logged off. 

 

Simon_Is_As_Simon Says: ~guess it’s just the two of us, kitten~

 

The_producer has logged off. 

 

“Why don’t you just talk to me now then, face to face?” Em asked, setting her phone down and rubbing the residual tears from her eyes. 

 

Lucien smiled and put his own phone down next to her before wrapping her in his arms. She sighed and relaxed into the warm and familiar embrace. 

 

“Are you feeling any better now?” he asked, his voice tickling her ear. She squirmed, but Lucien’s grip didn’t lessen. 

 

“I’m feeling better now,” she admitted, leaning her head on his arm. 

 

“Good,” Lucien said, kissing the top of her head and releasing her. 

 

“Are you sure I can’t see the art you’re working on? I’ve been deprived?” Em pouted, crossing her arms. Lucien laughed and patted her head. 

 

“Absolutely not. You’ll have to be surprised with the rest of them. I’ve been releasing content on my Instagram anyway.” 

 

“Yeah, but!” 

 

“I’ve spoiled you too much,” Lucien sighed, clicking his tongue in fake disapproval, “You’ll have to be disciplined.” 

 

“I-” Em paused, face heating up. Lucien grinned, covering his mouth with a hand. 

 

“It’s my fault, really, so maybe I’m the one who needs to be punished.” 

 

“Stop!” Em whined, laughing herself, “We’re both at fault I guess.” 

 

An alarm on her phone went off and she sighed. Time to head back to her apartment. She had a weekend shoot to prepare for, so their normal Friday night date time was cut short. 

 

“Have you let Victor know that you’re requesting off for the Con?” Lucien asked, idly picking up her phone and silencing the cheery ring of the alarm. 

 

“No…I’m a little too intimidated,” Em admitted, twisting her fingers together, “I know I have the vacation time and we don’t have anything that Kiki and Anna can’t handle that week...but...he’s so strict.” 

 

“You have to tell him on Monday,” Lucien said, “I need to know so I can get you a pass.” 

“I will,” Em said, “Monday it is.” 

 

Lucien’s gentle encouragement somehow always gave her the strength to go on, even when it got difficult. She couldn’t explain why they fit so well together, sometimes she even wondered herself, especially when others questioned them, like Kiro, but she knew that they belonged together. 

 

“You know what else is on Monday?” Lucien asked, an amused expression on his face.

 

“The fic release?” 

 

“That, and the new chapter drop. LZ is about to have a miserable day.” 

 

*** 

 

“Look, Em,  it’s really not a good time for this...he’s been in a mood all day. Seriously. I don’t know what happened to him, but he’s not going to give you the time off.” Goldman stepped in between Em and Victor’s office door. 

 

“I have an appointment with him, Goldman,” she said, sighing, looking at her watch, “Specifically to discuss this. I can’t miss the appointment.”

 

“Really, Em, if it can wait, just call off the appointment. Seriously.” 

 

“Let her in, Goldman,” a harsh voice called from the office. Goldman’s face paled. 

 

“My apologies, CEO, Sir.” Goldman bowed his head. 

 

“I don’t care to hear useless apologies,” Victor said, glaring at his overworked assistant, “Next time you care to discuss my mood, perhaps do not do it where I can hear you.” 

 

Goldman resolutely stared at the ground. Em winced. Apparently Victor was in a horribly foul mood. Victor ignored Goldman as he stalked into the office, not even checking to see if Em was following, letting the door fall behind him rather than holding it open like he normally would have. 

 

Em narrowly dodged the door. She almost backed out right then, but remembered what Lucien had told her and straightened her spine. 

 

She could do this. She had to do this. Sometimes it was okay to do things for herself and take a break. 

 

“Well, what do you want?” Victor asked, looking at his phone before frowning and setting it down with more force than warranted. 

“I came to request my time off…” she started. 

 

“Whatever. When?” 

 

Em gave him the dates. Weirdly, he seemed almost surprised. His hands tightened around the edge of the desk where they’d been resting. 

 

“Victor, are you okay?” 

 

He clenched his jaw and closed his eyes. 

 

“I’m fine,” he said, grinding his teeth, “It just so happens that I will be attending to some personal matters during that time period as well so there will be no issues. Just be prepared to work even harder to make up the time the next week.” 

 

“Yes sir,” Em responded, still unsure what could possibly be bothering him so much. 

 

“Really though, Victor, if you need to talk…” 

 

“Em,” Victor said, finally looking her in the eyes, “I appreciate the concern, but this is a personal matter that does not involve you. Rather it involves some irritating...acquaintances.” 

 

“Of course,” Em said hastily, backtracking, “thank you for your time.” 

 

She quickly scrambled out of the office, trying not to cringe as she heard Victor’s voice call Goldman into the office. 

 

As soon as she left the LFG building, she went to send a text to Lucien to let him know the good news when suddenly she ran into someone’s firm chest. 

 

“Well, well, what a coincidence,” someone said. Em laughed as she looked up into the familiar eyes. 

 

“Hi there, professor. Looks like it must be fate, huh?” 

 

“Absolutely. Definitely not the fact you told me when your meeting with him was taking place.” 

 

Lucien gave her a wink and then took her hand. 

 

“Are you done for the day?” 

 

Lucien nodded, squeezing her hand. 

 

“I decided to take someone’s advice and let Artemis know that even I need time off from work.” 

 

“I’m so proud,” Em responded with great exaggeration, but secretly pleased that he’d felt like her advice was good enough to listen to. 

 

“I thought in celebration of us standing up to our bosses, we could have a nice dinner to celebrate? Talk about our plans for the convention? It’s in a few weeks and I’m sure you’re wanting to cosplay and such.” 

 

“I’d love nothing more,” Em said, “As long as I get to spend most of it with you.”  

 

DM: Lucien-->Gavin 

 

Lucien: Well Gavin, were we successful?

Gavin: ...I think that was the dirtiest thing I’ve ever written. Did Em really read it?

Lucien: Oh it wasn’t anywhere close to the dirtiest thing you’ve written. I’ve read all of your works. And yes, of course she read it. We read it together.

Gavin:...TOGETHER?

Lucien: ;) 

Gavin: What...nevermind, I don’t want to know. But yes, I have a string of irate comments from someone called “SIASS_Why” I’m assuming he realized you were in on it with the “Simon Is As Simon Says” thing...but he’s quite angry...something about having never seen a more cursed ship than that...the writing was atrocious and the plot was mad, etc. etc.  

Lucien: EXCELLENT work, Gavin. Now, if he is who I think he is, I feel a bit bad for Em. But I think it was worth it. 

Gavin: Well, I hope so. Thanks for the art though. 

Lucien: I’d happily collab with you any time.

Gavin: Let’s not antagonize TheRealLZ anymore though...I think he could get me banned if he wanted. 

Lucien: Oh, he absolutely could, but I don’t think he will. Will I be seeing you at the con?

Gavin: Wouldn’t miss it. Part of the reason I took such a long mission last time was so I’d have a break for this week. 

Lucien: We’ll see you there...MLQC cosplay on the second day? I happen to know that there are a few notable names who will be cosplaying it that day 

Gavin: sure. 

 

Lucien put his phone down and idly played with Em’s hair. She was laying in his lap, asleep. Someone had been quite irate a work today and Lucien had a feeling he knew exactly why. 

Chapter Text

“Are you feeling alright?” Lucien asked, keeping a tight hold of Em’s hand as a crowd of people swarmed around them. 

 

“I’m fine,” she said, “Just a bit overwhelmed.” 

 

It wasn’t that she hadn’t been to a convention before, it was just that this one was particularly large and she’d never been attached to a popular fanartist. Even though Lucien kept a fairly anonymous profile online, his work was so good that it had graced magazines, and he’d been a guest at panels across the country. Several people had already come up to him to have prints signed, or to ask him questions, or, on one memorable occasion, to ask Lucien for his number. 

 

That one hadn’t gone over so well. Even though he was the one being hit on, Lucien had become absolutely possessive, putting one arm over Em’s shoulders in a display of “casual” intimacy. They’d discussed what to do if people asked him if he was dating, which he said, unfortunately, was not an uncommon occurrence, and Em was fine with letting people know. After all, it’s not like Lucien was an actual celebrity. He was just well-known in very specific niche circles. 

 

But even if they hadn’t discussed it first, Em would have stepped forward at that moment. She considered herself a calm and rational person, but nothing would have stopped her from staking her claim on her professor. 

 

“I had been worried about getting harassed,” Em admitted, looking down at her Dark Queen MLQC cosplay, “But I don’t think that’s a concern as long as you’re around.” 

 

Lucien smiled that unsettling smile of his, and Em watched in amusement as everyone within sight quickly averted their gaze. 

 

“I’m glad I could be of service, my Queen,” he said, kissing her hand, looking quite charming himself in his Simon cosplay, “Let us go to the artist’s alley.” 

 

They wove their way through the crowd to Ink_Butterfly’s booth, which was being temporarily manned by Gavin and Minor while Em and Lucien took a look around. 

 

“Thank you for your time, Gavin, Minor,” Lucien said, switching with them to settle back into his seat, “How was business?” 

 

“It was great!” Minor exclaimed, eyes wide, “There were so many people!” He jumped around excitedly, looking at the crowd. 

 

“Excuse him,” Gavin said, grabbing onto Minor’s shirtsleeve to keep him from running off, “He’s never been to a convention before.” 

 

“Not an issue,” Lucien said, “It is quite exciting.” 

 

Em and Gavin exchanged amused looks. Nothing about Lucien’s demeanor screamed “excited.” He looked as cool and as calm as ever, despite the fact that it appeared that a quarter of his stock had sold out in the hour he had been gone and not even seeming to notice the crowd of admirers surrounding his booth. 

 

“Excuse me...but are you really Ink_Butterfly?”

 

Someone from the crowd approached Lucien timidly, and he turned to look at the young girl, who was dressed as the main character from MLQC. 

 

“Oh, I am, miss. How may I help you?” 

 

Lucien gently shooed them away with his hand, and the trio set off. Minor quickly became separated. 

 

“Doesn’t it throw you how he can flip switches like that?” Gavin asked, glancing back at Lucien’s booth, which was rapidly receding as they got swept away by the crowd.  Em shrugged. 

 

“It used to be..startling...but that’s how he is. If you spend enough time with him you can tell what he’s really feeling.” 

 

Gavin grunted and shoved his hands into the pockets of his Bai Qi cosplay jacket. 

 

“When’s the MLQC group cosplay photo?” he asked, changing the subject abruptly, “I’ll have to grab Minor. I made him dress as Kanya which honestly wasn’t that far off from how he normally dresses.” 

 

“It’s in about an hour,” Em said, checking her phone. More time had passed than she thought since she and Gavin had left the booth, “I hope Lucien will make it out of there.” 

 

“You might have to go rescue him from the fangirls,” Gavin said, smirking. Em waved a hand. 

 

“I think he can handle them himself. I’m not even sure he notices.” 

 

“Oh he definitely does,” Gavin said, ducking under the arm of a man dressed in mecha cosplay, “He just doesn’t care.” 

 

He paused coming out from around the arm of the man’s giant cosplay. Em was nowhere in sight. 

 

“Em?” he asked, looking around for her distinctive floor length black gown and flower crown. There was no one even remotely like that in the vicinity. 

 

“Shit, Lucien’s going to murder me,” he said before turning back toward the artist’s alley. 

 

“Gavin!” Em started to shout from the other side of the room where she had somehow been dragged only to be cut off. 

 

“Don’t call him over here!” 

 

She turned to see a familiar face behind her, one hand wrapped gently around her wrist.

 

“Kiro?” 

 

The idol put a finger to his lips and took a step back. 

 

“I’m Kira today! How do you like it?” He twirled around, the jacket of his cosplay fanning out around his waist, necklaces jangling around his neck. 

 

“It looks good,” Em admitted, “But what are you doing here and why can’t I get Gavin?” 

 

“I only have a few minutes,” Kiro said, “I wanted to chat with you before I have to go.”

 

“Go where?” 

 

“It’s a secret,” Kiro said, winking. Em rolled her eyes and folded her arms. 

 

“Hey, c’mon don’t be like that,” Kiro pleaded, turning his big blue puppy dog eyes on her, “I haven’t seen you in so long.” 

 

“You’ve been on tour! I thought your tour was still going on anyway.” 

 

“This is the secret last stop. I have a huge announcement. Savin finally listened to me and managed to line up an awesome role for me. You’ll be super interested in it I promise.” 

 

“I’ll hold you to that promise,” Em said, snagging part of Kiro’s cosplay in her hand, “But right now I’m more interested in where you got this. It’s super accurate and honestly this is way higher quality than I expected. You definitely didn’t pick this up off of a sketchy website.” 

 

“Em, how could you think that I of all people would have a mass-produced cosplay?” he exclaimed, putting one hand to his chest. Em smiled at his dramatics.

 

“Just tell me before you have to go to whatever mystery event you have. I have to get to the group cosplay shoot anyway.” 

 

“I collabed with a big name cosplayer. He helped me get the outfit. Actually I think he made it himself.” 

 

“Who?” 

 

“BlackCard! You know, that cosplayer who makes a mean Li Zeyan?” 

 

Em dropped the corner of the sweatshirt.

 

“No way! You met BlackCard? He made you a cosplay?” 

 

“Yeah! It cost the company a lot though. But my team wanted the accuracy for this announcement. I haven’t personally met him though. He sent an assistant to take my measurements and then next thing I knew I had this. Even better, all of the pieces could totally be worn on their own.” 

 

“Ugh, I’m so jealous! BlackCard is so good. He never looks like himself. I don’t think anyone knows what he actually looks like, his face shape changes every time.” 

 

“He is a master with the face tape,” Kiro agreed. 

 

There was a minor disturbance at the end of the hallway. 

 

“Kiro! Get over here!” 

 

Kiro winced. 

 

“Gotta run, Em! Make sure to be on the main convention floor in two hours!” 

 

Em waved and then turned, only to run immediately into Lucien, Minor, and Gavin. 

 

Lucien turned to look at Gavin. 

 

“You’re lucky that Kiro was the one who pulled her aside,” he said mildly. Gavin paled. 

 

“Lucien, stop that!” Em said, playfully smacking Lucien’s hand away as he tried to touch her face, “Don’t ruin my makeup before the picture.” 

 

“I know you can take care of yourself,” Lucien said, eyes still deeply troubled and complex, “But you look so good in that cosplay, I couldn’t help but worry.” 

 

Em grabbed Lucien’s hand in both of hers and looked him in the eyes.

“Look, I appreciate the thought, but don’t worry about me. Worry about selling your art instead.” 

 

“Oh, it’s already sold out,” Lucien said. 

 

All of them stared at him. He shrugged. 

 

“I believe someone took a picture of me and passed it around the internet. I had a lot of people coming up to me. They all wanted me to sign things...not my art prints either. A lot of the girls had lipstick to sign shirts with?” 

 

Em’s eyes rolled back in her head. 

 

“Don’t play innocent with me,” she said, shoving him, “I won’t get jealous over that.” 

 

“Too bad,” he said, “It was worth a try. You were cute earlier today. I wanted to see that again.” 

 

He was staring at her with that particularly affectionate expression that made her melt a little bit inside. 

 

Minor cleared his throat. 

 

“Don’t y’all want to go to that photoshoot thingy?” he asked, “I think it’s about time.” 

 

“Ohhhh, let’s go, Lucien,” Em said, tugging on his hand.

 

The group set off to the main floor, where they met an unexpectedly sizeable crowd. 

 

“What’s going on?” Em asked a cosplayer next to her, someone cosplaying from a popular shonen anime, and definitely not MLQC. 

 

“BlackCard is here, apparently,” the girl said, adjusting her long black wig, “I wanted to get a look. I’ve never seen him in person before, but apparently he’s cosplaying some character from a game.” 

 

Em glanced at Lucien. 

 

“You don’t think?” 

 

“Oh, I think he probably is cosplaying LZ. It’s one of his best ones...it seems almost...natural.” 

 

Em wasn’t paying attention, now too busy trying to get a glimpse of him herself. Lucien sighed and grabbed her hand, pulling her through the crowd, followed closely by Minor and Gavin. People seemed to part around Lucien, who was already disconcerting on a normal day, but even more forbidding with a lab coat and a glare. 

“There he is,” Lucien said, pointing to the man surrounded in a wide circle by photographers and admirers. Em squinted. She couldn’t make out too much between the remaining crowd and the distance, but something about BlackCard looked familiar. 

 

“What are you wondering?” Lucien asked, gently touching her now-furrowed brow. 

 

“Oh, sorry...he just looks really familiar?” 

 

Em tilted her head a bit when it clicked. 

 

“He really does look like Victor!” she exclaimed, “That’s pretty good. I mean, Kiro made that meme a while ago about them but that’s really uncanny.” 

 

“Interesting,” Lucien remarked, looking like he had other things to say, but he was cut off by the crackle of a microphone. 

 

A harried looking convention volunteer took the center stage. 

 

“It’s time for the photoshoot for MLQC cosplayers to begin, but first we have an announcement.” 

 

The makeshift curtains on the staging area moved open and Kiro walked out in his Kira cosplay. The fans in the crowd chanted Kira’s name, singing bits of his character song. Savin stepped forward, looking just as exhausted as the convention employee. A panel of other people stood near him, professional and neutral. 

 

“Hello, everyone, I am a representative of BS Entertainment…”

 

He got cut off as people cheered and someone shouted “HOME OF KIRO!” 

 

“I am pleased to announce that the game ‘Mystical Lover’s Quest for the Crown’ will be getting an anime produced by our friends at LFG.” He gestured to the men in business attire. 

 

The crowd went silent for a moment before a large round of applause went out. 

 

“That’s so cool!” Em exclaimed, looking at Lucien, who was staring pensively at the stage. 

 

“It is,” he said, not looking at her. 

 

“Furthermore, BS Entertainment is pleased to announce that our very own Kiro, a fan of the game himself, will be voicing the beloved idol character, Kira!” 

 

Kiro dressed as Kira came forward and whipped off the hat and glasses he’d been wearing, suddenly revealing himself to the audience and everyone went wild. Different bits of cosplay were flung at the stage, others pressed forward. 

 

“Hello, Lovelies!” Kiro said, taking the microphone for himself, “I am absolutely honored to be playing the role of your beloved sunshine Kira! Before we get to the group photo and a surprise meet and greet  opportunity, I want to take the time to thank a few people here today who inspired me to take my love for MLQC to the next level and branch out into voice acting!” 

 

He paused. Savin looked mildly concerned. 

 

“You may recognize some of these usernames from various social media platforms,” Kiro said, “And I have been fortunate enough to meet these people myself. So, if you would, I’d like Pearlywings, Em, Ink_Butterfly, and Blackcard to come to the stage please.” 

 

There was a murmur throughout the crowd as they recognized BlackCard and Ink_Butterfly.

 

“I’d also like to thank my amazingly talented agent, Savin, for supporting me throughout the process and not saying no.” 

 

Em, Lucien, and Gavin made their way cautiously to the stage, Em fielding quite a few glares from fangirls and fanboys as she was holding Lucien’s hand. 

 

“So I’d like to get one commemorative photo with the people who made this possible with their support. I also understand that we have a full set of main character MLQC cosplayers with this group as well.” 

 

The crowd cheered. A photographer set up and they grouped together, Em in between Lucien and BlackCard. She smiled what she hoped looked like a nice mysterious Dark Queen smile, when she finally got the chance to look at BlackCard. 

 

The resemblance was really uncanny, down to the expression of distaste on his face. 

 

They all left the stage the same way, down a back hallway, escorted by a few of BS Entertainment’s bodyguards, only to be stopped by someone who appeared to be BlackCard's photographer. 

 

“Look, you’ve got to get pics with the Simon and Dark Queen cosplayers,” he said, “It’ll be a great shot. What do you guys say?” 

 

The photographer looked at Lucien and Em. 

 

“I don’t mind,” Em responded, scarcely believing that a professional cosplay photographer thought hers was good enough to stand next to BlackCard, “That’s an awesome opportunity.” 

 

“If she’s fine with it, then so am I,” Lucien said. 

 

The photographer nodded enthusiastically and sent a pleading look BlackCard’s way. Blackcard sighed and gave a short nod of his head.

 

“You might as well bring the others too,” Blackcard said, motioning to Gavin, Minor, and Kiro. 

 

Kiro looked pleadingly at Savin, who sighed and shooed him off. Kiro stuck his hat and black plastic frame glasses back on to complete his “disguise” and the group set off. 

 

“Alright, here is a good location,” the photographer said, turning to set up his equipment. They’d ended up at a small indoor water feature in the expansive convention center. This part had been roped off especially for photoshoots. 

 

“Let me get some more aesthetically pleasing group photos,” the photographer muttered, “You, the Dark Queen, how comfortable are you with them being close to you?” 

 

Em shrugged. 

 

“I don’t care much,” she said, “I know them all personally except Blackcard.” 

 

The cosplayer stiffened. 

 

“Well then, you sit here,” the photographer said, pulling her down onto the slight step surrounding the water feature, “and you and you,” he pointed to Gavin and Kiro, “sit here.” 

 

The sat on each side of her, nearly leaning against her legs. He directed Lucien and Blackcard to sit beside her on the ledge, backs facing each other. 

 

“Alright now,” the photographer said, “Look serious, desperate, like how the newest release made you feel.”

 

Em tried to settle her face into a stern expression, imagining that she was the protagonist’s clone, fighting to save a world she no longer believed in. 

 

“Yes, Dark Queen, excellent.” 

 

He snapped the photo. Then he arranged Lucien, Blackcard, and Em into a more provocative position, more fitting of the dynamic the trio gave off in the game. Li Zeyan x Simon was the most popular ship not involving MC, after all. Em tried to school her expression, but the photographer kept asking for more drama, but after being addressed as “Dark Queen” for the fiftieth time, she was about to give up. 

 

“Her name is Em,” the two men next to her said nearly simultaneously after the photographer had started snapping his fingers at her to get her attention. Startled, Em looked up at Blackcard. 

 

He stared back at her and she took a really good look at his face, beyond the makeup and the mild alterations he had worked with facetape. 

 

Her face paled. 

 

“Oh no.” She immediately removed herself from the intimate position (sandwiched between “Simon” and “Li Zeyan”, something most fangirls could only dream of) backing up into Lucien, who placed a hand on her shoulder to steady her. 

 

“Interesting use of vacation time,” Victor said, looking at her with a strange acidity. She fumbled for words, when Lucien moved around to her side.

 

“She’s just out on a vacation with her boyfriend. It seems that you are also using your vacation time rather interestingly as well, aren’t you, Victor?”   

 

There was a muffled snort from Kiro. 

 

“Oh Lord, he really does look like Li Zeyan, that was just a joke but it’s so true.” Victor scowled. 

 

“It is none of your business what I do in my spare time,” he snarled, “I would rather we forget this ever happened.” 

 

“Hmmmm, I’d rather we didn’t,” Lucien said, a telling smile crossing his face, “In fact, I think a few more introductions are in order.” 

 

“Don’t do it, Lucien,” Gavin said, looking a bit worried. 

 

“He can’t do anything to you, Gavin,” Lucien responded, “And it’s mainly my fault anyway. I’ll take the blame.” 

 

“Would anyone care to explain?” Em said, trying to extricate herself from the showdown that was going on. 

 

“Wait a minute, Em, you’ll find this particularly interesting. You see, Kiro turned up something very intriguing the last time he tried to modify our server. Blackcard, who apparently is your boss here, was the secondary account for one that you are very well acquainted with.” 

 

Em’s jaw dropped.

 

“No!” 

 

“He is, indeed, TheRealLZ.” 

 

Now it was Victor’s turn to look concerned. 

 

“What-how do you know about that?” 

 

“Easy,” Lucien said, “I’m your best friend online, Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says.” 

 

“You,” Victor’s voice was flat, “You’re the reason that I SUFFER every time I go into that chatroom. And you're DATING MY EMPLOYEE?” 

 

“It doesn’t stop there,” Lucien continued, “In fact, you have KiraKira over there,” gesturing to Kiro, “And my favorite fic writer, Pearlywings, over there.”

 

He pointed to Gavin who admirably standing his ground, even though it was very clear to everyone that Victor still wasn’t over the fanfic debacle. Em’s head was reeling. 

 

Victor was a famous cosplayer? And more than that...he was someone in her chatroom? They’d talked about all sorts of things in there, some of which were definitely not conducive to a professional relationship. 

 

“And Em here,” Lucien said, gripping her hand, “Is The_producer.” 

 

There was an odd silence in the room, which was surprising considering that hundreds of excitable anime fans stood only a few meters away. It almost felt like time had stopped as Victor stared at her with an indescribable expression. 

 

Em’s stomach clenched. She’d never, ever thought this could be possible, to be so anxious. Had her hobby and her teasing over the chat now landed her in hot water with the CEO of the most powerful company in the region? Would he drop their funding? 

 

The tensions grew until suddenly Victor smirked. 

 

“Looks like you won’t have to hide your phone from me at work on breaks anymore,” he said finally, “Because chances are I’m looking at the same things you are.”

 

Lucien’s hand, which had been somewhat tense around hers relaxed marginally. Victor glared at the professor. 

 

“That does not mean you are off the hook though, Simon ,” Victor said, “I have NEVER read something so disgraceful in my life and I know you were behind it.” 

 

“Then my mission is accomplished,” Lucien said with a mock bow. Gavin let out a sigh of relief, as if he had been holding his breath waiting for Victor’s reaction. Minor was still standing by, looking somewhat bemused, while Kiro was off in a corner laughing hysterically. 

 

“The look on your face, Em. I can’t…” He snorted and was off again. 

 

“I’ll be sure to monitor your work even more closely though,” Victor said, adjusting his cuffs in his characteristic manner, “Because I know exactly what you spend your free time on.” 

 

“I’ll show you, I can do both,” Em said. 

 

“Now that we’ve sorted out whatever this is,” the photographer said impatiently, waving a hand, “Can we please continue the shoot. I mean, I got some good photos during the whole exchange but I have more to take.” 

 

“Of course,” Em said, adjusting her costume and settling into her pose, lording over the two men in the control of the Dark Queen, “We’ve sorted everything out.”

Chapter Text

Chat Eight: Endgame 

 

Top Secret Chat! Kiro Certified!

 

Victor: ...

 

Gavin: …

 

Kiro: Don’t you like the new chat name? I made it so no one can get in unless I invite them!

 

Victor: I understand, but why?

 

Gavin: Is there something I don’t know?

 

Kiro: *sighs* GUYS! THE PLAN! REMEMBER???

 

Victor: Of course. I settled the whole thing. The car should be over there at any moment. 

 

Kiro sent an eye-rolling emoji!

 

Victor: There is no reason for this nonsense. Get ready to do your part. 

 

Gavin: Actually, speaking of parts, why didn’t you add Minor to the chat? He has a larger part in this than I do. 

 

Kiro: I can’t risk Em potentially seeing the chat at all! Minor works too closely with her. Can’t you just relay the information to him?

 

Gavin: But won’t Em see the messages I send him just as well?

 

Kiro:...I guess I’ll just have to hope for the best…

 

Victor: How did you overlook that? Honestly. I should have just organized it all myself. Better yet, I should have never let it get to this point. I should have known after Em did not mention it for months…

 

Gavin: It was honestly just dumb luck that we found out at all. 

 

Kiro: NOT DUMB LUCK! It was my mad sleuthing skills.

 

Victor: Rather than your “mad sleuthing skills” I think it was the alcohol Em had at the wrap party for your anime debut shoot. 

 

Gavin: Still salty I wasn’t invited. 

 

Kiro: I told you I was willing to invite you. 

 

Victor: There was absolutely no reason for him to be there. It was for the cast and crew only.

 

Kiro: And the crew’s boyfriend? Lucien was there. 

 

Victor: You try stopping that man when he has his mind set on something. He pulled out consulting credentials out of nowhere. I thought they were fake but apparently Savin had consulted him on something or other…

 

Kiro: Yep! He came on as my artistic director. I don’t know how he does it but he is VERY talented. 

 

Gavin: I think we’re losing the point here...oh shit. Apparently Em is in transit now according to Minor

 

Kiro: YESSSSSS

 

Gavin: Crap. Lucien is calling me. 

 

Gavin has logged out. 

 

Victor: He figured it out more quickly than I had anticipated. 

 

Kiro: RIP Pearlywings, your smut lives on 



Gavin stared at his buzzing phone, unsure if it would be better to answer it or not. 

 

The buzzing cut off as his phone went to voicemail, only to start again. He let out a slow breath. Lucien was his friend . Surely he would understand why they were going to such lengths. 

 

“H-hello?” Gavin asked, picking up the call. For a moment there was nothing but a deadly silence. Even through the phone, Gavin could feel the tension. He swallowed. 

 

“Hello, Gavin,” Lucien said pleasantly, and that made it all the scarier, “I believe you have something to do with the kidnapping of my dear, dear fiancee Em.” 

 

“Um…” 

 

“Let me rephrase that. You are in cahoots with Victor who is the mastermind behind this for some ungodly reason. I expect Kiro had a hand in this as well. And I know this is related to certain events that are coming up, but believe me when I say we had a handle on it.” 

 

Gavin paused. That was more words in one breath than he had ever heard from Lucien before and it was a lot to process. 

 

“Look, we appreciate the gesture,” Lucien said, filling in the silence where Gavin was still unable to speak, “but I think we need to decline. Out of respect for Em’s wishes.” 

 

“But what about you!” Gavin blurted out. The temperature in the room seemed to drop a few degrees even though Lucien wasn’t even there to give him his characteristic cold stare. 

 

“Well, what about me?” Lucien asked, “Is it not enough that I wish for Em’s happiness?” 

 

“I mean that’s fine, but you’re so proud of her. Don’t you want to, i dunno, make it a bigger deal? You’re getting married, Lucien.” 

 

“I cannot deny the truth of what you say,” Lucien responded, “But I refuse to put her through that if she doesn’t want a big wedding Gavin. I feel like at some time, in some place, I must have already stretched her to her limits. I don’t want to push it now, not when things are going so smoothly.” 

 

There seemed to be a barely-suppressed joy in his tone, something Gavin had never heard out of Lucien in the two years since they’d met in person.  

 

“But Lucien, have you ever thought that maybe she was protecting you instead?” 

 

Lucien paused. 

 

“She said that she didn’t want a big wedding, it would be too hard without her father there...that she didn’t want to make a big deal of it if there wouldn’t be anyone to look on and support her…”

 

He sighed over the line.

 

“She wasn’t really talking about herself, was she? She didn’t want it to be hard for me, to have no one there on my side. I wish she hadn’t done that. Normally I can see through her.” 

 

Gavin knew it was because she’d made it about herself instead that Lucien listened to her without a second thought. If there was one thing Gavin and the others had learned over the years, it was that Lucien would do anything for Em and nothing for himself. 

 

Which was good, or else Gavin would have kicked his ass years ago. 

 

“She knows I don’t really remember much from the accident,” Lucien said with a strange note of tender affection in his voice, “But it must have hurt her to make that decision...she does have aunts, uncles and cousins she would have invited.”  

 

“Don’t worry about it, Lucien, Victor’s got it all sorted.” 

 

“He’d better,” Lucien said, “Send me the directions. Or, ah...That car is for me, is it?”

 

“See you, Lucien. Congratulations.” 

 

“...thank you...Gavin.” 

 

Top Secret Chat! Kiro Certified!

 

Gavin: Lucien’s all in. Thank me later.

 

Kiro: Yessssss! Awesome job man. 

 

Victor: Acceptable. Are you en route to the venue?

Gavin: Of course. 

 

***

 

Lucien stood at the end of what amounted to an aisle in the middle of a wisteria tunnel. The part of him that wasn’t strangely anxious wondered how Victor had arranged all of this at the last minute. Of course, Victor was filthy rich, which opened all sorts of doors, but Em ahd only accidentally revealed their plans two weeks ago. Somehow Victor had rented (or bought, Lucien wouldn’t put it past him) this gorgeous outdoor space that was absolutely FEEDING Lucien’s art brain, managed to get all of Em’s relatives and his close coworkers here, and managed outfits, transportation, and a reception afterwards. 

 

Lucien smiled amicably at “his” side of the seating, to where his fellow researchers were nearly crying. They hadn’t believed him when he’d introduced Em as his girlfriend. In fact, Lucien was fairly certain some of them were still suspicious. 

 

His thoughts of anything else were immediately wiped from his mind as delicate music began to play from somewhere he couldn’t see. Almost as if the wind were cooperating for the occasion, a gust blew across the tunnel and petals and fronds obscured parts of his vision. He saw, distantly, down the aisle, bits of white lace and a bouquet of gardenias, waving locks of hair and softly shining eyes. 

 

The wind stilled and the petals fell so slowly it was like time had been stopped and Lucien looked at Em. It was like he was seeing her for the first time. The cravat that Victor had decided would be an excellent choice seemed to tighten around his throat, his eyes stinging with repressed tears and his heart aching with inexplicable emotion. 

 

She was gorgeous. It felt like his whole life was meant for this moment. 

 

Almost, for just a split second, he thought he could see color. The colors that had leached out of his life after the accident, the ones he recklessly played with in his art although he couldn’t see them. Em’s colors were warmer than he ever could have imagined. 

 

She reached him then and everything resumed its normal speed. She placed her hand in his, smiling shyly, passing off her bouquet to Anna before they both turned to the altar. Lucien fought to keep his expression neutral when he saw who was overseeing the ceremony. 

 

Em was not so disciplined and let out a small giggle. Victor, who had apparently become ordained just for the occasion, cleared his throat sternly, waiting for Em to compose herself again, before launching into the usual wedding script. 

 

With the exchange of vows, the bearing of the rings, suddenly they were husband and wife. 

 

“You may now kiss the bride,” Victor said with his usual air of gravity. Lucien looked at Em, her face a beacon of impatient anticipation. He remembered the coincidences that led them to this moment, to the time she had left her umbrella, to his confession, to the nights they’d spent working companionably side-by-side. 

 

“I love you,” he said once more before dipping her down into a kiss. 

 

“I love you too,” she said as they came back up, leaning her forehead into his, “I’ve never been so glad to have met someone.” 

 

“And all because of a video game,” Lucien responded. 

 

“And all because of a video game.” 

 

Chapter Text

Em pushed through the door into Lucien’s apartment, slinging her bag onto the table in the entranceway, taking off her shoes and putting on the now-permanent pair of house slippers he kept for her, and flopped onto the couch, covering her eyes with her arm. 

 

“Hard day?” Lucien asked, coming into the room, somehow already holding a hot cup of tea from the smell of it. 

 

Em removed her arm and blinked against the yellow ceiling light, looking up at her boyfriend. 

 

Well, boyfriend didn’t seem to be the right word. It seemed too..casual? For the intensity of her feelings about him, boyfriend didn’t sit right. Partner maybe? Soulmate seemed a little much, although they’d been dating for more than a year now, and she’d never been uncertain about the stability of their relationship, even counting that time she’d been overseas at Victor’s insistence to monitor Kiro’s voice acting in the new MLQC anime. 

 

“What are you thinking about?” Lucien asked, setting the cup of tea on the coffee table and gently setting her feet aside so he could sit on the couch. 

 

“What I should call you,” she said, feeling mildly embarrassed but unable to lie to him, “‘Boyfriend’ doesn’t seem quite right.” 

 

“Mmm. You could just call me by my name,” he said, shifting over as she moved to sit up and rest her head on his shoulder. 

 

“Obviously,” Em said, burying her head into his chest, “But when I introduce you to people...I dunno, boyfriend just seems so trite. You’re a neuroscientist and an artist...boyfriend isn’t a strong enough word.” 

 

Lucien ruffled her hair, but also seemed to be sitting in quiet contemplation. 

 

“I’m fine with whatever word you want to use,” he said. 

 

They sat in silence for awhile, comfortable just being in each other’s presence, Em taking the occasional sip of her tea as they watched the sun set outside of Lucien’s window. 

 

“The veranda is so pretty,” Em commented, “How is Garda doing? It’s a good thing I’m not taking care of him. I think I’d forget to care for him.” 

 

“He’s thriving. And I think you don’t give yourself enough credit Em. You’d care for him, I’m sure. After all, isn’t he the plant we’re raising together?”

 

“I suppose...I do want him to do well…” 

 

She sighed and took the final sip of her tea, looking regretfully at her empty cup. 

 

“I have to go now. Work is going to be hard. Victor was on the warpath today.” 

 

“That’s a shame. What about?” 

 

“There’s been a delay in the production of one of his projects. Not my company’s, but one of the other entertainment companies LFG funds. I think he wants to send me over to manage it though.” 

 

“Over?” 

 

Em paused, twirling the teacup around in her hands.

 

“Yes...it’s in the Americas. Remnants of HBS that he snatched up after they had that whole scandal. It was a risky investment and he doesn’t want to lose it. I’m trying to convince him that I would be a terrible manager to put over there. Anna would be much better. Even Kiki. She graduated with a related degree last year.” 

 

“How long?” Lucien asked earnestly, grabbing her hands around the teacup and looking her in the eyes.

 

“It could be months,” she said, averting her eyes. Lucien’s hands tightened around hers. 

 

“Do I need to speak to him?”

 

“What? No! It’s my job, Lucien. I’ll do what I need to.”

He let her hands go, and suddenly Em was wondering if maybe although her feelings hadn’t been wavering, his had. She knew that outside of herself and the groupchat, Lucien was a solitary creature. Was she his only human contact that didn’t want something more from him?

 

“Lucien...I’ll try to convince him, okay? I don’t want to go either. The trip to Japan with Kiro was enough.” 

 

She tried to get a read on his expression, but for once she couldn’t tell what he was thinking. He looked contemplative, but not upset. His body language wasn’t matching up with the distant expression on his face. 

 

He grabbed her up in a tight embrace, startling her, but she managed to hold onto the teacup. 

 

“Make sure you let me know if you have to leave,” he murmured into her hair.

 

“Of course, Lucien. Why would I just walk out on you?” 

 

“I know you wouldn’t...I’ll just miss you a lot. I’ll need the time to prepare.” 

 

Lifting one hand, she carefully stroked his hair. 

 

“I won’t leave you, no matter what,” she said, caught off guard by this uncharacteristically emotional display. 

 

“Good,” he said, playfully nipping her neck as he released her.

 

“Lucien!” she screeched, slapping at his hands, “What will Victor say if it leaves a mark?” 

 

“Tell him not to make you go,” Lucien replied, his eyes twinkling with suppressed mirth, “I’ll do much worse to you before you leave if you have to go.”

 

“As long as you’re willing, of course,” he said, sitting primly, hands folded in his lap. Em blushed.

 

“Oh my gosh, Lucien.” 

 

He smirked. 

 

“Get going, then, Em,” he said, “I wouldn't want you to be reprimanded for being late if you oversleep.”

 

“Good night,” she said, giving him a quick kiss before gathering her bag and going next door. 

 

***

Work went predictably poorly the next day. She was slightly late, Victor reprimanded her. The bite had left a mark, Victor reprimanded her. Victor decided that she was imperative to the overseas project. She protested, Victor reprimanded her. 

 

“I like you better online,” she grouched after Victor had finished scolding her for the third time. 

 

“I will not respond to that,” Victor said, “One of us needs to remain professional.” 

 

Em said nothing, just glared at the CEO. 

 

As she took the subway home, she texted Lucien about the disappointing update. 

 

He immediately responded with a string of eloquently composed curses, and then asked her to come over for the night at the end of the week. 

 

“Might as well,” Em grumbled, hitting send on her reply, “I cannot believe that absolute asshole…making me travel for who knows how long and I’m not even qualified…” 

 

She was pleasantly surprised when Lucien appeared at the subway station to walk her home. He listened to her rant as they held hands, Em swinging their entwined hands angrily between them. 

 

“And then, he said I needed to make sure to leave my personal life at home. I mean, it was a little red, but not that bad. And what’s it to him what we do?” 

 

They entered their apartment building, and Lucien led them to the elevator. As soon as the doors closed he pushed her up against the wall. 

 

“It doesn’t matter at all,” he murmured into her skin, “As long as you’re happy.” 

 

“Lucien, I’m pretty sure there are cameras in the elevator,” Em hissed, feeling her skin flush under his touch. He sighed but released her as the doors dinged open. 

 

“I have work to do tonight,” Lucien said as they reached their little corner of the floor, “A lot of commissions piled up while I was busy with work. But can I have your time tomorrow night?” 

 

“Of course.” 

 

They parted ways and Em sighed into the empty expanse of her apartment. Part of her wanted to go out on her veranda, and see if Lucien was out there drawing like he sometimes did, but she also felt the welling of tears in her eyes. 

 

All it took was one look at the documents on her desk before the tears started spilling down her cheeks. 

 

She wanted to do her job to the best of her abilities, but how could she leave now? It wasn’t permanent, but it felt that way. Her plane could crash, she could get into an accident, she could leave in a week or two and never see him again. 

 

There was a gentle knock on her door. 

 

She opened it to find a paper crane. 

 

“Thank you,” she said to the empty hallway, knowing that Lucien was probably listening on the other side of his door. 

 

Paper cranes were their promise to each other. That they would always come back to each other. It had started when she had been on her last business trip with Kiro and BS Entertainment, learning more about talent management at Victor’s request. It had only been a couple of weeks, but they had written letters, each one including a small folded crane. 

 

Em went back inside, setting the paper crane with some of the others in her little collection, and got ready to sleep early, crawling under the blankets, wondering what Lucien had in store for them tomorrow. 

 

***

 

Although it was the weekend, Em spent most of the day in a state between anxiety and excitement. Anxiety because she wasn’t sure how she would make it for months without Lucien. Excitement because she wanted to spend as much time with him as she could. 

 

She tried to channel her energy into something more productive, bustling around the kitchen. He wasn’t much for sweets, but Em continued to make different desserts for him to try and bring him to the baking side. 

 

“A little extravagance never hurt anyone,” she muttered, piping the last line of frosting onto a chocolate cupcake. They were dark chocolate, so not very sweet. She hoped they would be good enough. 

 

Finally, finally, the time came for her to go over. Em took a little extra care with her outfit. Since they’d scheduled this time, it felt more like a date, even though it was essentially the same as any other night. While doing her hair, she idly wondered if they should just move in together to save on rent. 

 

Regardless, she felt a flutter of excitement as she knocked on his door, clutching the box of cupcakes gently in her hands. She had learned her lesson after a few too many boxes of crushed cream puffs. 

 

“Good evening,” Lucien said, pulling the door open. 

 

“Hi…” Em said, trailing off. Lucien was slightly overdressed for someone who had probably just been working in his home all day. He was wearing one of his dark grey dress shirts and a tie in a dusky rose color over black slacks. 

 

“Oh, this?” he asked, “Why don’t I ask about your outfit? That skirt looks beautiful on you.” 

 

He raised an eyebrow at her flushed face. 

 

“Well, I felt like this was more of a date... normally we don’t schedule anything…” 

 

“My sentiments exactly.” 

 

“I brought you cupcakes anyway,” she nearly shouted, shoving the box into his hands and walking by him into the apartment. He chuckled and closed the door behind her.

 

“Let’s eat these later,” he said, setting them in the kitchen, “I have a favor to ask of you.” 

 

“Oh?” 

 

Lucien wasn’t the type to ask for favors, not really. 

 

He nodded and then cleared his throat. If she hadn’t known better, Em would have thought that he was nervous. 

 

“What is it then?” 

 

“I have a commission ordered...I can’t find any adequate pose references...I was wondering…”

 

“Oh, of course,” Em said, “You don’t have to look so anxious about it.” 

 

He cracked a small smile. 

 

“It’s just that the commission...it’s for a proposal piece...I didn’t want to startle you.” 

 

“Oh!” Em exclaimed, her voice raising a bit higher than she cared to admit. The thought of Lucien proposing, even as an act, it was setting her heart racing. 

 

“Let me set up the camera then,” he said, walking over to the device and adjusting a few settings before positioning her out on the veranda. The late sunlight of golden hour washed over the plants around them, giving the whole garden a serene and surreal view. Em wiped her palms on her skirt. 

 

It’s just an act, just an act, she thought to herself, Don’t be nervous. 

 

“So, for me to get the expression I want...I might say a few words…” 

 

“Of course,” Em whispered, certain her voice would crack if she spoke too loudly. Lucien took a deep breath and got down on one knee, holding her hands in his. 

 

“Em,” he said, the golden light causing a deep glimmer in his violet eyes, “My whole life I’ve been in front of an audience. At school, at my work, and even online. But since I met you, you’re the only one that mattered. I may be colorblind, but sometimes I swear I see colors when I’m with you.” 

 

He paused, and it took all of Em’s willpower to keep herself from crying. 

 

“Em, will you marry me?” 

 

There was one breathless moment where they looked at each other, and then the moment was gone. 

 

Click. 

 

The camera went off. Em didn’t even want to see what her face had looked like. Lucien stood. 

 

“Thank you,” he whispered, ruffling her hair, “Should we eat those cupcakes now?” 

 

He moved away from her faster than usual, and Em took a moment to recollect herself. Then she went in to eat with him. 

 

But no matter how long they spent together, she kept glancing toward the balcony, wishing that that had been real. 

 

“I should have the commission done tomorrow,” Lucien said when he dropped her off at her door, “”Make sure to be on the lookout.” 

 

Em took his hand and leaned into his chest, emotionally exhausted now. He rubbed her back soothingly. 

 

“Come see me again tomorrow,” he said, “I want to spend all the time we have left together.” She nodded, unable to speak, and then went inside. 

 

“If only…” she muttered as she finally drifted off to sleep later that night, “If only it had been real.” 

 

She knew that a proposal wouldn’t change anything, that she would still be separated from him for months, but somehow having a tangible tie to him would make her feel so much better. 

 

***

 

She woke up late the next morning, her phone strangely silent for a Sunday. During her routine perusal of her Instagram, she noticed that Lucien had posted a “close friends” story. 

 

“I don’t think he’s ever used that feature before,” she said to herself, clicking on it. 

 

A slow moving video panned over a large sheet of paper. 

 

A commission for a very special person the text read as the video scrolled by. The outer edges were plants drawn in great detail. Em recognized most of them from Lucien’s veranda. The camera moved to the center. 

 

She gasped. 

 

The center of the page was filled with them , backlit by a sunset. Lucien, despite his colorblindness, had managed to capture the breathtaking lighting of golden hour perfectly, complete with the sun glinting in his eyes, glinting off a ring in a box. 

 

Her heart pounded as the story clicked over to the next part. 

 

It was a drawing of a ring. 

 

Will you marry me? The commission was for us. 

 

Em stood up, nearly throwing her phone across the room as she dashed for the door. 

 

She threw open the door, which Lucien had, quite reasonably, left unlocked, and ran right into his waiting arms. 

 

“Hello there,” he said, catching her. 

 

“Yes, yes! Of course Lucien!” 

 

He smiled and set her down, before getting on one knee again, this time taking out the ring. 

 

“Are you sure?” he asked, a mischievous smirk flitting across his face.

 

“Of course I’m sure,” Em responded, holding out her hand as Lucien slid the ring onto it. He stood up and kissed her soundly, leaving her a bit breathless. 

 

“I thought for sure you’d figure me out last night,” he said, “But you didn’t. I was almost disappointed.” 

 

He wouldn’t let go of her, which Em was fine with. 

 

“What was I supposed to think,” she asked, blushing, “Why would I assume that you’d just propose like that. I had hoped...I was wishing...well.” 

 

She stuttered to a stop. This was almost too much. 

 

“Regardless,” Lucien said, “I think this outfit is much better for a proposal.” 

 

Em looked down and realized she was still wearing what she wore to bed, which happened to be one of Lucien’s old shirts. 

 

“Shut up,” she said, smiling and kissing him again and again. 

 

Maybe it didn’t really matter, but somehow this made all the difference. She felt like she’d be able to overcome any challenge with Lucien by her side.