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Song birds greet the sunbeams as the light splashes through the atmosphere upon the rise of a new day. The sunlight filters through the sheer curtains like a dreamland, the hazy hue in the room casting a warm glow in the air. He walks steadily through the radiance spilling on the walls, interrupting beams of rainbow and painted geometry. Warmth warms his sleep cooled body, heating his skin in dollops of liquid wool.

The phone in his hand is heavy as he swipes over a familiar contact. Putting the phone to his ear, he walks into the kitchen to shuffle through the refrigerator in search of a simple breakfast. He clamps the ringing piece of technology in between his head and shoulder, bringing out a sealed bowl of fruit he had sliced the night prior and water.

“Hello?”

“Anzu, it’s me.” He greets blandly, shutting the fridge with a shove from his elbow.

“Good morning, Izumi-san.”

“Afternoon, to you.” The kitchen drawer slides open with a soft hiss. “On your way to ES right now?”

“Um… No, I don’t need to go there, today.”

Izumi raises an eyebrow, checking the wall clock hanging above a small, potted plant. With the time difference, it should be midafternoon in Japan. If she doesn’t even need to report back today, it must mean they sent her somewhere far for work. “Hm. Well, do your best. Don’t get yourself into trouble.”

He wonders if she is by herself, all alone in the world of twisted adults.

“I’ll try. You have a shoot right now, don’t you? I’m cheering for you, too.”

Izumi finds himself chuckling softly. The piece of melon he presses to his bottom lip is cold. “Look at you, getting the hang of things and memorizing schedules.”

She makes a protesting grumbling noise that slips into the microphone and into his ears. “You always tease me…”

“Then hurry up and become the only producer ES needs or else I’ll scold you some more.” He absently chews his breakfast thoroughly, keeping a close eye on the wall clock as the minute hand inches closer and closer to his self-imposed departure time. “I have to leave.”

“Mm, okay. But what did you call for?”

“Hah? Weren’t you the one whining that you never felt like it was a good time to call with how busy I am? And here I did you a favor.”

Besides, couldn’t he call his girlfriend just because he wanted to? She’s a pretty busy person, too. Probably more so than him…

Anzu’s voice suddenly takes on a soft, wistful tone, making Izumi’s heart clench within his chest. “I guess I was. Thanks for calling. I’ll see you soon.”

“Yeah, I’ll be home right before Halloween. Knights has something going on, after all, and I’m sure the rest of ES will be in an uproar.” He sighs, putting his empty bowl and fork into the empty sink to wash later. Izumi takes a last sweep of the kitchen with his eyes before heading towards the front door to put on his shoes. “Don’t work too hard, okay?”

His birthday is soon, too.

“You just told me to do my best though?” She giggles. “You too.”

“See you, Anzu.” He waits for another reply from her and brings the phone away from his ear, ending the call. Already, he feels the lonely air wash over him in waves. The empty apartment is quiet save for the birds chirping outside.

Grabbing his things, Izumi heads out towards the studio. The door clicks closed behind him solidly, his feet softly stamping against the concrete as he starts his journey. The sun shines down on him powerfully, making him crinkle his brow while his eyes desperately adjust to the raw light. Tilting his head up, he gazes at the blinding clouds drifting by innocently.

It really has been a while since he last went home and saw her and everyone else. He does make it a habit to talk to her at least every couple of days, but it never quite feels the same as when they’re talking in person. The other members like to tease him every time they speak, as well, much to his chagrin. Can’t they leave him alone and find something else to entertain themselves? They do so because they’re close, but Izumi really can’t wait for the day he has the upper hand when the opportunity arises, no matter what it may be about.

The building he seeks comes into view. Stifling an unprofessional yawn, Izumi pushes open the glass entryway. He had to come earlier than scheduled to settle last minute contract details. There aren’t that many people here that’ll help him with this kind of stuff, being so far from New Dimension, but he just has to endure it. No matter how rough it may seem or how many thorns pierce into him, this is the path towards his dream – a dream that everyone precious to him back home is supporting wholehearted, as long as it’s something he desires.

Izumi doesn’t want to let them down; nor does he want to return empty handed with nothing to show. But no matter the outcome of this shrouded, broken path waiting to be fixed and filled in, even if he returns home bloody and broken, they will nurse him back and hold him gently. That’s a promise they all made a long time ago.

Anzu is waiting for him, too. After their vow to try this relationship out, despite the distance that will inevitably separate them for most of their days. He won’t disappoint her.

Voices slips out in muffled tones through the thick, wooden door of the office he stands before. He tilts his head curiously. There shouldn’t have been an appointment before his with it being so early in the morning, but who is he to know for sure. He’s just a nobody model, here. He checks his watch, shaking his wrist to rock it into a better position to examine. He’s a few minutes early – as he calculated prior – so he supposes he should wait.

Leaning his back on the wall beside the office, he unintentionally eavesdrops on the conversation occurring inside. Well, not everything. Their words are still slurred as they come through the edges of the doorway, but he understands enough to know they’re discussing the nitty details of employment. They sound pleased enough with their fluid back and forth, which is good for him – his won’t have to deal with a cranky employer in a few minutes and risk this job getting taken away. But even in a pleasant mood, there’s no guarantee they can come to an agreement.

The seconds tick away, his vision blurring as he stares at the marble-like flooring. His blood impatiently pumps through his veins, quickening his pulse until it nearly jumps through his skin in anxious fervor. Checking his wrist watch again, the hands click into place as the world continues towards the future without hesitation.

It’s time for his appointment. Yet the voices inside continue on. It won’t look good on him to be late, but it would also be rude to interrupt. Making up his mind in a flash, he pushes off of the wall and turns to the barrier imposing on his dreams. He raises his fist to knock.

The voices halt immediately.

The door opens to reveal his current employer. “Oh! Izumi Sena. You’re early. I like that in a fellow.”

He raises an eyebrow. “Early, sir?”

“I suppose you can go down and change. We can get your solo shots finished first.” They contemplate, ending their suggestion with a nonchalant shrug.

Izumi nearly finds himself stuttering. “Er… But the contract? I can’t start working until we finalize the details.”

“Oh? Didn’t they tell you? Your people sent someone over to deal with it.” They turn to look over their shoulder. “We just finished our discussion. Welcome to the project. Now off you go.”

The person he spies inside the room makes his breath catch and his eyes widen. His heart picks back up, though in a different sense this time around. He had idly thought the voice streaming out of the office sounded familiar, but he just couldn’t come to believe it. However, now, staring into familiar, bright eyes, and hair he has felt the softness of underneath his very own fingers shining in the sunlight, there is no denying it.

Why has Anzu come all this way?

He doesn’t get a chance to ask his questions before he is ushered away. Izumi doesn’t see anyone but the staff during his early solo shots. The next he sees Anzu is when all of the models are gathered together for the group images. Through the blinding flashes of the lights, his eyes scan over the heads of the crew. Anzu is standing in the back with a sadly pensive look on her face as she stares at her phone screen. For some reason, she even begins poking at her own cheek. An invisible knife stabs into his chest, but he can’t let it show on his face; not even in his eyes as he shifts his pose.

The relentless twisting dives into his gut, nearly making him double over. The other models pay him no mind, only worried about their own hides in the end. That’s the kind of world he lives in; the kind he chose and grown thick skinned for. He would do the same to them. As they get directed closer together, the knife drives in deeper. The girls are wearing too much perfume, and the guy too much cologne. Even the dressing room was filled to the brim in fruity, floral scents and the stench of makeup and hair products. Anzu is always much nicer to be around, never wearing too much product and easily enveloping him in her warmth, even if they’re not physically touching.

The shoot finally comes to an end past noon. The makeup on his face isn’t all that gaudy, so he chooses to leave it as he quickly changes back into his normal clothes. When he emerges from the back, Anzu is already waiting for him with the other managers. With a nod from both of them towards the others, they depart the building, allowing the billowing breeze to sweep against their skin.

“Good work, today.” Anzu breaks their silence as he walks ahead of her.

“Why’d they send you here?” Izumi asks instead. He knows she is already swamped with Halloween preparations on top of her normal workload. Looking over his shoulder, he gazes at her face, noting the pale complexion. “When’d you get in?”

“This morning. I went straight to the company building.”

He clicks his tongue, turning back around and walking with more purpose. She’s going to exhaust herself at this rate. “Let’s go eat.”

Izumi takes her to a quiet little restaurant, carefully keeping an eye on her the whole journey there. They sit across from each other at a small table, the silence between them stretching longer. Anzu still has the sorrowful expression in her eyes, despite her desperate efforts to hide it from him. She’s sitting stiffly, her hands fisted in her lap and shoulders tense as she gazes away in guise of looking at the new scenery.

As much as he’d like to act even a bit more friendly, he can’t. His hands are tied; he’s fairly sure she knows it, too. They can’t be seen together outside – at least, as anything more than idol and producer. His face and name may still be of the lowest grade here, but that doesn’t matter in the eyes of greedy paparazzi. Furthermore, they came from the company, where a rat could be lurking behind any and every corner behind their backs. But more than his name getting dragged through the mud, her name could, as well. A producer with a history of unprofessionalism is as dead as an idol with a scandal to their name.

Still, even knowing all of that, forcibly swallowing his aching feelings down burns his throat like lava.

“I wanted to surprise you a bit, but I guess I just burdened you. I’m sorry.” Anzu says in a quiet voice.

Is that all? She’s never a burden to him, though.

“It’s not that.” Izumi trails off with a sigh. “You did me a favor, so thanks. But you didn’t have to come here, I could’ve handled it. I’m used to it, anyways. You’re tired, aren’t you?”

Anzu presses her lips together tightly, staying silent and looking down at the table.

Before he can question her, their food arrives, bringing their conversation to an abrupt end. He wonders if there is something troubling her back at home and if there is anything he can do to ease her burdens. She knows she can rely on him as much as she desires, no matter how big or small the task at hand may be. But Anzu has always been the type of girl to take on things by herself. It would make him happy for her to put the weight on his shoulders, but he also knows she wants to accomplish things with her own power and prove her worth. He’s the same. As much as his heart nearly stops every time news of her overwork travels to his ears, it wouldn’t feel right to stop her. He’d be nothing more than a hypocrite shunning her passions.

They finish their meal in a silence that is as much comfortable as it is anxiety ridden. The words left unsaid and the feelings remaining misunderstood hang in the air as they exit the eatery.

“I’ll buy you something, so let’s walk around for a bit.” Izumi suggests.

“Hm? Oh, but you just paid for lunch. You don’t need to.” Anzu hastily interjects with waves of her hands.

“I’m the only ES idol around here for kilometers. I don’t have any more work today, so that means you don’t either, right?” He gives her a smug smirk. “Relax a little and let’s go out.”

Izumi shoves his hands into his pockets before the desire to reach out for hers overtakes him. He begins to walk down the bustling, midafternoon street, expecting her to follow along at a suitable distance – close enough for them to stay together but far enough to keep the gossipers out of their hair. He takes her to stores he knows she likes and stops every time she pauses to peruse the displays beyond the window panes.

Watching as her eyes light up at adorable little knickknacks brings a smile to his lips. In the end, he takes the local specialty bracelet from her hands before she can protest and buys it. And with the weather swiftly alternating between warm and cool with a bitter bite with the changing seasons, he also purchases her an autumn jacket behind her back as they walk through a clothing store next; draping the attire over her shoulders when they’re outside and the wind ruffles her bangs.

“Here.” Izumi’s fingers are chilled as he holds a cup out to Anzu, waiting for her to accept it. He drops the cold treat in her hands as she opens her palms.

“What’s this? Gelato?” Anzu wonders, her eyes staring at the vibrant frozen treat with pure, innocent happiness. “You’re not getting one?”

She peers up at him, making his heart skip a bit. “Not really my thing. But you like it, so you should eat the local delicacy while you’re here.”

“Thanks, Izumi-san.”

The smile she gives him before taking a small spoonful and slipping it into her mouth is more than enough repayment.

“By the way, did you get a hotel room? How long are you staying?” He crosses his arm, shopping bags slapping against his legs as they dangle from his forearm.

“Hm? Ah, no, my flight is late this evening. I’ll need to head to the airport soon.”

“Hah?!”

In his flustered state, Izumi ends up grabbing her wrist and dragging her back to his place. By the time they make it there on foot, the sun is already beginning to dip below the horizon, dyeing the sky in a blazing, fiery explosion. He bites his tongue, the physical pain distracting him from the crumbling feeling swirling in his stomach. They will have to part now.

“I can go on my own, you don’t need to go out of your way.” Anzu insists.

Izumi harrumphs softly as he comes out of his bedroom. He steps up to her and raises his arms, hooking a neck pillow around her. “Make sure to sleep on the plane, alright?”

He doesn’t want her to get sick… When was the last time she got a full night’s rest, anyways?

The taxi they called for arrives and he escorts her out. Closing the car door once she is inside, they wave to each other through the window until the car turns the corner and disappears.

She’s out of his sight again. His exhaled breath is taken away by the chilled evening breeze; taken to mingle with the surfacing stars speckling the dimming sky overhead. He will be home soon. For his birthday, this year, he hopes he can see her, relaxed and enjoying whatever it is that she and the others are undoubtedly planning.

A few hours later, late into the night, despite knowing there is no possibility that Anzu would have made it back to Japan already, his heart nearly leaps out of his chest when his phone rings.

“Kuma-kun.” Izumi greets in a clipped tone.

“Ahaha what’s with that scoff? And here I missed you so~ much that I had to call.” Ritsu teases. “Expecting someone else? A certain girlfriend of yours, perhaps?”

“Tch.” He clicks his tongue. “Whatever. So? What’s up?”

Ritsu chuckles breathily for another moment before replying to him, “Speaking of, did you like her surprise? You haven’t seen each other in a while, right?”

“Mm… I suppose we haven’t.” Izumi leans back lazily against his couch, his posture becoming unseemly as he turns his head to stare out at the pitch-black sky beyond the window pane.

“So dishonest~ And? Did you make up for lost time? Tell her she’s pretty?”

He snaps out of his staring daze. “That’s a specific thing to ask.”

“Heh~ Don’t tell me you didn’t?”

“Why would I?”

Especially since she already knows what he thinks of her appearance.

“Maybe it’s nice to hear sometimes? But really, what I was getting at is that she had to watch you model with other pretty girls, right? And you’re the most beautiful person in the world. I think anyone would start to feel a little anxious.”

“Don’t be stupid. Anzu doesn’t want those words, she’d rather have her work praised.”

Ritsu hums a contemplative note. “Maybe from anyone else… But I guess you know her best. Just don’t come to me when she starts staring at her own reflection on her phone as much as Nacchan does.”

“I won’t.”

Anzu isn’t doing that. She doesn’t need to.

“Fufu, you’re prickly, today. Miss her that much already? Hey, I’ll tell you another reason why you should fluster her and compliment her until her heart explodes.”

“Hah? Why would I want that?”

“Did you walk around outside on your date? You’re not much of a PDA kind of guy in the first place, but I bet you kept it pretty professional, to save both of your names.”

Izumi crosses one leg over the other, deciding not to answer his fellow Knights member and friend.

“I’m sure she was staring at the other couples walking down the street and wishing it was her in their position.”

“…What do you know?”

“I’m just telling you what I see as an outsider. Nothing else, Secchan.” Ritsu says calmly. His voice is as melodic as though he were singing a ballad. “And Tsukipi will do it.”

He raises an eyebrow. “What’d you bring Leo-kun into this conversation for?”

“You haven’t heard? Tsukipi and Anzu have been hanging out a lot, lately. He’s been home for a bit to clear up some work, you know? Fufu, well, I’m just saying, maybe she’ll find a charm in him.”

…She will find a charm in Leo…huh?

“This is a pointless conversation.”

Ritsu laughs at his dry tone jovially, saying that neither would do that to him and he was joking around. Their conversation drifts to Halloween and Knights’ chosen theme this year; Ritsu excitedly telling him of all of their mishaps and shenanigans during the planning process. Briefly, the self-proclaimed vampire asks what he wants for his birthday, but he just shrugs off the question, saying it didn’t need to be anything special. Though they catch up on each other’s lives for a while longer, Ritsu’s words from before continue to leave a bitter taste in Izumi’s mouth.

The few days in between pass by in a blur of lip biting, flip flopping thoughts. A portion of his life has slipped through his fingers like water, dripping away emptily and disappearing as the world continues forward without mercy. And as those days have been lost to history, it is finally the 31st of October – Halloween. Ensemble Square is louder than usual; zombies and ghouls, vampires and werewolves milling around and yelling out their souls as the stage rumbles with music and flashes with light.

The cheers of the fans die away as the door closes behind him with a solid thud. His body is hot and his lungs cry out for breath even as the chill of the airconditioned hallway slams into his face. That’s all of Knights’ allotted time on stage tonight. They are as free to go out and mingle with the crowd as they are allowed to go straight home. However, with their position in the lineup so close to the end, they have had ample time to greet their princesses at the start of the large-scale concert, Tsukasa calls it a day for them.

As they filter into their dressing room to change out of their costumes, Izumi realizes his absent-minded headcount is off. “Where’s Leo-kun?”

The other three turn to him before looking around themselves.

“Ah… Jeez.” Tsukasa huffs. “I guess it doesn’t matter, since we have already finished for the night. Let us get changed and look for him. Though I’m sure he stopped for inspiration.

“Eh~ I’m sure he’s fine even if we don’t, Suu-chan.” Ritsu drones, lazily unzipping his top. “Lighten up, Ou-sama~ You don’t need to keep tabs on us~”

Before Tsukasa can attack back with a prickly retort, Arashi interrupts the conversation, “In any case, I’m sure our producer will catch him even if he stays in his costume all night and composes. Speaking of~ Izumi-chan, did you get the chance to shower her with affection when you got back?”

Izumi rolls his eyes. “If you must know, no. We’ve both been so busy with this Halloween concert. But it’s fine, we message each other when we can. Is that enough to satisfy your curiosity? Nosy.”

Ritsu tilts his head, crimson gaze staring at him with a look Izumi can’t quite put a finger on. “Hm…”

“What is it, Kuma-kun? Got something to say?”

“Far be it for me to question my seniors, but…” Tsukasa says in place of Ritsu. “Isn’t that a little cold? Onee-sama worked really mm-!”

Arashi fills in the silence once again the moment Ritsu clamps a hand over Tsukasa’s mouth, “Say, Izumi-chan, no matter what Anzu-chan’s present is or how you feel about it, you know you should at least act happy, don’t you?”

As he sheds off his costume, Izumi raises an incredulous eyebrow. “The party? I know about it already, and of course I’m grateful. What kind of cruel person do you think I am? Anything she did would’ve-” His tongue suddenly twists in his mouth and his cheeks catch on fire as he realizes what he is about to blurt out.

“Fufu. Would’ve made you fall in love with her all over again?” Ritsu teases.

“You’re so annoying.” Izumi immediately responds. He hastily puts on his regular clothes and hangs the costume on the rack. “I’m leaving first.”

“Good luck finding Anzu-chan~” Arashi trills. “Walk her home safely~”

His friends’ lighthearted chitter chatter is cut away in the same way the fans’ cheers were earlier – a door closing behind him with a wispy breeze blowing against his back. Walking around the hallway with all of the dressing rooms proves fruitless. If she’s backstage, he will just have to wait elsewhere. It is only when he ventures deeper into ES on a whim, where no one currently needs to be and the lights are dimmed, does he hear a familiar voice.

Leo’s animated tone drifts to him from behind the door of a conference room.

Propriety wars with his heart thundering in his chest. His hand hovers over the knob, fingers twitching with uncertainty. Leo, so naturally, always – always – connects with people and endears them close to his warmth without judgement or question, unlike Izumi. Anzu has been exhausted, lately, and – though he hates to admit it – distant. He swallows the lump in his throat, feeling it slide down with jagged edges clawing at his soft insides. He’s apologetic for not being able to be at her side; the feeling stabs into his chest in between his ribcage as though he were a real knight fighting for his life on the battlefield.

His fingers wrap around the door handle.

No matter what he sees, it’s Leo and Anzu. He means something dear to them both, he knows that.

Right?

The door unlatches with a click that resounds louder than his heart in his ears. The room is lit with a soft cast of artificial white, electricity filtering in with a low intensity. The radiance of the city lights beyond the large window glitter brightly to replace the invisible stars that undoubtedly scatter upon the dark blue sky.

Twin hums of surprised confusion reach Izumi’s ears, brilliant gazes looking up to meet his own eyes.

“Oops. Sena caught us.”

Leo’s casual tone raises Izumi’s ire. “Caught, huh?”

He stays by the doorway, staring at the two at the end of the conference table, standing close together. Enough for their body warmth to be shared within this chilled room amidst the gaze of the night sky.

“Wahaha, what’s with that look?” Leo glides like he is dancing on stage, stepping behind Anzu and giving her a back hug.

“Leo-san…”

“What do you think we’re doing in here, Sena~?” Leo ignores the girl in favor of putting his chin on her shoulder and staring directly into Izumi’s eyes. “She is pretty cute though. I understand why you’d be worried.”

“Leo-kun.” Izumi crinkles his eyebrows, only prompting Leo to laugh even more jovially.

To his heart’s ease, his long-time friend does step away from Anzu, however. “Relax, Sena. I would never do that to either of you.” Leo smiles easily. “People who do that type of thing are the scum of the Earth. They don’t even deserve to eat the dirt on the bottom of your shoe. I love you two, you know? I love you to where the aliens live and back!”

Izumi relaxes fully. There really wasn’t anything to worry about, in the first place. He holds them both within his heart, too. But that still doesn’t mean Leo can put his hands on Anzu and get away with it.

“But, you know, Sena?” Leo continues on, without giving anyone else in the room time to speak. “We know you love us, too, but sometimes you should say it, no matter how many actions you take to show it. We’re human, just like you are. We’ll start to think about the worse possibilities, even if they never cross your own mind. We’ll become insecure and start to cry; maybe even turn into terrifying creatures like the ones that come out during Halloween.”

Izumi tilts his head. “Leo-kun, what nonsense are you talking about now?”

Leo sticks out his tongue as he reaches out and takes Anzu’s hand. Izumi’s eyes trail down to the connection. “You’re always such a tsundere. But that’s still a part both Anzu and I love about you. We love all of you, after all~ Anyways, we weren’t done, so, sorry, Sena, we’ll be leaving!”

Anzu lets out choked gasp as she is pulled strongly by the composer.

They try to slip pass him, but he turns to them and puts a hand on Leo’s warm shoulder. “Leo-kun!”

“Just think about it.” Leo chuckles lightly, his eyes crinkling in smile lines. “I’ll walk her home safely, don’t worry. See you later, Sena!”

“It’s okay, I’ll be fine. Bye, Izumi-san.” Anzu gives him a reassuring grin and waves her free hand as Leo drags her away. The pair disappear from his sight as they run out of the door and turn down the corridor.

Even as their footsteps fade from his ears, Izumi still doesn’t move. “Anzu…”

He absently wonders if she doesn’t miss him as much as he does her. Though these thoughts pierce into his mind and take root, he doesn’t say a word as they send text messages back and forth periodically the next couple of days. He knows how much is on her plate at the moment. Though Halloween has come to a close, a producer’s work doesn’t end when the idols are sent home to rest. She’s still running around planning his birthday party, as well, no matter how much he has scolded her to leave it be.

Rather, it only makes her sound so tragic and meek on the phone that he gives in to his crumbling heart’s demand and says for her to do whatever she likes.

They are only a few paces apart, but still, they had yet to have any time together. They’re never free from prying eyes and ears, nor is time on their side. There is never a perfect moment; not a single second that passes the world by that could be considered as just the right time. The only thing that makes any place or time or moment perfect is just having her next to him. Even if they say they have forever, that is only a truth within their current hearts. What happens tomorrow or the next, or the day after that, remains a mystery – a mystery that can be filled with just as many joys as there can be tragedies.

The perception of perfection is unrealistic.

They’re human too.

And there are things that can’t remain unsaid endlessly, until that singular moment that may never be discovered.

He feels the same as he always does while he walks out of the dorm’s entranceway. The burning, setting sun splashes across his cheeks as he pinches the hinge of his sunglasses and slides them upwards, into his bangs. His eyes struggle to adjust to the rapidly changing environment; the interior of the fancy car he gets into is dim and further protected by tinted windows.

“You didn’t have to do this, Kasa-kun.” He exhales, settling into the seat beside the red head and tucking his limbs inside before the chauffer closes the car door with a gentle slam.

“Think nothing of it, it was my pleasure.” Tsukasa replies with a cheeky smile. “Happy birthday, Izumi-san.”

He turns his head to look at the amethyst eyes that, too, stare back. Any snarky reply retreats to the back of his mind, allowing a soft smile to take over. “Thanks.” Izumi shifts his gaze down, looking at the lavishly decorated box in Tsukasa’s lap. “Is that for the party or a present?”

“A present, of course.” Tsukasa replies but doesn’t hand it over. When the younger boy notices Izumi’s confusion, Tsukasa chuckles softly. “I think the first gift you should receive is Onee-sama’s. It is only right, and I think that would make her happy. So, this will have to wait.”

Are they all so affected by Anzu’s feelings? Not a single text message, not even from the night owls, came to his phone until well after Anzu had wished him a happy birthday at midnight. In any case, he’s grateful to them, for taking care of her and fussing over her in little ways. With him overseas so much more than he is home, someone has to make sure she stays happy.

“Hmph, fine.” Izumi shrugs. “I didn’t really need such a big party though...” But he can’t deny that he’s a little excited to see everyone.

“Everyone wanted to celebrate. You’re our dear friend, after all. Onee-sama worked really hard with everyone to make sure it was to your standards.”

“I know.” He trails off contemplatively. As grateful as he is, the anxious root that has planted itself into the back of his mind still sings to him of the sleepless nights Anzu must have had and how exhausted she must be now. The last thing he wants is to see her complexion pale and fainting on the spot.

The scenery passes by in a blur through the window, the buildings breaking up the sky that gradually gradients from a fiery red to the deepest blue of the ocean. They pull up to a cozy restaurant, the two of them thanking Tsukasa’s driver before heading inside. With Tsukasa in the lead – knowing what they need to say to the host – they are then taken to the back.

Glass doors slide open with a hiss, allowing the night breeze to rush inside with the very last warmth of the sun upon its wings. The backdrop of the sky is dark, a sharp contrast to the sparkling fairy lights strung out around the speck of natural paradise within a modern city full of shining buildings. The trees and flowers are lush, despite the chill, November air. Garden lights line the stone pavement like they are lighting the way to heaven.

The main patio area is full of his friends, enjoying food and drink as they mingle under the artificial starlight. Although they are preoccupied with their own conversations, they all turn his way when he enters. A chorus of birthday wishes are thrown his way as he steps outside, the sound of his shoes hitting the ground drowned out by the soft music playing through the speaks and the happy shouts of his friends.

“There you guys are, Izumi-chan, Tsukasa-chan.” Arashi walks up to them. “You sure kept us waiting.”

“Excuse me? We got here at the time you told me to?” Izumi replies incredulously.

Arashi giggles mischievously, however. “Fashionably late for once.”

“Though I would still appreciate your early appearances during our scheduled meetings.” Tsukasa jokes along. “Just this once, you’re off the hook.”

Izumi can’t help but give them a dry look.

“But look, Izumi-chan, isn’t it pretty?” Arashi turns slightly and spreads out her arm into the air, pointing towards the skyline. “Anzu went around to so many places to pick out just the right place. It’s like the whole city is celebrating your birthday, with all the Halloween decorations still up.”

The city lights shine brighter than the stars, scaring away the ephemeral sparkles in the sky and replacing them for something more human. A sea of celebrations flowing with a tidal wave fan out before his eyes as he stares at the backdrop of the already fantastical garden area. Suddenly, he feels like his dreams, where the impossible can come alive, can no longer compare to what he is witnessing in reality.

Arashi steps closer to him, laying her hands on his shoulders as she leans forward. “Happy birthday, Izumi-chan.” She presses her cheek to his own in what he thinks is a greeting she picked up overseas. The whisper she breathes into his ear, however, proves otherwise. “Northern path, then go east at the fork.”

Izumi is confused with the directions for only a second. His eyes roam over her shoulder, spotting the stone paved paths that lead out of the patio area.

Anzu must be there.

He nods to her and Tsukasa before trotting off. Izumi’s quick steps get louder as the music fades into the background the farther he gets. The garden lights in the ground grant him sight as trees and tall decorations begin to populate around him closely. Having gone straight, he finds the fork in the road, paths leading into different patches of flora. Turning right, he finds himself near a water display, the manmade pond sprouting up a tiny fountain lit up by changing lights.

“Anzu.” Izumi breathes out just loud enough as he finally spots her familiar figure standing underneath the fancily made light pole.

Anzu yelps briefly, turning towards him in a tiny jump. “Izumi-san! Jeez, you scared me.”

“You should be paying more attention to your surroundings too, though.” He lightly scolds as he walks to her. The light makes her hair shine brightly, illuminating the beauty she already possesses.

“Ah.” Anzu suddenly gasps. “Wait, you’re here.”

He rolls his eyes in jest. “Mhm. Got anything to say to me?”

She looks down to her hands, which are holding a small, cubical present. She shifts nervously on her feet before finding her courage and holding the box out to him. “Happy birthday, Izumi-san.”

A smile spreads on his lips before he can stop it from forming so widely. Reaching both hands out, he rests one on her soft hair as the other grabs the box. “You really didn’t need to, you know? Planning this all for me was already enough. But… thank you, Anzu. Really.” He swallows the prickles that find their way up his throat. “Can I open it?”

“Of course, but… there’s a second part to it. I’m not really sure to call it a gift or…” She trails off, shifting her gaze away from him for just a moment before looking at him directly. Her cheeks flush a pretty pink. “O-Or apologize as a producer for giving you more work on your birthday.”

“Work? Well, it’s not like I mind, but what is it abo…out.” Izumi’s words nearly fail him as he pops open the hard container. Underneath the glow of the garden lights, the shining metal that stares back at him nearly blinds his eyes. He’s feels his gaze waver the longer his attention is focused on it, lighted headed with the gnawing dread he feels filling his gut.

“Leo-san needed to help me a lot, so I guess you should consider this a gift from the both of us. And I can’t afford that at full price, no matter how much I save, so I… kind of used your new model discount, or whatever, to buy it. Well, no, that doesn’t really exist, but I got them to agree on something. I’m sorry if that’s a bit cheap of me.” Anzu hurriedly explains, tripping over her own tongue as she goes on. “Oh, um… You’re a model for this brand now. At least for a little while. I don’t know if you’ve heard of them, but they’re a luxury brand for watches, like that one, and other jewelry. Leo-san asked some of his connections and then sweetened the deal by composing the background music for the commercial you’ll shoot.”

Anzu waits for him to reply, but he doesn’t think his voice will come out, no matter how much he wills it to. Slowly, he closes the case with a snap.

Taking that as a negative reaction, however, Anzu stutters out her apologies, “I-I’m sorry. I guess this is a bad present. After all, I’m just making you work more. Though… I can’t really take it back… So, please, model for them. I’ll make it up to you!”

Izumi knows this brand. She didn’t need to explain something that is advertised all over Florence. He swallows hard, both gratefulness and unease filling his thoughts and tightening his throat. “Stupid…”

“I’m s-!?”

He pulls her to him, pressing her so tightly to his chest that she can’t see his face that he tucks into the crook of her neck. “You worked hard, Anzu.” His voice nearly cracks, he feels it forming threateningly and ready to pounce the moment he lets his guard down. “You probably had to negotiate a lot…”

Just how exhausted had she become without him knowing a thing? All for him?

“Mm… It was kind of scary… but it’s alright.”

Izumi huffs a laugh at her honesty. “Thank you. Thank you, Anzu. But don’t be so reckless, next time? The best present I could ever get is for you to be healthy.”

“Oh.”

He can’t help but chuckle breathily again. “Idiot…” Silence falls between them for a time, Anzu bringing her hands to fist at the sides of his jacket. He only now realizes that the jacket she wears is the one he recently bought her. “Don’t you have anything else you want to say to me?”

“Huh?” Anzu attempts to move her head to look at him, but he firmly keeps a hand behind her head. “Um… I’m sorry for not being able to go see you since you got back?”

He basks in the warmth of her embrace, letting her words fall away to the night sky before whispering soft enough to rival the fluttering breeze that sweeps over them in its own form of embrace. “The only opinion you need is mine. Let me worry about what the world thinks about appearances. You just have to be concerned about me and live in peace.”

“…What?”

“You’re the one I chose. You’re the only one I will continue to choose, no matter how many other models cross my path. Don’t compare yourself to them. I… like you like this.”

Anzu’s breath catches. “D-Did you know…?”

Yeah. He knew. He realized, though only after the incident that incited it. Anzu doesn’t need to feel insecure about her physical appearance. Not with him. Never with him.

The others cared about the two of them to let it go so easily, as well.

“I’m beautiful, so I only choose someone that can match me.” Izumi turns his head slightly, pressing his lips to the side of Anzu’s neck in a sensual kiss. Beneath his lips, he physically feels Anzu hold in her gasp of surprise at the action, making him smirk.

“W-Well, you don’t need to be jealous of anyone, either. I’m not going anywhere…”

Finally, Izumi lightens his grip enough to search for her earnest gaze. “Good. So, you have to promise me that you’ll take better care of yourself.”

“Okay. I promise.” Anzu smiles up at him.

He chokes on his heart as it shoots upwards. “Mm. And take my fashion advice.”

“…Model.” She complains under her breath.

His light laughter intermingles with the glow of the fairy lights strung about. “Good girl. Hm…” Izumi brings his hand back up to Anzu’s head, carding his fingers through her hair and pushing her forward slightly. “I love you.” He murmurs against her forehead, pressing a kiss to her skin.

“I love you, too.”