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Some birthday this was. 

A crappy day of rain and a shitty second job. What else could go wrong?

Though Ann’s budding modeling career seemed smooth so far, her other part-time job as a waitress wasn’t. Rude, ungrateful, demanding people. Being unappreciated... She didn’t know how much more she could handle, but this would have to do until she reached the major break of her career, or until she found another part-time job. Plus, since modeling wasn’t exactly stable for her yet, she needed the extra work to compensate for when the paycheck didn’t fill the plate.

But, seriously though. Getting all riled up over forgetting ketchup? There’s more to life than just some damn tomato sauce. And her manager even had the nerve to say, “Well, the customer had every right to be mad, so take this as an important lesson to stay in tune to your duties next time,” after the customer chewed her out and threw soda all over her. 

Whatever. The manager was just a cheap old man anyways.

But, that wasn’t the shittiest part of the day.

When she got back to her apartment, she caught her boyfriend of three years with another woman in their bed—their bed. 

And, to add icing on the cake, he even forgot it was her birthday today.

Long story short, they were through. Ann packed some necessary belongings and stormed out of the place, heading to Makoto’s and Haru’s apartment, which was a few blocks from the complex she was in.

Ann sniffed, taking in another spoonful of some brownie fudge ice cream as she wept between the two ladies on the sofa in the living room. Nothing but indulging her sorrows in a pint carton of ice cream and a bottle of red wine to ease the pain of a shitty break-up, right?

Cheers—for the happiest birthday tonight.

“You deserve so much better, Ann,” Makoto placed a hand on her back, rubbing it gently. “Forget him. Scum like him aren’t even worth the tears.”

“I know, Makoto...” The heart-broken birthday girl sniffed again, wiping her eyes, “But it still hurts. How could I’ve been so stupid to fall for such a guy?”

“Ann,” Haru pitched in, her hand caressing Ann’s shoulder, “you’re not stupid. He’s the stupid one for treating you like this.”

“Ugh!” Ann groaned in anguish, “I hate this! I just hate feeling sorry for myself. But I can’t help it!” She chugged her wine, slamming the glass down on the coffee table. “I spent three years with this jerk and gave all I could to love and support him. What did I do wrong?” 

“You did nothing wrong,” Makoto interjected, snatching the bottle of wine before Ann was about to fill her glass for the fourth time. “Kenta is a poor excuse of a man! Don’t waste your time on him. He’s immature, foolish, and selfish. You don’t need such a petty boy in your life.”

Haru gave a firm nod. “I agree. Keep working hard for your goals. Show him you don’t need him.”

“Exactly. Show him he’s doing you a huge favor by ridding himself out of your life.”

“You’re a wonderful lady, Ann! And a wonderful lady as yourself deserves a real man. Good riddance to him!”

“Oh, you guys...!” Ann sobbed, yanking her friends in her arms, “You guys are the best! I’m so sorry you have to listen to all of this!” She let out a small hiccup, cheeks and nose all flushed. 

“Don’t apologize, Ann,” said Haru with a comforting smile. “We’re here for you. That’s what friends are for, right?”

“And if you need somewhere to stay, you’re free to stay here as long as you need,” Makoto added.

“Oh, I wouldn’t want to—”

“Nonsense, Ann,” Makoto cut her off. “You’re never a bother to us.”

“We have a guest bedroom you could use while you’re here too. So it’s perfect!” Haru clapped her hands in excitement.

Ann sniffed with a grateful smile. “Thanks again, you guys. It won’t be for long though. It’ll just be until I can find my own place to stay.”

Makoto gave another supporting pat to Ann’s back. “No worries. Take all the time you need. And if you need help, let us know. We’re here for you.”

The ladies continued talking through the night until they all became heavy-eyed. When Ann was just about to sleep in the guest room Haru set up for her earlier, her phone on the nightstand vibrated. Her eyes narrowed sharply, thinking it was probably Kenta sending her some apology message or a message hoping she found someplace safe to stay. 

That fucker had some nerve. 

She snatched the phone with glowering eyes, but was then caught off guard when she saw the name of a different messenger on the screen.

 

Ren: Happy Birthday, Ann! (´ ω ) っ由

 

Her eyes softened, and a small smile crept its way on her face. He remembered; he always did, even the littlest things like knowing that her favorite color was pink and how she loved roses. Since high school, she could go to him for just about anything. His ears were always open for her and he always had a way of perking her back up whenever she was down. 

Her heart felt a hundred pounds lighter than it did hours ago.

 

Ann: Thanks, Ren ( ^▽^ )

 

Three dots popped up by his name, indicating he was typing something out.

 

Ren: Hope it was a good one :) 

 

And then her heart sank again, remembering everything that transpired earlier. Normally, she’d vent about it to him just like she would with any other bad day. And it wasn’t like he hadn’t seen her heart broken before. But, for some reason, especially with all the issues she had with her ex when they were still together, she wondered if she was starting to sound like a broken record with the constant drama, and worried that it’d eventually bother him. Sure, she could go to him for anything, and he never seemed to judge her, but there was only so much patience a person could have.

So, she decided to keep it quiet for now. Besides, the last thing she needed was more pity on the remaining hours of her birthday.

It was, she typed. I had a wonderful day.

 

Ren: That’s good to know :D

Ren: Hey. You’re coming down tomorrow, right?

 

Oh, that’s right. Everyone was meeting up at Leblanc tomorrow for that little gathering.

 

Ann: Yeah. I’m free tomorrow. So I’ll come.

 

Ren: Good ( ´ ` )b

Ren: Anyways, just wanted to wish you a happy birthday before today ends.

Ren: See you tomorrow, Ann.

Ren: Goodnight ( ´-ω- `。 ).zZ

 

Ann smiled, her eyes gleaming with more life than minutes ago when she was anguishing over her ex with the girls. Why was Ren so gosh darn sweet all the time?

 

Ann: Goodnight, Ren (✿◡◡ฺ)zzz

 


 

Still owned by Sakura Sojiro, Café Leblanc was a small coffee shop in Yongen-Jaya, a small district in Tokyo. Six years ago, this was a secret hideout place for the Phantom Thieves, the group of teenagers who rebelled against those with distorted hearts. They disbanded once Ren returned home for some time after defeating a god whom almost brought ruin to the entire world. But, despite the disbandment and going separate ways, friends in the group still managed to remain in contact one way or another.

This evening, Ren had ended his shift earlier than usual, as Sojiro closed shop early for the gangs’ little reunion, which gave him enough time to prepare the food. Futaba helped by buying supplies and groceries for the party, while Morgana tagged along with her, serving as her shopping list to ensure she wouldn’t forget anything.

Ann, Haru, and Makoto were the first ones to arrive at the café, followed by Ryuji and Yusuke. By the time they had all arrived, the curry and food in the back were ready for them to dig in and graze on.

They all sat in a booth, conversing over various topics regarding new careers, accomplishments, and goals. Ren was contentedly working as a barista in Leblanc, who also occasionally aided Sojiro with other various recipes in the kitchen when needed (mainly with his signature curry dish). Ryuji was now a running coach for a track team at some high school in Yokohama. Yusuke was still working on his art career in Tokyo. Makoto had been working in the Tokyo Police Department, still working her way in becoming a Police Commissioner. Futaba just got a job as a computer engineer at an information technology company. And Haru, who just got her degree in business, was now in the process of opening up her own café-restaurant in Shibuya.

Ann was happy for her friends, of course. But, she couldn’t help being distracted over everything that had happened last night, replaying the moment she walked in through that door, seeing some random naked woman straddling her man, both looking like they were having the time of their lives. How she managed to hold herself back from throwing the nearby vase at his face, she didn’t know. All she knew was that she was lied to, hurt, and betrayed. Why? How could he play her like that?

...What did the other woman have that she lacked?

“Oh, yeah! Happy Birthday, Ann!” said Ryuji with a toothy grin, giving her a huge pat on the back that snapped her back to reality. “Yesterday was your birthday, right?”

“Oooh! What? Really?” Futaba jumped in. “Happy Birthday!”

“It was your birthday?” Yusuke said, sipping his iced coffee. “Well, my apologies for not wishing you one yet. Allow me to wish you a belated happy birthday, Ann.”

“Happy Birthday, Lady Ann!!” Morgana cheered, leaping onto the table from Futaba’s lap.

Ann blinked a few times as all eyes went on her.

“Oh,” Ann said. “Thanks, guys.” She smiled at each of them, gratefully taking the last bite of her curry. 

“Hey! Let’s get a cake to celebrate!”  Futaba suggested.

“I agree,” Haru said across from Ann. “Let’s all get something nice for Ann as our late birthday gift.”

“Sounds good to me.” Ryuji nodded.

“I-It’s alright, guys!” Ann jumped in, shaking her hands. “There’s no need to get me anything. Really! It’s fine!”

“Nonsense,” Makoto said next to her, placing a hand on her shoulder, “Futaba and Haru are right. We should at least treat you to something. It’s what friends do for their friend’s special day.”

“But still—” Ann tried to protest until Ren stepped in.

“No worries, guys...” He set down a good sized red box on their table. “We already have one here.”

Ann’s eyes widened at Ren. “Ren... when did you—”

Ryuji stood up from his seat, throwing an arm around Ren. “See? That’s my man! Always thinkin’ ahead of the game!”

“Indeed.” Yusuke chimed in, a very pleased smile on the blue-haired artist’s face. “As expected of our old leader.”

Ren rubbed the back of his neck, turning to Ann with a sheepish smile as she opened the box and took the cake out. “Happy Birthday, Ann. They didn’t have anymore of your favorite ice cream cake when I ran out to the bakery a while ago, but you said you loved strawberry shortcake once—so I got this one instead.”

Ann looked at the cake for a while, a smile slowly creeping on her face. “Oh, it’s perfect, Ren. Thank you.” 

They shared a look for some short time before Futaba coughed, interrupting their little heartfelt moment.

“Hey! Quit hitting on her, Ren! She’s taken, remember?”

Glass shattered in Ann’s ears, whatever uplifting her mood now replaced with a hammer smashing it all over the ground.

Ren blinked, bobbing his head to the side. “Huh? I’m not hitting on her. I was simply—”

“Speaking of boyfriend—” Yusuke mused, turning to Ann for a question until Makoto suddenly jumped up from her seat and clapped her hands, attempting to divert the topic away for Ann’s sake. 

“We need candles!” exclaimed Makoto, turning to Ren. “Ren, do we have candles and a match?”

The bespectacled barista looked at the bobbed-hair brunette with a perplexed expression, confused as to why she suddenly got all edgy. He gave her a short nod, pulling out two small boxes from the pockets of his green apron. “Right here—along with the matches.”

“Good.” Makoto went over and took the small boxes. Opening the box of birthday candles, she propped the little spiral pillars on the cake, lighting all twenty-three of them up with the match she set alight.

“There,” she said, putting out the flame with a few flicks of her wrist. “Everyone ready?” 

From that point, everyone sang “Happy Birthday” to Ann, bringing her mood up once more as she watched her friends rejoice for her in unison. Her break-up with Kenta may have stung that night, but at least she had wonderful friends who she enjoyed spending time with—friends who cared about her and always had her back. 

She blew out the candles, wishing for a long and happy life, for her modeling career to pick up soon so she didn’t need that crappy part-time job, and for a better relationship the next time around when she was ready to date again. 

“Thank you, everyone.” Ann beamed at all of them before grabbing the knife on the side to begin cutting slices. One slice for Makoto. Another slice for Haru. The next for Futaba...

Who needed Kenta—that selfish cheating bastard who threw three years of what they had together away? 

...Ann cut the next slice for Ryuji. Then Yusuke. Then Ren...

To hell with him. Let him screw that bimbo bitch in her old bedroom for all she cared—he was her problem now. Good luck sleeping with someone who can’t hold it in for more than a minute in bed, nor tongue worth a damn. 

And then, right when she thought she was done with the bastard...

“So, Ann,” said Ryuji, mouth full of cake. “Where’s Kenta?”

Ann cut that last slice for herself a bit maliciously, a smoldering glare in her eyes. For Pete’s sake, will people just stop asking about him already?

Panicking again and not knowing what else to do, Makoto reached over and scooped Ryuji’s cake with her fork, snatching the strawberry on top. 

“Hey! What’s up with you, Makoto!? If you want another slice, just cut up another!” The blond griped.

“Y-You...” she paused, thinking of an excuse, “...didn’t look like you were going to eat the strawberry, s-so I didn’t want it to go to waste!!” she finally replied, pointing her fork defiantly at him. The obvious stumbling made Haru palm her head in shame.

“Eh? What’s wrong with you?” Ryuji immediately caught on, squinting his eyes at her. “You’re actin’ kinda strange...”

“N-Nothing! I just hate seeing food go to waste!” 

“Dude! Who said I was gonna waste it? I wasn’t gonna waste it!” 

As the two went back and forth and became the source of everyone else’s entertainment, Ren turned to Ann.

“Did you get into a fight with him?” he asked.

“Huh?” Ann looked at him with wide eyes.

“Kenta. Did you guys fight again? It seems like Makoto is trying to veer away any topic related to him.”

Ann didn’t respond for a moment, turning back to her untouched cake. 

“Something like that...” she muttered with downcast eyes, grabbing her fork and sourly digging into the sweet cake.

“Sounds bad. Are you alright?”

Ann let out a long sigh. Ren was always quick to catch on to these things. She didn’t want to mention the whole thing here, but she couldn’t beat around the bush forever. And besides, acting as if she was still in a relationship with that asshole left a rather bitter taste in her mouth.

“We broke up,” she finally said, biting into the piece.

The whole room fell silent.

Ryuji gawked with wide, incredulous eyes. “Wait... What!? For real!? When!?”

“No way...” said Futaba, also in disbelief. “What happened?” 

“I’m sorry to hear that...” Yusuke looked at Ann with sympathetic eyes. “My sincerest apologies.”

“Oh, no!” Morgana hopped onto her lap, looking up at her with greatest concern. “Are you okay, Lady Ann?”

Ann nodded and then told them what happened, letting out a few tears along the way.

“That son of a bitch did what!?” Ryuji slammed a fist on the table. “What the hell!?”

“Exactly! How could he?” Futaba scowled.

“I knew that he was a conceited prune!” hissed Morgana, the fur on his back bristling. “How dare he betray our Lady Ann like that! Let me at ‘em! I’ll make him pay for breaking her heart!”

“Indeed,” Yusuke added, disdain in his voice. “To think he even pulled such a detestable act on your birthday too. What a truly despicable man.”

“He didn’t even remember her birthday,” Haru added, a disgusted look on her face.

“You deserve better, Lady Ann!” Morgana said. “Don’t waste your breath on this ugly prune!”

“Morgana is right, Ann. You deserve so much better than him,” Makoto chimed in, gently rubbing her shoulder.

“Thanks, guys...” Ann smiled, wiping a tear from her eye. “I think I’m feeling a little better now.”

Haru mused, poking her lips. “That’s really no way for someone to spend their birthday...” she stopped for a moment, when a thought suddenly came to mind. “Hey! I have an idea! Let’s take Ann out somewhere!”

“That sounds like a good plan!” Futaba favored. “But... where?”

Haru smiled. “Wherever Ann wants to go.”

“Oh, it’s fine you guys,” Ann declined, shaking her hands insistently. “There’s no need to take me out anywhere. Really!”

Haru shook her head. “No, Ann. You need to do something enjoyable to keep yourself distracted from that jerk,” she advised. “So, come on, Ann... Let’s go out somewhere. Let us treat you somewhere nice.”

“Well, there’s always the club,” Ryuji said, throwing out some suggestions. 

Makoto smacked his arm, earning a yelp from him. “No, Ryuji! We’re not condoning such behaviors!”

“No! I didn’t mean like going around and sleeping with guys or anything,” Ryuji clarified, explaining further, “Just go out and have some fun, I mean.” He turned to Ann. “You like dancing sometimes, am I right?”

Makoto facepalmed, shaking her head in disapproval. “But, there’s so many creeps there...”

“What are you worryin’ about?” He crossed his arms. “As long as we stick together, it’ll be fine. Plus, there’s me, Ren, and Yusuke. We got your backs!”

Futaba snorted. “As if anybody would find you three intimidating...”

Both Ryuji and Yusuke shot a glare at her. “Hey! I heard that!” the blond fired.

“What about me?” Morgana cut in, looking mildly offended. “I can protect them too!”

“Morgana, you’re a cat,” said Ryuji, shaking his head. “And besides, they don’t let animals in those kinds of places.”

“I’m NOT a cat!!!” protested Morgana.

“To everyone else besides us, you are,” Ryuji retorted.

Haru came in, redirecting the conversation. “I still don’t think it’s a good idea... Couples dance there too. What if it triggers a reminder of him?”

“Guys...” Ann said, trying to calm them down. Somehow, it felt like they forgot she was right there in front of them. “I’ll be fine. There’s no need—”

But her friends were so caught up in their debate that they didn’t hear her. Ann sighed, laying her forehead in her palm. 

“Guess you better choose a place...”

Ann looked up at Ren again.

“Yeah, I guess so...” she replied. “If it’ll keep the peace here.”

“They’re right, you know.” He leaned on the booth seating she was on. “You do need to de-stress. Why not let us help you out?”

“Yeah...” Ann said, looking down. “I just feel bad...”

“Don’t. We’ll make it more enjoyable—more than whatever that Kenta ever did.” He gave her a confident smile. “I’ll make sure of it.”

“Ren...”

“So, what do ya say, Ann?” Ryuji came in, interrupting their conversation. “Anywhere you’d like to go?”

“And we’re not taking no as an answer,” Haru said, with the whole gang nodding in unison beside her.

“Well....” Ann thought for a moment. As much as she enjoyed dancing, she really wasn’t in the mood for a club. Maybe sightseeing? Food? That’ll be some good distractions.

And then, an idea came to mind.

“Let’s see... I haven’t been to the Tokyo Tower yet. I’ve always wanted to see it as a kid, but since my parents were always traveling around, I never had a chance to go there with anyone yet.”

“Alright!” Ryuji pumped a fist with another toothy grin. “Sounds good! Tokyo Tower it is then!”

 


 

One week later...

 

It was a dazzling Friday, and the view from the top of Tokyo Tower was spectacular; she could even see Mt. Fuji miles away. The tower wasn’t as high as Skytree, nor did it have as many shopping places to explore, but it was still just as enjoyable with its fun activities and attractions in the Foot Town floors. Ann was particularly fascinated with its Trick Art Gallery on the fourth floor, where it boggled her mind with a variety of optical illusions.

So far, things were looking up. Ann explored, learned new things, laughed, and enjoyed herself for the first time in a few weeks. She needed this, something to get her mind off all the stresses and misfortunes in her life: her shitty second job, her cut in shoots this month, her ex...

Somewhere in the midst of it all, Ann split up from the group to grab a few souvenirs and sweets for herself and the ladies from the gift shop, when someone familiar caught her eye.

Shit!!!!

There he was, her no-good-cheating-ex—alongside with that same woman she caught him with that night in the apartment, attention-getting in a red skimpy dress and red stiletto heels, clinging onto his arm like a spoiled little princess. 

Quick, Ann! Hide!!!!

She hid behind a shelf of Tokyo Tower candies and snowball glasses, using whatever remaining stealth she had left from her Phantom Thief days to keep out of his sight. Unfortunately, much to her dismay, they were heading right at the aisle she was in, and she had no time to escape.

“Ann?”

It was him, Kenta. The one she once gave all her love to, only to have her heart stomped on when he fooled around with little Miss Bimbo behind her back.

“Ooh, umm... Hi,” Miss Bimbo said, lack of interest in her tone, yet letting go of his arm with what seemed like a pang of guilt. 

Ann’s eye twitched. This bitch had some nerve. However, as much as Ann wanted to chew the ho-bag out, she kept herself composed, reminding herself that Kenta was the one responsible for hurting her—not whoever this wretched woman was. “Hi,” Ann replied and then swiveled around. “Bye.”

“Ann, wait—” He grabbed her hand, stopping her in her tracks. “Let’s talk.”

“There’s nothing to talk about, Kenta.” Ann tried breaking out of his hold, but he held his grip firmer. “If it’s about my things, I’ll come get them eventually. But, that’s it. I don’t want anything else to do with you.”

“Look. I’m sorry for hurting you like that—that was wrong of me. But, things weren’t really working out.”

Her teeth clenched. “If you were that unhappy, then you should’ve broken if off rather than fool around with someone else behind my back.”

“I didn’t know how to, Ann. I knew it’d devastate you because we were together for so long.”

Ann finally snatched her hand back from him, unable to contain herself any longer. “And letting me know like that was any better!?” she snapped, teary eyes burning with rage. “You just waited it out just because you felt sorry for me? You think that makes me feel any better?”

The area around them went quiet, nearby tourists and visitors blankly staring in confusion and whispering among themselves.

Kenta sighed, sounding more annoyed than guilt-ridden.

“Either way, it wasn’t going to be easy—especially knowing how riled up you get like this.”

Ann was about to retort something back when someone came up behind her.

“Ann?” 

She looked back to this person.

“Ren?” She looked at him with wide eyes.

“Is everything alright?” he asked, looking at her in concern.

Tears were ready to spill out, but she held back, swallowing that large lump coiling in her throat.  

“It’s okay... I was just about to leave,” she said quietly, head down at her feet.

“What’s he doing here?” Kenta cut in, calm voice turning into disdain. “Wow. Seriously? Back to dating that quickly?”

As Ann was about to say something, Ren immediately cut in.

“So, what if she is?” Ren took a step forward, pocketing his hands. “That’s none of your concern now, is it?”

“I wasn’t asking you.”

“I know. I just find it interesting that you’re worked up over something like that, considering that you’re the one who strayed off with someone else.”

“Oh? So, now what?” He walked up to Ren, eyeing him down. “She’s yours now?”

“Kenta! Stop that!” scolded Ann, who was about to walk in between them. “We’re not—”

The corner of Ren’s mouth curled. “Maybe,” he said, halting Ann in her tracks. His eyes sharpened, taking up this scornful man’s challenge. “Why? Jealous?”

Kenta scoffed. “Why would I be?”

“You’re sure acting like it for someone who claims otherwise,” Ren pointed out.

“She ain’t mine anymore.”

“You never treated her like she was.”

“Hmph. Don’t act all high and mighty just because you finally won the girl. You’re nothing but a rebound. You’ll always be that guy she friendzones in the end.”

“Oh? Well then... don’t complain you lost the girl when you went with someone else. You made that decision— You’ve got no one to blame but yourself.”

Kenta backed off, saying nothing at first. He looked at Ann, then Ren, then Ann again.

“Pft. Whatever,” Kenta said, turning around and grabbing Miss Bimbo’s hand, who looked more confused than ever. “Should’ve figured you’d go crying to him.”

With that said, he and the lady walked off.

“Are you alright?” Ren asked, turning back to Ann.

Ann nodded. “Yeah. Um... thanks for that, Ren,” she said, still a bit taken aback over the whole thing. She definitely wasn’t expecting Ren to resort to... that—fooling Kenta into believing there was something between them. “You... really saved me there.”  

Then again, Kenta had always been quite jealous of Ren, always accusing him of some ridiculous motive to get under her pants when he was just simply being a friend. Perhaps Ren was just using that to his advantage. 

He smiled. “No problem. Come on. Everyone’s outside waiting... and hungry. Or did you want to stay and look around a bit longer?”

“No.” Ann smiled back, lifting her shopping basket. “Just let me buy these souvenirs first and then we’ll go out somewhere.”

“Sounds good,” he said, following her toward the five to seven people lined up at the checkout counter. “Hopefully, this won’t take too long. Ryuji seemed like he was really starving back there.”

The blonde chuckled. “Oh, he can wait. Five to ten minutes won’t kill him.” 

 

 

Chapter Text

Ann sucked down the frozen strawberry cocktail through her straw, lazily slumping over the counter top with heavy lidded eyes. While her friends had happily chattered on and on about various exciting topics at the bar section of the restaurant, she was stuck anguishing over the man she thought she could trust with her life. She felt so pathetic, internally sulking when she should’ve been enjoying time with her good friends who were trying to cheer her up. But, she couldn’t help it. Heartbreaks were never easy no matter how many she had in the past.

To think that she sacrificed so much time for that asshole. To think that he loved and valued her as a person. Such a fool she was. What was she thinking?

Time passed, and everyone except two parted ways. 

“Hey,” said Ren, who had been sitting beside Ann for a while now since they both started drinking. He shifted a bit on the stool to face her, genuine concern in his eyes as he saw her slumped over the counter again. “You gonna be alright?”

The blonde sat up a bit. “I’m alright. Don’t worry,” she replied with a small smile, swirling her second frozen cocktail. “It still stings a bit, you know? He used to be so sweet, and then he changed like this.” She stopped the swirling, her disheartened eyes baring themselves. “Sometimes I wonder if I did something that made him have the affair.”

“Hey,” he said again, placing a hand over her shoulder. “You did nothing wrong. He’s an asshole, Ann. You deserve better.”

“Yeah...” Ann leaned over the table, hand supporting her cheek as she stared ruefully at her drink. “I’m sorry... I shouldn’t be such a downer like this after all you guys have done for me today.”

“Don’t feel bad. No one’s judging you,” he reassured, giving her a few gentle pats. “We all get it. You’re going through a rough time right now. That’s why we all came today. If anything, we’re all here for you, Ann. That’s what friends are for, right?”

She smiled at him, her spirits lifting a bit, “You’re right, Ren. Thank you... I’m glad to have such amazing friends.”

“And, for all it’s worth,” he added, sipping his beer, “you’re a thousand times better looking than her. Your ex is a dumbass for thinking otherwise.”

Ann snorted, slightly rolling her eyes. “Oh, stop. You’re just saying that ‘cause you’re my friend.” She gave his shoulder a light, playful nudge. “But, thank you for trying to cheer me up. It worked a little bit.”

Ren quirked a brow, giving her a wry look. “I’m not saying that ‘as a friend’. I’m saying that as a guy.”

“Come on, Ren. There must be something crummy about me that turns guys away. Maybe I’m too overbearing, or maybe I’m just—Ow!!!” She winced, rubbing the area of her forehead Ren flicked his finger against before shooting a glare at him. “Hey!!! What was that for!?” 

“Oh, shut up,” he told her flat, waving his beer at her. “You’re perfect the way you are. Stop being so silly.”

“You’re just saying that to butter me up.”

“No. I’m saying that because it’s true,” the miffed shaggy raven-haired man rectified, looking back at her straight in the eye. “You’re perfect, Ann. You’re perfect the way you are. I mean it.”

A little smile crept on her lips, her cheeks tinging a shade of red at those words. He always had a way to lighten her up when things just sucked. That’s why she knew she could always rely on him in a pinch, that she could always go to him whenever she needed to vent or a shoulder to cry on.

That’s why she loved him the most...

Wait... Love? No, no! Not in that way. He’s just a friend. She loved him like she loved Shiho. Friendly love—that’s what it was. That’s how it’s always been. She never saw him as anything more than that. She never felt anything for him more than that. Nothing more. Nothing more...

Well... okay. She lied. There was a time when she felt something for him. But that was, what, six years ago? It was just a silly teenage crush, a small fleeting feeling that left after he returned home. A small fleeting feeling that dwindled because “long distance relationships rarely worked out”—even though they managed to keep in close touch during those years he was back at home—even though she’d still think of him every once in a while, pondering the many possibilities if they were together.

And besides, there was always another lady in his life, and there was always another man in hers. Even when he had returned to Tokyo three years ago, it was clear they couldn’t be anything more than friends. It was as if fate seemed to be against it.

Not that it mattered anyways. It was all a fleeting feeling from high school anyways. 

Ren downed the remains of his bottle, a glisten of perspiration trailing down his smooth neck as his head tilted upward. Ann slightly bit her lower lip, simply admiring the way the dim lights above them illuminated the outline of his profile and neck. All of a sudden, she felt very warm and fuzzy inside.

God. He is so fine. 

Ann blinked, her back straightening a bit before she shook her head, a bit overdramatic than necessary. What in the world was she thinking—thinking about one of her best friends like this?

Alright. Fine. So maybe there’s still a bit of an attraction there. No crime in being attracted to a friend, right? Ren wasn’t a bad looking guy. Tall and a bit on the lankier end, Ann always found herself quite drawn to the shaggy raven-haired guy. The fact that he wasn’t wearing his glasses tonight made him stand out more, the striking features of his face more defined: more pronounced with that sharp jawline and nose, smooth and immaculate with that ivory complexion, alluring with those intense silver eyes, charming with that stellar smile...

She shook her head again, palming her forehead. Maybe she should lay off the alcohol for now. Her head was feeling a bit heavy anyways. That, and being dumped and drunk wasn’t a good mix, nor was rebounding the answer for a broken heart. And this was Ren here, her closest friend besides Shiho. She wouldn’t want to do anything that would ruin their friendship. 

She needed to think straight; she didn’t want to end up adding more problems to her plate.

“Say... How long have we known each other for?” Ren asked, gesturing the bartender for another beer.

“Hm?” Ann bobbed her head to the side. What a random thing to ask. “Since our second year of high school. Why?”

“Wow. Six years. Hard to believe it’s been that long,” he said, popping the cap off his second beer when he received it.

“Yeah. Now that you mention it, I didn’t realize it’s been that long.” She mused, tapping her chin. “...Let’s make a toast to it!”

“Huh?” He quirked a brow, giving her a puzzled look.

She took her cocktail glass, raising it to him. “Six years of friendship and going on strong, hehe!”

“Eh? What kind of toast is that?”

“Why not? It’s something positive, right?”

He quieted for a moment, and then burst out in laughter.

“What?” She frowned, lowering her glass a bit. “What’s so funny?”

“Nothing. You’re right.” He shook his head in amusement, and raised his bottle to her. “It’s something positive. Let’s do it.”

And they toasted.

“Ahh!” Ann sighed after sucking down the rest of her drink in one go. “To everlasting friendship!” She raised a finger in the air and hiccuped.

Ren simply smiled, letting out a small light-hearted laugh. “Right. To everlasting friendship.”

She beamed, more jubilant than ever. “We’ll be best friends forever, yeah?”

“Of course.” He nodded, the smile on his face never changing. 

“Oh, come on! You’re supposed to say it with more enthusiasm, Ren.”

He chuckled, pointing his beer at her. “Sounds like you’re in a better mood now.”

“Uh huh! All because of you~!” she chirped, throwing an arm around his neck

“I’m glad. Now, we can all see your pretty smile.”

“Aww...” She brought both hands to her cheeks. “Stop that. You’re making me blush.”

“Heh heh. Well, if it makes you feel better, then it’s all worth it, yeah?”

“You’re so sweet Ren. Why must you be so sweet all the darn stinkin’ time?”

“Because I can. And because you’re a lovely lady—and my lovely friend.”

She nudged his shoulder. “Oh, you. You’re such a charmer.”

“I try.” He winked, leaning over the countertop, chin on his right hand. “Did it work?”

She gave him a wry look. “No.”

“Heh. Well, alright. If you say so,” he said with a nonchalant shrug.

“But...” she paused, poking his cheek. “I’m pretty sure you’d make any girl happy.”

“Not every girl. I’ve been dumped a few times myself, remember?” he mentioned. “But, I try—I like spoiling women I date.”

“Well, those girls who left you were dumb. They didn’t know how lucky they had it.”

He shrugged again, sipping his beer. “To each their own, I guess.”

“Hmm...” she mused, leaning over the table again with a wistful sigh. 

Then, she said, without even thinking: 

“You know... Sometimes I wish all the guys I dated were like you...”

Ren looked at her, quirking a curious brow. “Oh? Like me, huh?”

“Yeah...” she continued, the thought of where this conversation might turn still not crossing her mind. “Kind. Sweet. Mature, like an English gentleman. Sexy...”

She stopped and blinked a few times, finally snapping out of her world and realizing that he was still there, listening to every word she was saying.

“Sexy?” he repeated, mischief in his tone as a smug look plastered his face. Shifting himself on his seat again, he leaned toward her a bit, his lips curling into an arch smile. “You think I’m sexy, huh?”

The smoothness of that baritone in his voice made her quiver, uncertain in how she was going to cover up something she stupidly brought out. Damn alcohol. The things that alcohol made one say or do.

“Uhh...” she hesitated, trying to come up with something plausible. Several options came to mind. Plan A: Play dumb and deny the obvious. Plan B: Change the topic. Plan C: Tell him he’s hearing things and bolt out of the place like he never saw it coming. 

However, none of them seemed feasible. Playing dumb and denying the obvious wouldn’t do much since Ren wasn’t one to let something like that slide so easily, and probably would just pester and tease her until she got miffed enough to admit it. She could try and change the topic, but the outcome would just be the same like Plan A. Plan C wouldn’t work either, because Ren would probably outrun and catch her even with a bit of alcohol in his system.

Plan C still might be worth a shot, though. 

Ah, screw it! Ann conceded with a huff, settling for a different option when she daringly looked him straight in the eye, her eyes glaring defiance. “Yeah...” she admitted, jabbing a finger at his chest. “Yeah, that’s right...” she said again, the deadly red on her tipsy cheeks burning her entire face now. “I think you’re sexy. And so what if I do? Gotta problem with that?”

He rivaled her newfound boldness, moving a little closer to show he wasn’t going down so easily. “Not really. Though, that’s quite a statement coming from my good friend here.”

Her eyes narrowed sharply. “What? Is it a crime that one of your friends find you very attractive?”

“Not really— Especially considering that I find her very attractive too,” he said, brushing a finger under her chin and teasing it upward.

She faltered a little at that, but treaded along. “Oh, really? How so exactly?”

Ren smirked, slowly moving forward. “In many ways actually,” he told her in a soft murmur, his eyes intense and smoldering as they held hers, gazing deep in those delicate azure orbs. “She’s cute. Lovely. Beautiful. To put it simply—I find her incredibly attractive... and sexy.” He stopped, close enough to sense that sweet scent of her vanilla shampoo, now mingled with a trace of strawberry and liquor from her shaky breaths. “I’m pleased to know that the attraction here is quite mutual.”

Ann felt blood rushing to her cheeks. “I-Is that so?” she managed to respond, feeling a warm sensation spiraling down her stomach.

“Hmm...” His eyes narrowed, scrutinizing hers for a brief moment. The smirk on his face deepened as he reached his hand out to gently palm one of her flushed cheeks, stroking it with his thumb. “You’re blushing... by the way.”

“Y-Yeah, well... It must be the alcohol...” she presumed quickly, feeling like her heart would burst any second the longer they lingered like this. 

He raised a skeptical brow. “Is it now?”

What’s with him? At first, it seemed like he was just playing around, teasing her with flirtatious remarks since a little harmless flirting wasn’t anything new between them.

But... this? Not like this. He’d never been this close before...

...And yet, she wasn’t even sure if she wanted him to stop.

“Y-Yes,” she stuttered, her composure about to break as his breaths began to tickle her lips. “My cheeks turn red... when I drink... Y-You know that.”

For a moment, they remained this way, eyes locked intensely as if something was bound to happen... 

...

But, Ren backed off, shifting back to his spot. 

“Heh. You should see the look on your face right now,” he pointed out, making her blink in confusion. He looked at the beer in his hand, letting out an impish chuckle. “Don’t worry, nothing’s gonna happen. I don’t kiss anyone I see as a friend.”

“O-Oh...” she said, looking at the empty glass her frozen cocktail was once in. Somehow, her heart dropped a bit, but she laughed anyways, awkwardly scratching the back of her head. “Right! Totally got me there, haha!”

“That’s what you get for falling for my charms, heh heh.”

“As if!” Ann huffed, crossing her arms. “Stop being so cocky! You may be hot, but I’d never fall for your charms!”

“Oh? Now, I’m hot? I thought I was sexy.”

She rolled her eyes. “You’re so ridiculous.”

“Maybe.” He gave her a cheeky smile. “But either way, you still can’t resist my ridiculously stunning looks. Heh heh.”

“Oh, just shut it with your ego!”

“Can’t help it with all this flattery you’re giving me, sweetheart.”

“Ugh!” she groaned, throwing her hands in the air. “The things you say sometimes...”

“Anyways...” he said, changing the subject. “Wanna go for some shots? The night’s still young, you know?”

She stopped to consider it for a bit. Why not? A couple of shots wouldn’t hurt after two cocktail glasses. She needed this anyways: to loosen up a bit—make up for the shitty birthday she had the other day.

“Maybe just a few,” she said, calling the bartender over.

 


 

The two held onto each other as they burst out of the establishment, laughing belligerently and slurring nonsense as they staggered clumsily upon the pavement. What started as one shot turned into two, then three, then four, then five...

“Oh, Ren!” Ann hiccuped, her face all flushed with her body all warm and fuzzy. “You’re the best!”

“I know.” He had a lazy smirk on his face.

She beamed a jubilant smile. “You’re the bestest friend anyone could have, you know that?”

“You’re pretty amazing too, you know?” he said.

“Not as much as you!” she replied.

He snorted, rolling his eyes. “No. You’re more amazing— And you smell good too.”

Ann sniffed him. “You smell better.”

“No. You smell better.”

“Nuh ah! You smell better!”

“Goddammit, Ann!” He pinched her cheeks. “Stop being so cute.”

“Well... then stop being so handsome.”

He laughed. “I thought I was hot and sexy.”

“Well... Now you’re hot, sexy, AND handsome!!”

“Gee, Ann. If I didn’t know you any better, I’d say you’ve developed a little crush on me.”  

“Psh. As if!” she scoffed. “You’re just an awesome friend who I find ultra attractive.”

“Haha! Is that what it is? Well, I’ll be damned.”

They laughed again, almost tripping over a crack on the sidewalk.

“But, you knoow...” Ann said, now twirling little circles on his chest. “I actually had a little crush on you back in high school.”

Ren stopped, the sudden halt making Ann almost topple over the ground.

“What? No way...!” He blinked at her, looking very surprised. “Really?” 

She nodded, cheek resting comfortably against his chest. “It was a looong time ago, though.”

“Oh really? Huh. Funny,” he said. “I actually liked you too back in the day...”

Now, it was Ann’s turn to be surprised. “Whaaat!? No way...!”

“Yup.” Ren nodded. “It’s true.”

“Why didn’t you say anything?” she asked, almost accusatory.

“Why didn’t you say anything?” he countered, throwing the question back at her.

Ann quieted for a moment, her eyes shifting downward for a second before looking back at him. “I thought you liked Makoto.”

“Ehh!? What made you think that?”

“I don’t know! You two seemed to hit it off well when we were a team. Then, there was that fake dating—”

“That meant nothing!” he cut her off, all defensive now. “It was out of concern for a friend of hers!”

“Yeah, yeah I know.” She rolled her eyes, still skeptical but rolling along with it anyways. “Both of you said that a million times. But still, I couldn’t help but wonder at the time...”

He let out a long sigh. “Well, I thought you had a thing for Ryuji.”

What!?” she shrieked, the thought making her want to vomit. “Eww!!! How could you think such nasty things!?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. You two were pretty close.”

“Again— Ew!!! That’d be like dating my own brother.” She jabbed a finger at his chest. “You were soo off big time!”

“Well, so were you!” he retorted. “Makoto’s a nice girl and all—and a good friend. But, she’s definitely not my type...”

Silence came between them for a while. Then, they bursted out in boisterous laughter again.

“Hahahaha!!!! Oh my god! That’s so funny! Maybe we coulda been something back then, huh?” Ann playfully slapped his shoulder.

“Haha, maybe. But neither of us did anything about it,” he said with a small shrug.

“You shoulda said something, Ren... I would’ve definitely gone out with you.”

“Heh. Well... same with you too.”

“Too bad we’ve grown out of that...” she said as they continued forward. “I think we woulda made a great pair.”

“We would’ve, wouldn’t we?”

Ann hiccuped again, tripping over another deep crack. “Uhh... I feel so clumsy and tired...” She decided to change the subject.

“How much longer is their place from here?” Ren asked.

“Hmm... eight more blocks?” she replied, her clumsy movements making it harder for her to keep balance. “I don’t know if I can handle walking anymore though.”

“Well, my place is right around the corner... Wanna just wait for a taxi there and hang with me for a bit?”

“Hehe....” A giddy smile plastered her face. “Okay! That would be good, thanks.”

 


 

The two eventually made it to the entrance of his apartment, still cloddish as they held onto each other for support. It was a good thing Ren wasn’t working the next day, otherwise he’d be dealing with the largest hangover while making curry and coffee—something he certainly wouldn’t be in the greatest mood for, especially when some customers get a little grouchy with some of their ridiculous demands.

While digging in his denim pockets for his keys, something immediately stopped Ren in his tracks when he suddenly felt a soft peck to his cheek.

“S-Sorry...” Ann apologized when he turned to look at her with puzzled eyes. “I just... felt like doing that...”

Those boozy eyes he gazed into depicted some sort of innocence in them, as if she was actually being genuine here instead of her giddily inebriate self. She always had such beautiful eyes—clear like the sunny blue sky. He remembered being so captivated by them the first time he saw her those many years ago as a young teenage boy, along with that lovely smile she gave him on that particular day.

Even now, with her disheveled hair, her smudged eyeliner around her puffy eyes, and her flushed cheeks, Ann was still just as beautiful as he had first laid eyes on her those years ago.

He leaned forward, lessening the distance between their faces. Her heavy labored breaths tickled his lips as he came closer... and closer... and closer... and then...

His lips brushed against hers. Electricity. Absolute electricity. Something he hadn’t felt in the longest time.

Or... wait. Had he felt something like that... ever?

They lingered there for a long moment before he merely pulled back and gazed into her eyes once more. Nothing was said at first as Ann stood there with wide heavy-lidded eyes, obviously not expecting him to do that.

“Sorry...” he spoke first, cupping her cheek in his palm. A smirk played on his lips. “I felt like doing that too...”

Ann pressed her lips with a finger, still trying to process the situation in her head. “I’m confused...” she said when it looked like he was coming in for another kiss. “I thought you don’t kiss someone you see as a friend.”

“I don’t.”

With that said, he kissed her again, his lips practically crashing into hers as he slammed her against the door. Ann was caught off guard at first, but immediately snapped back when she threw her arms around his shoulders, tugging him closer and kissing him like no tomorrow. Their kisses were burning and intense, desperate and hungry as their tongues tangoed in their mouths, the strong taste of liquor prodding their senses as their breaths mingled.

Ren broke the kiss for a moment to pull out his keys, still holding her close against him as he clumsily unlocked the door. Barging through the entrance, his lips met hers again, him kicking the door shut just before stumbling all the way into his bedroom with her, falling over his bed, landing right on top of her.

The heat between them grew more and more, their hands venturing all over each other as they sought each other out. She was soft to the touch, pliant with his kisses, and sweet beneath the bitter liquor. Groaning, Ren felt himself growing harder, grinding it against the area between her legs as he swallowed her sweet moans in his mouth. 

When her hands began fumbling with the buttons of his shirt, something suddenly hit Ren and he stopped, pulling back and stopping her midway.

“Ann...” he said, taking a moment to catch his breath. He might’ve been drunk, but he was sane enough to know where this was leading to, and that they were both crossing a very thin line here. “Maybe... Maybe we should stop...”

“W-Why?” she asked, her breathing just as heavy and labored as his.

“I think... we had a little too much to drink...”

Ann didn’t say anything, quiet with an expression he couldn’t read well. Ren sat up, adding, “Let’s just stop here... before we do something—”

“Am I that bad...?” she finally said, the question catching him off guard.

“Huh?”

She let out a mirthless laugh, forced with a small plastic smile on her face. “I guess now I understand why Kenta chose her over me...”

“Ann...”

She laughed again. “Even you find me boring...”

“No, Ann! That’s not—”

“Ah, shit. No... No, I’m sorry... I didn’t mean to get all defensive there.” Tears welled in her eyes. A sense of shame overtook her as she covered them with her hands. “I... I just want someone to hold me right now... It still hurts.”

“Ann...” His eyes softened. She was clearly heartbroken. That, he knew much. It was understandable, but frustrating to watch too. To see her hurting over a selfish asshole who didn’t value her like a loving boyfriend should’ve, made him clench his hands in fists. And she knew she deserved better, yet always seemed to end up with the same kind of prick over and over. She could argue that they weren’t all bad all she wanted, but it always ended the same way: That they didn’t care enough about her, or her feelings—that they didn’t love her enough.

How could they not love her? Ann may be a bit silly times and a bit overbearing, but she was still endearing in many ways. Her smile and optimism was infectious. Her strength to carry through during her lowest times were inspiring. She cared so much for the people she loved and her love was always so giving and kind.

Yet, they always took her for granted.

She probably thought Ren didn’t pay much attention to it, but he did. What kind of friend wouldn’t notice—the way she’d give everything for her lover, only to be brushed off and told she didn’t give enough? Did she really think he’d ignore all of that, each time she wasn’t cared for like she should have been? 

Sure, Ann was an independent woman. She didn’t need a man to coddle and shelter her, because she could fend off quite well on her own. But, she still deserved love and care, knowing that someone would be there for support when she needed it, someone to remind her that she wasn’t alone—that she really was somebody’s world.

Yet, she’s wasting her tears on this piece of shit. 

“T-This is so embarrassing.” She began to sob, muffled by her hands. “I told myself I wouldn’t cry over this anymore... but I guess I’m not as strong as I think I am...”

“That’s not true...” He moved her hands away, seeing the wetness all over her flushed face. “You are strong, Ann. Crying isn’t weakness. Allowing yourself to feel the pain takes a lot of courage and strength. Not many people are brave enough to face such painful feelings, but you are—and that’s what makes you strong.” His hand palmed a damp cheek, stroking it with his thumb.

Ann sniffed, wiping her eyes. “I-I guess you’re right...”

“Of course.” He smiled, scooping her back in his arms, hand gently pressing her head against his chest. “So... go ahead and cry if you need to. No one’s judging you here.”

“Thank you...” She circled her arms around him, nuzzling him as he caressed the back of her head. “You’re such a good friend, Ren.”

Right... because that’s all he was to her: a friend. Not that it mattered. Why would he be bothered over such trivial things?

“I love you, Ren. You really are my best friend.”

The caressing stopped. Did she even realize what she was saying here? She may have meant it platonically, or may have been spouting nonsense, but still...

...That ’love’ didn’t sound platonic—not in this context, at least.

And yet...

“I love you too, Ann...” he told her softly, lightly squeezing her in his arms.

What the...? Did he just say what he thought he said? Why did he say that? Was it the alcohol? It had to be—it just had to be. There was no other reasonable explanation as to why he’d respond with such fond, doting words to a friend.

“I... don’t feel like going home tonight,” she said, something vulnerable in her tone.

Ren said nothing at first, thinking about what was said earlier when they were outside his door.

 

“I thought you don’t kiss someone you see as a friend.”

 

But, he kissed her. Twice. Three times. Four...? Why? Why did he do that then? What was he thinking? Wasn’t she just a friend to him? 

And why...? Why did he have the strong urge to do it again?

It had to be the alcohol.

“I don’t wanna go anywhere else... but here.”

Yes. Just a friend. Clearly, that’s all she saw him as. 

“Don’t make me leave... please?”

Somehow, knowing the fact that’s all she’d ever see him as, regardless of how she felt for him in the past, made him feel like some kind of tool just now. Why...? Why was he feeling this way?

He pulled away just enough to look at her, tilting her chin with his finger to gaze in those beautiful azure eyes.

“You don’t have to...” 

With that said, he kissed her again and again, kissing her senselessly as they sank back into the bed, their warm bodies entwining upon the soft mattress. 

She wanted to be held? Consolation? Nothing else but friendly comfort? Distraction? 

Fine. He’d give her all of them as she wished.

 

 

Chapter Text

Ren had no idea what he was thinking, or why these feelings were suddenly pent up in his chest. 

“Ren...” 

Neither did Ann, straddling him with her blouse unbuttoned, bra undone and scrunched up her chest. A pleased sigh escaped her as his soft lips kissed down her neck, her soft peaking breasts felt up by his curious deft hands. 

“Ah... Ren...” 

He slipped her blouse and bra off and traced his hands all over her. Her skin was as soft as silk, with that warm and sweet vanilla fragrance that assaulted his senses. Leaning forward, he kissed down and over her chest, taking one nipple in his mouth and running his tongue around the puckering nub. She tasted as sweet as her scent as she trembled under his hold, whimpering out his name like a sacred mantra. 

“I...” 

Ren switched to the other breast, suckling at it too. His eyes flicked up to watch her, watching the way her flustered face contorted blissfully with each sound and move she made whenever he nipped something just right. So, this was how she looked in the midst of pleasure. Such a fascinating sight—a side of his friend he had never seen before... He just couldn’t take his eyes off of her. 

Was it weird for friends to be doing this sort of thing? It seemed to be the norm nowadays: people doing it without any strings attached. He certainly had his casual encounters, and Ann wasn’t so innocent either based on some of the things she had done in the past. 

But, was this the same? Was Ann really someone he could place in such a category? She wasn’t just some woman he grabbed at a bar to gratify his needs. Ann was his friend, someone he knew since high school, someone who he managed to remain close with even when he was gone from Tokyo for those three years, someone he had formed a strong bond with—someone he strongly cared about. 

Her hands ran through his tousled raven hair, drawing him closer—wanting more. 

“M-More...” 

She was also hurt... and in need of a companion right now. Someone to hold her, distract her from the pain she was feeling right now... 

“Don’t stop...” 

Was he fine with just that—just being that friend she could go to for this kind of distraction? 

“Please...” 

Kenta was still probably on her mind, while Ren’s just here to fill that empty space burrowed in her heart. 

“Ah...”

So, who was she really seeing right now? Was it him? Or Kenta?

“Ren... Ren....”

...It was Kenta, wasn’t it?

Something snapped in him, and, before Ann knew it, she was shoved onto the mattress, pinned down by the weight of his body. 

Her eyes widened. “Ren, what’s—” 

His lips pressed hers again for a long second before pulling back. He panted, taking a moment to catch his breath before a smirk played on his lips 

“My, my, Ann... You seem to be enjoying yourself quite a bit here,” he said, roguish in his tone. 

Ann breathed just as heavy as him, “I guess... I am..”  

His eyes darkened. “More than what he could ever do?” 

Ann said nothing, looking uncertain of his question. 

He leaned closer, lips barely brushing hers. 

“Tell me, Ann,” he whispered, fingers trailing down her stomach to the hem of her jeans, flicking the button open with a simple snap of his fingers. “How long has it been since you’ve done it? It seems like you haven’t for a while.” 

  Ann faltered, heat brewing her cheeks as his fingers traced all the way down her damp panties. 

“W-Well...” she stammered, quivering at his touch. “...it’s been a while... P-Probably two months? Three?” 

“Three, huh? That’s a while...” he remarked, his smirk deepening when she drew in a sharp breath at the nub his finger ran over. “Lucky for you, I’m just as deprived...” 

“What are you talking—ahh!!!” she gasped, Ren’s thumb now slowly rubbing the small sensitive nub in circles, laboring Ann’s shaky breaths. 

“You want me, don’t you?” he said in a husky whisper, pressing firmer. 

She didn’t respond, blushing furiously at the touch. He then kissed her chin, her neck, and her collarbone, fingers slipping under the pink lacy garment and teasing the nub, making her as limp as a kitten lifted by the nape.  

“Tell me, Ann... I know you want me.” 

Ann still didn’t say a word, legs shifting restlessly under him. 

“You don’t want Kenta...” 

She still didn’t answer, the only sound being a soft stifled moan. 

“Heh. I guess you’ll need some convincing then.” 

He pulled down her panties along with her jeans, removing them and flippantly tossing them to the side. Kissing her once more, his fingers worked together to massage the swelling nub as he took his other hand and palmed her breast. Ann let out another moan at the direct contact, louder and higher in pitch. 

“Hm... I love the sounds you make,” he murmured against her lips, gliding two of his fingers inside her. This elicited a louder moan from Ann, her back arching and pressing her perked breasts against his bare chest as he plunged in again and again, ensuring that she felt every press and feel of his hand.  

“R-Ren... I....” she whimpered, screwing her eyes shut as she lost herself in the sensations. 

“What’s wrong, Ann?” he whispered in her ear, nipping at it gently. There was a smirk in his voice. “Should I stop here?”   

She managed to shake her head no, then reached for his boxers, earning a low groan from him at the touch of her hand on his hardened length. When she tried to pull the garment down, he drew back a bit, snatching her hand and pinning it over her head. 

“Say that you want me first,” he told her, his look darkening into a smoldering gaze that was intense. Burning. Fierce. 

“I-I...” she choked.

His fingers slowed, depriving her of those delightful sensations. “Say it, Ann. Say that you want me.” 

“I-I want you...” she uttered out quietly, cheeks growing redder. 

He slowed down even more. “Louder.” 

She whimpered again, her desperate cries making him harder. 

“I want you...!” she said it louder as he demanded, her hips and body begging him not to stop.  

“Say that you don’t want him. Say that you don’t want Kenta.” 

“I don’t want him...! I don’t want Kenta!” she repeated, her cries turning into squeals. “I want you...! I want you, Ren! Take me—please.” 

He simpered a dark lustful smile, looking very pleased with himself. Letting go of her hand, he darted forward and kissed her once more, his fingers plunging faster and harder. Her loud desperate cries inspired him to go even further, and he couldn’t wait any longer, pulling away for a moment to remove his boxers and then settling himself between her thighs. 

“Ren...” she breathed, panting heavily below him, arms and legs splayed out listlessly as she gazed at him with those beautiful azure eyes and flushed cheeks, looking ever so innocent with that flustered appearance.  

He leaned forward, stopping centimeters from her lips.

“One more time... Let me hear you say it one more time...”

She reached for his cheek, gently stroking it with her thumb.

“I want you... Ren.”

His lips collided with hers once more—over and over again as he finally sank into her, making her cry out his name countless times throughout the night as they intertwined as one. 


 

Sounds of birds singing outside the open window were what Ann woke up to when her eyes opened a smidge, a soft mellow breeze swaying the window curtains. All of a sudden, a nasty headache struck her head, and the piercing beam of light that shined through the ajar undulating drapes made it a hundred times worse.

“Ugh...” she groaned, raising a hand over her brows to shade the blinding rays before sitting up, thin sheets sliding off her bare, perky breasts.

At least there was a nice, cool breeze—such a wonderful feeling against her uncovered skin. In a way, it almost eased that aching pain in her head...

...

Hold up, now. Was she—

Ann gasped, quickly pulling up the white covers, her nipples peaking through the thin fabric.

What the—!? No clothes? Not even her panties? What happened? Why the hell was she naked!?

Her eyes flickered all over the room. Clothes laid splayed all over the bed and floor, including the ones she had on last night.

Then, something hit...

This wasn’t Makoto’s and Haru’s place.

The color on her face drained. If she wasn’t at the girls’ place, and her clothes were all over on the ground, then... 

“Mmm...” groaned a deep voice. Ann felt something, or someone, stir beside her. When she turned to look, her face turned white as snow.

Ren!?

Ann’s mouth dropped, her eyes now a mile wide. Why wasn’t there a shirt on him!? Wait... was he naked too? A naked... Ren? 

...

Dear lord! Why’s he naked with her!? Just what the hell was going on!?

Then, everything flashed before her eyes. Vibrant music. Glasses clinking. Silly conversations. Boisterous laughter. Passionate kisses. White sheets...

Was this—? Could it be—?

She slapped a hand over her mouth.

Oh my god!!!! We SLEPT together!?!?

It took everything in her power to contain the urge to scream her head off. She couldn’t believe it: They did it... They totally did it! It wasn’t just simple kissing or touching—they went ALL the way!

Dearest lord!! What’s she supposed to do now?

She took another look at Ren, who was still sleeping, soft peaceful breaths escaping his lips as vivid fragments of their impassioned night ambled throughout her mind. 

 

“Tell me, Ann... I know you want me.”

 

She felt her cheeks burning, incredulous eyes reliving the whole experience.

 

“Heh. I guess you’ll need some convincing then.”

 

Wait—what? ...What!? Did he really say that to her!?

 

“I love the sounds you make...”

 

Oh, god! He heard her moaning! That meant he also saw the way she looked during sex!!! Oh, god! Oh, god!!!!

 

“Say it, Ann. Say that you want me.”

 

Dearest lord. So demanding. Was this what alcohol did to him during sex? Or, was this typically him in bed? Though, Ann had always kind of figured he’d be the dominant type... 

It was kind of hot in a way...

She shook her head vehemently, slapping her own cheek. Now wasn’t the time for that!!! God. What was with her this morning? 

Her train of thought was disrupted by him stirring around again, letting out another low, rumbling groan. Flinching with a sharp gasp, she fell back and threw the sheets over her head, turning to the other side—whatever that might do to avoid him noticing her when he woke up.

Ren opened his eyes with a grimace, head pounding like no tomorrow. Groaning again, he sat up with a hand over his head. 

“Ugh... my head...” he grumbled as he rubbed his temples, ready to fall back in bed until he noticed the largest bump next to him. 

Uhh... What’s that on my bed? he thought to himself, looking totally lost.

Ann held her breath, hoping he wouldn’t notice and would go back to sleep. She wasn’t planning on sneaking out, no. But, if she was going to face him, she needed to sort out her thoughts first—and maybe some clothes too while she’s at it.

Ren straightened, eyes still on this mysterious bump laid out on the side of him. He scratched his head as he examined it for a moment, poking it a few times—for inspection.

Little did he know that he was poking at Ann’s most ticklish spot. Eventually, she couldn’t stay still any longer, and jerked just enough for him to notice.

SHIT!!! she cursed herself. He’s going to notice.... He’s going to notice! Oh, god!!! He totally noticed!!!!

Ren blinked, furrowing his brows in confusion. Wait a minute. Did it just... move!? 

Then, something clicked. The fact that he had nothing on. The clothes all over the bed and floor. That large bump next to him... which meant...

His eyes widened. No way... What in the world—

And then, memories of last night came at him, flash by flash.

Soft pouty lips. Soft milky skin. The sweet scent of her vanilla body lotion. The warmth of her body. The way it felt pressed against his.

...Ann?

He froze. This... This was—he couldn’t come up with the words. Just how much did they drink last night to have gone this far? 

He pulled the covers off of her slightly, just for conformation. Long behold, there she was, curled into a ball with her hands by her face, looking like she was asleep... though Ren knew better by the way her eyelids were scrunched closed. 

“Ann?” he said, but got no response. “Ann... Come on, I know you’re faking it...”

Her eyes opened cautiously and she sat up slowly, holding up the sheets over her chest.

“Oh, um... G-Good morning, Ren...” she greeted hesitantly, avoiding eye contact.

“Um, right. Good morning, Ann,” he greeted back quietly, rubbing his neck sheepishly.

Silence. Dead silence. Both were speechless, having no idea what to say.

And, if things couldn’t get any worse...

“Hey, man!!!” A male’s voice came from outside, closing in. “Why’s your front door unlocked—?”

The door burst open, revealing no one other than their loud-mouthed, bleached-haired friend.

Ryuji’s jaw immediately dropped at the mind blowing scene in front of him, him standing in the doorway like a deer in headlights as he gaped at his two best friends in bed—naked. He looked to Ren, then to Ann, back to Ren, then to Ann again.

“Oh, uhh... Mornin’, Ann,” he said with an awkward wave of his hand. He turned back to Ren. “Sorry. Must’ve come at a bad time? Well, that explains why you didn’t answer when I knocked like thirty times, heh heh...”

Ann buried her face in her palms. Oh, god. The awkwardness... The shame. Could the rest of this morning get any worse?

“I’ll be out in a bit,” Ren said, sounding nonchalant as usual. “Just give me a few minutes...”

“Sure, man. Take all the time you guys need, heh heh...” he said with a cheeky grin before closing the door.

Ann let out a long sigh.

“This... is so awkward...” she said, gingerly rubbing her arm.

“Yeah...” He rubbed his neck. “I... don’t even know where to begin...”

“Umm... How much do you recall— Last night, I mean?”

“Enough to know that we, uh— Yeah...” 

“I-I see...” 

They both sat in silence once more, still avoiding eye contact.

“We should probably get out of bed... and put some clothes on...” Ren said, breaking the ice this time.

“I agree. But... umm...” she hesitated, a shade of red glowing on her cheeks. “...who should get out first?”

He gave her a bemused look. “What?” 

“I-I mean...” she began, cheeks turning darker as she gripped the sheets over her chest tighter. “...n-neither of us has anything on...”

“...Oh, right,” he said, scratching the back of his head. Right. She’s still shy and modest about it despite what happened last night. He couldn’t blame her though; he too was also a bit nervous himself for some reason. Perhaps because there was more light to see it all? That, and because they’re completely back to their senses now?

“You go first. You’re closer to the edge of the bed.” He turned around, pulling the sheets over his head. “I won’t look, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“T-Thank you...” she replied, shyly sliding out of bed.

Once both were done getting dressed, they sat together on the edge of the mattress. Quiet for a moment again, the tension between them grew once more.

“So, um...” Ann said, meaning to bring up the topic of last night once more, but faltered as she couldn’t find the right words to say. Ren had no idea what to say either, slouched over with his arms resting on his lap.

Before Ann was able to continue, her phone went off in her purse on the nightstand nearby. She reached over to pick it up.

It was her mother—probably calling to check in. 

“Sorry, I need to take this...” she told him, to which he nodded in understanding.

“Go ahead,” he said, getting up and walking out of the door.


 

“Dude!!!” Ryuji flipped the moment Ren appeared in the living room, who walked in the kitchen nearby to grab a glass of water. “What happened!?”

“Keep it down,” Ren groused, the crack in Ryuji’s voice piercing his throbbing head. “The yelling is making my head hurt.”

“Oh, right. Sorry! Forgot about that.” Ryuji scratched the side of his cheek sheepishly, lowering his voice. “So... tell me, man—Are you and Ann a thing now? Because, uh, that’s a bit quick for her, don’t ya think? I mean, she just got out of a relationship.”

Ren grabbed some water from the fridge and poured it in the glass he pulled from a drying dish rack. “We’re not a ‘thing’. We drank a little too much, and then... yeah. That happened.”

Ryuji crossed his arms, giving a stern look. “Look, man. I get it. I know that it’s been a while since you’ve gotten some, but Ann’s our friend. That’s an area you should probably stay out of— especially knowing her situation.”

“I know...” the hungover man replied a bit brusquely, knowing too that he overstepped a huge boundary. “We were both drunk and it just happened, okay? Neither of us were in the right minds.”

“Bullshit. Don’t lie, man. I’ve known you since high school. You’ve always had a special eye for her—even when you were dating other women.”

Ren sighed, becoming a bit impatient with his nosy friend. “That was then, Ryuji. There’s nothing there anymore.”

“Are you sure? Look. Both of you are my good pals. I’d just hate to see things go sour between you two, and having to be that guy who gets stuck in the middle.”

“Nothing will happen, Ryuji,” he said, sipping his water. “I assure you.”

Ryuji had a dubious look on his face. “I don’t know, man. I might not be the brightest out of the bunch, but sleepin’ with a friend is sorta askin’ for trouble.”

Ren paused, staring down at his glass in contemplation for a moment. Right when he was about to say something, the door suddenly opened from his room. Ann walked out, cell phone in her hand.

“I should probably head back. Makoto and Haru just texted me wondering where I am. I think they’re worried,” she said, sliding the phone in a pocket of her purse.

“Go on,” Ren said in understanding. “Message me when you get back to let me know you got there okay,” he told her and she gave a small nod in response, awkwardly making her way toward the entrance. 

She turned to Ryuji and gave a quick wave. “See you later, Ryuji...” 

Then, she turned to Ren, pausing for a moment.

“Bye, Ren,” she quickly uttered and dashed out of the place, leaving the two guys behind.

Ryuji sighed when Ren doesn’t say anything for a while, his eyes still fixed at the door where Ann exited. “Man. Talk about awkward...”

No kidding.


 

When Ann entered the apartment and called for someone, no one answered. Makoto and Haru were probably working right now. As promised, she sent Ren a message that she got back safely before making her way to the guest bedroom to gather her items for a nice relaxing shower. 

“Ann? Is everything alright?”

Ann jumped, startled by the sudden voice. She turned and looked around the room, finding Haru on the couch, holding a novel in her hands.

“Oh, my god! You startled me, Haru!” said Ann, placing a hand on her chest.

“Sorry,” Haru apologized, setting down her book on the coffee table. “Where did you go last night? We were getting worried something happened to you when we didn’t see you in this morning.”

“I, um...” Ann hesitated, unsure of how to go about this or how Haru might react to the whole thing. “...was with Ren.”

“Why? Did something happen to him?” she asked, looking very concerned.

Ann shook her head. “No. We just... It was dark and hard to see, and both of us were too drunk to walk such a length from the restaurant. His place was closer, so we stayed there instead.”

Haru blinked with incredulous eyes, covering her mouth like a surprised child. “Wait. Did you two—”

“N-No!!!” Ann panicked, her cheeks flaring red. “It wasn’t anything like that, I— He didn’t— We were—”

The bouffant auburn-haired sighed, shaking her head in disappointment. “It’s easy to tell when you’re lying, Ann.”

“I’m not—!”

“I just... can’t believe you really slept with him.”

Ann quieted, her head down in shame—she still couldn’t believe it either.

“I just hope you two were smart about it,” came a voice from behind, making Ann jump again, immediately spinning around to see who it was.

“Makoto!” Ann gasped, almost tripping backwards. “Oh, god. Don’t scare me like that!”

Her arms were crossed, a grim look darkening her mien. “Well? You two did use protection, right?”

“I’m... uh... on the pill,” Ann answered tentatively, swallowing as Makoto’s crimson eyes burned into hers. Speaking of the pill, it was about the time she’d take it right now.

Makoto sighed, walking over to take a seat next to Haru. “Well, at least you have some form of a contraceptive. Still, I think it would’ve been better for you two to have used a condom along with the pill. I know you trust Ren and all, but you should always get into that habit whenever engaging with a new partner.”

Jesus, she sounded just like her mother. “I-I know...” said Ann, sheepishly twirling a strand of hair. “I just... wasn’t thinking straight.”

“So, are you two—You know?” Haru asked, leaning forward curiously in her seat.

Ann stared down for a moment to think, then looked back up. “N-No. We just drank a little too much. I got a bit emotional and he comforted me. Then, I guess one thing led to another and then... yeah.”

“Oh, my...” Haru said, a hand over her mouth.

“Well... how about you? How do you feel about it?” Makoto asked.

“I... I don’t know,” Ann looked away again. “Ren’s my friend. I’m surprised myself that we even went that far last night.”

Oh, really? Surprised? A voice said in her head. What did you expect after pouring out how ‘sexy’ you thought he was?

Oh, right. She almost forgot about that part. But, come on. That was all the alcohol... right?

Liar. Don’t forget about the times you thought of him while sleeping with your ex, the other guys you slept with in the past, or those times whenever you were alone at night.

That was once in a while though! It wasn’t like it happened every single time! she argued with herself, feeling her cheeks burn up.

It happened every time he came to visit you, or when you went to visit him. So, there must be something there, right?

“Oh! Ann’s blushing!” Haru clapped her hands with a gleeful giggle. 

“H-Huh?” Ann touched her cheeks, warm to the touch. “W-Wait! I’m not—”

“Well, he’s definitely a step up from Kenta, but still...” Makoto mused, stroking her chin. “...you should take it a bit slower, Ann. You just got out of a relationship, you know?”

“No, no! You guys got it all wrong!” Ann cried, hands shaking out in front of her. “Ren and I are just friends!!”

“Is that so?” Makoto raised a skeptical brow. “Friends sleep together too?”

“I... It was just one night, I swear!”

Makoto sighed, obviously not taking it, but decided to move on to something else rather than pressing further. “Have you talked to Ren about it at least?”

“Well... not really. We were kinda... interrupted,” Ann muttered the last word out, cursing Ryuji in her head for having such impeccable timing earlier. 

“Really?” Haru’s eyes widened. “Oh, Ann... you shouldn’t leave Ren hanging like that.”

“I-I know! But, it’s not like I’m not going to try. I’ll talk to him... it just has to be at the right time.”

“And when exactly is the right time?” Makoto asked.

“I-I don’t know!” Ann squeaked, ruffling her hair. “I just... need some time... I don’t know if I could face him with a straight face right now.”

“Ann,” Makoto said, “you shouldn’t wait too long. Ren’s probably just as confused as you. The longer you wait... the more awkward it’ll be when you two are around each other.”

“She’s right,” Haru chimed in. “And besides, what if Ren has feelings for you? That’ll hurt him more if he thinks you’re avoiding him.”

 

“I love you too, Ann...”

 

Ann shook her head at the memory. He didn’t mean it that way. He couldn’t have, right? There was no way he had feelings for her—not anymore, at least. She had her chance in high school, but missed it entirely. 

“Ren doesn’t see me that way, Haru,” the blonde replied, trying to maintain a firm mien. “I’m pretty sure of it.”

“I’m just saying, what if? You never know,” Haru pointed out, triggering another flashback in front of Ann’s eyes.

 

“What? Is it a crime that one of your friends find you very attractive?”  

“Not really— Especially considering that I find her very attractive too...”

 

Attraction is different from love, Ann tried to rationalize. I mean.... Ryuji and Yusuke find me attractive and would never pursue me romantically. That’s the same thing, right?

But, Ren kissed you... said the voice in her head. Isn’t that considered romantic?

“Don’t be afraid, Ann,” Makoto said, disrupting her thought. “I know it must be awkward, but Ren is a reasonable man, and a good friend. I’m sure the two of you could work this out as long as you communicate and get on the same page.”

Ann looked down at her feet, thinking for a moment. “Yeah, you guys are right...” she finally said, looking up at the girls with a small smile. “Thanks for the advice, guys. A-Anyways, I’d love to continue this discussion, but I feel a bit yucky with this hangover and everything. I’m going to use the shower now—if that’s alright with you two.”  

Both Makoto and Haru nodded in response, letting her go for the time being. 


 

Ann stripped down and stepped slowly into the tub, turning the water on high and letting it fall over her in steamy little droplets. A flood of thoughts came to mind about last night. She didn’t get a chance to talk to Ren about it, and she wasn’t sure how she was going to bring it up with him without it being awkward. Ann couldn’t avoid him forever though, just as Makoto and Haru implied, so she was going to have to discuss it with him eventually. But, when exactly?

She closed her eyes, a brief sense of ease hitting her as the heat soaked into her body. Standing there idly for a moment, she wondered how Ren felt about that night. Was he just as surprised as her, trying to go through it piece by piece and make sense of it all?

 

“I thought you don’t kiss someone you see as a friend...” 

“I don’t.”  

 

“Then why did you kiss me?” Ann wondered out loud, looking down at the spluttering droplets by her feet.

 

“I love you, Ren... You’re my best friend.”

 

Why did she say that? She certainly meant that in a platonic way, right?

 

“I love you too, Ann...”

 

And what did he really mean by that—that he loved her as a friend too? 

Her heart fluttered. Why did her heart flutter by that? They were drunk—anything said was more likely from the alcohol than the truth. And Ren was only a friend... That’s all she ever saw him as.

But, you liked him once in high school, her little voice pointed out.

That was six years ago... she thought to herself. Things have changed since then.

Have things really changed? Or, is that just an excuse?

Ann shook her head. Of course things have changed! Otherwise, they wouldn’t be seeing other people right now, nor would she be so heart broken over her ex...

Then.... why is it always him you go to? Whenever you had something big to share? Whenever you had a problem? You went to him first even when you were with Kenta. 

We’re just close friends... Ann kept insisting.

Close enough to sleep together?

No! No! We were drunk!

That’s just an excuse...

Neither of us were thinking straight. Plus... I just got out of a relationship—

Oh? So, he’s just a rebound?

No! Of course not! I’d never use him like that!

Then, what is he?

I don’t know!!!!

Ann’s hands were on her face, flushed from all the hot steam and thoughts of those intimate moments with him. They came to her again as she relived them over and over: when he kissed her passionately up against the entrance of his apartment, up into his room, into his bed—when he kissed her skin, deft hands sliding under her clothes and peeling them off one by one, slowly baring her body to him.

She let a hand trail down her neck to her chest, areas where he touched and kissed her at. Her touch could never surpass his, nor bring out the feelings she felt on that night with him, but she reenacted them anyways, in hope of feeling those sensations again, as close as it was to the ones he elicited out of her, making her heart flutter like crazy.

If a friend was all Ann saw Ren as, why won’t her heart stop beating so rapidly whenever thoughts of him flooded her mind? 


 

A few days had passed since that night with Ann. Since then, neither has talked about it, nor talked much at all. Whenever Ren tried to talk to Ann, there was always some excuse that it was never a good time: she was either at a photoshoot or working at her other part-time job. He couldn’t help but wonder if those stories were legit or just an excuse to avoid him. 

“Hm? Everything alright, kid?” Sojiro asked, just as he walked by the distracted barista idling on his phone at the coffee bar.

Ren let out a long sigh, pocketing his cellular device in his jeans. “Sorry. Just checking the time.”

“Hmm... I’ve heard those long sighs before. Something on your mind?”

“Nah. I’ll be fine. Just feeling a little tired, that’s all.” 

“Oh?” The middle-aged owner mused, stroking his goatee as he studied the young bespectacled man. “Well, then. I’ll head off first then. Take it easy, kid.”

With that said, Sojiro left, the bell on the door chiming as it closed behind him.

Ren went off to wash the rest of the dishes, part of his last set of tasks to do before closing shop.

Is she avoiding me? he wondered, scrubbing a plate under the running faucet. I wonder if I made her mad.

It was possible. Ann just got out of a break-up, and here Ren was giving her pity sex while she’s still heartbroken over the matter. That’s not to say that alcohol didn’t have some form of involvement, but still. The last thing she wanted was someone feeling sorry for her, especially if intimacy was involved. 

But... it wasn’t that. It wasn’t that he felt sorry for her, he just couldn’t bear seeing her so devastated. Every break-up she had was never easy to watch, but this one topped them all—and seeing her going hard on herself when it wasn’t her fault was incredibly frustrating. Why couldn’t she just find herself a man who wasn’t an asshole—who was decent enough to treat her with the respect she deserved? 

Seriously. Was it that hard? With a beauty so breathtaking, and a smile so bright, she certainly had many potential suitors out there for her. Yet, she always ends up with the pricks who hurt her in the end.

Thoughts of Ann filled his mind: her perky enthusiasm, her sweet voice, her melodic laugh, her bright smile... Then, came that night they had together. When she kissed his cheek so innocently. The way her lips felt when they kissed, and the way she felt against him—so soft and warm.

Why? Why can’t he stop thinking about her? And that night... why does it keep replaying in his mind?

Washing his hands after finishing up with the last dish, the bell chimed behind him again. When he turned to look, about to tell the person that business is closed, he saw no one else other than her—wearing a red hooded trench coat over an oversized dark striped blouse and black leggings, her hair down like cascading waterfalls.

“Hey,” Ann said, hands gripping the straps of her purse around her shoulders.

“Hey,” he said, wiping his hands off with a towel. 

Silence lingered between them for a moment, an awkward tension surrounding them. Ren decided to speak first. “Do you want to talk?” 

Ann nodded. “Yeah… Umm… Is this a bad time?” 

He shook his head. “No. Just closing up shop,” he said, welcoming her to a seat at the coffee bar. “Sit. Would you like some coffee?” 

“No, thank you.” She walked over to the spot, setting her purse down below her.  

He took a seat next to her, and they sat in more silence, neither facing each other. When they were ready to speak, they turned to each other and then said, at the same time:  

“About that night…” 

Silence. Then... again, at the same time: 

“You first.” 

Silence once more. 

Ann sighed, averting her gaze to her fumbling hands over the countertop. “Are you... mad?” 

“No,” he answered, a bit surprised considering that he was wondering the same thing just a while ago. “Are you?” 

She shook her head. “No. Just feeling a little awkward.” 

“Yeah,” he said, scratching the back of his head “I get what you’re saying.”

She let out a small nervous laugh. “What a night that was, huh?” 

He gave a small smile. “Yeah.” 

“Crazy, huh?”

“Yeah.”

“I guess we let the alcohol get to us?” 

“Yeah.” 

Silence again. Ann clasped her hands over her lap, looking down with a pang of guilt in her eyes.

“I’m sorry,” she said. 

Ren blinked, looking at her with a puzzled expression. “Why are you sorry?”

“For dragging you into my mess. I was hurt. And... you were there to comfort me. I feel like I sorta took advantage of you in a way...”

Ren didn’t say anything, continuing to listen.

“I... kissed you...” Ann went on. “I shouldn’t have done that...”

“Ann...” he said, placing a hand on her shoulder, “we were drunk. Our heads weren’t in the right place...”

“I know, but still...”

“I kissed you too. If anything, I took it one step further... I kissed you on the lips—you only kissed my cheek. So, I’m just as guilty here too.”

She looked back at him with curious eyes. “So, why?” 

“Huh?” He blinked again.

“Why did you kiss me?”

Ren quieted again.

“I remember you saying that you don’t kiss anyone you see as a friend,” Ann mentioned, reminding him of that particular bantering scene at the bar:

 

“Don’t worry, nothing’s gonna happen. I don’t kiss anyone I see as a friend.”

 

And then, he remembered:

 

“I’m confused... I thought you don’t kiss someone you see as a friend.

“I don’t.”

 

“Yeah,” he said, now feeling even more conflicted thinking about it. “I did say that.”

“I-I mean… there’s no way you’d see me that way, right?” 

It should’ve been a simple yes or no answer, but he faltered for some reason. Why? The answer should be straightforward: He only saw her as a friend... right?

But, you kissed her... a voice said in his head.

I was drunk... Ren argued with himself.

Yeah? Then, why can’t you stop thinking about her?

“R-Right?” Ann’s hesitant voice snapped him back to reality. “That’s impossible, right?”

  Despite his inner turmoil and confusion, he nodded anyways. “Right.” 

Ann quieted for a moment, eyes back on her fumbling hands. “Then... why?” 

“I don’t know...” he answered, looking away. “Heat of the moment, maybe?”

“Oh...” she said quietly.

“I’m assuming...” He looked back at her. “...that’s why you kissed me too?” 

“Y-Yeah... I guess so...” 

Silence came again.

“So…” Ann started slowly, looking nervous about what she wanted to say next. “Are we cool then? Can we put this behind us and continue our friendship?” 

They could, right? After all, it was just one night. One silly little slip-up. They saved the world together as Phantom Thieves once. Surely they could put something like this behind them...

Right?

He gave her a warm smile. “Of course.”

Her eyes glimmered and she gave him a giant hug, squeezing him tight. “Oh, I’m so glad…” 

He returned the gesture and held her back, gently wrapping his arms around her. “Silly girl.” 

They remained this way for a while until Ann let him go. “Well, I guess I better get going now. It’s getting late.” 

“I’m almost done here. Let me walk you back,” he said. 

“Oh, it’s okay, Ren,” she assured him. “I’ll be fine.” 

“Nonsense. It’s on the way to my place. Might as well as walk together, right?” 

“Well…” Ann thought for a moment and then nodded. “…Okay. Take your time though. I’m in no rush.” 

Ren smiled, turning around to finish up the rest of his tasks to do. Somewhere along the way, as he put away some of the bags of coffee beans on the shelves, something caught his attention from behind. 

*Click*

Turning back, he saw Ann stopped at the door. 

“Ann?” he said, but she didn’t respond, just simply facing the door. He steadily walked over to her, seeing if she was alright. “Hey, are you—“ 

The blonde whirled around, a defiant gaze in her azure eyes that stopped him in his tracks. Without a word, she marched right up to him, urgency increasing with each step.

And as soon as he knew it, her lips were right on his.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

“So…” Ann started slowly, nervous about what she wanted to say next. “Are we cool then? Can we put this behind us and continue our friendship?” 

They could, right? After all, it was just one night. One silly little slip-up. They saved the world together as Phantom Thieves once. Surely they could put something like this behind them...

Right?

He gave her a warm smile. “Of course.”

His words lifted a heavy weight off her chest, making her eyes glimmer like shimmering stars. She gave him a giant hug, squeezing him tight. “Oh, I’m so glad…” 

He returned the gesture and held her back, gently wrapping his arms around her. “Silly girl.” 

They remained this way for a while, Ann basking in his gentle warmth until she let him go. “Well, I guess I better get going now. It’s getting late.” 

“I’m almost done here. Let me walk you back,” he said. 

“Oh, it’s okay, Ren,” she assured him. “I’ll be fine.” 

“Nonsense. It’s on the way to my place. Might as well as walk together, right?” 

“Well…” Ann thought for a moment and then nodded. “…Okay. Take your time though. I’m in no rush.” 

Ren smiled, turning around to finish up the rest of his tasks to do. 

Are you really satisfied with just that?

Of course... her sub-conscious thoughts had to creep up on her once more.

Do you honestly believe that you’ll both let that go and go on as if nothing happened?

Of course, it’s okay. Neither of us see each other that way, Ann tried rationalizing with herself while watching him continue to work—eyes completely fixated on him.

It doesn’t bother you one bit—that it meant nothing to him? That little voice of hers goaded on. That kissing and holding you like you were special meant nothing? That him saying that he loved you was meaningless?

Suddenly, a pang hit her chest, something practically squeezing her heart too tight.

No. She shook her head. I’m not falling for this again... Ren’s my friend. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Oh, really? Nothing more? Just a casual encounter? Then, why did your heart ache for that moment when he told you he didn’t see you ‘that way’?

Ann faltered, eyes widening as she remembered his exact response to her question:

 

“I-I mean… there’s no way you’d see me that way, right?” 

“...Right.”

 

The blonde shook her head again. Stop it! She covered her ears. Stop confusing me!!!

Then prove it. Prove that it’s just a casual encounter. That he’s just a friend to you. That it doesn’t bother you one bit whether he sees you as girlfriend material or not.

Ann let go of her ears and dropped her hands to her sides, slowly looking up at the door— determination rising in her heart. 

Fine... I’ll prove you wrong.

As he put away some of the bags of coffee beans on the shelves, Ann turned around and walked up to the entrance door, eyes fixing on the doorknob. 

*Click*

“Ann?” he said, but she didn’t respond, just simply facing the door. She heard him walking steadily toward her. “Hey, are you—“ 

The blonde whirled around, a defiant gaze in her azure eyes that stopped him in his tracks. Without a word, she marched right up to him, urgency increasing with each step.

And as soon as he knew it, her lips met his. 

He stood still with his eyes wide at first, then immediately went for it when he kissed her back with rivaling intensity, reaching behind her head and drawing her forward, deepening the kiss. 

After a moment, her eyes shot open, a sudden realization hitting her: What in the world was she doing? What was she thinking, coming up and kissing him like this?

Oh my god!!!! What am I doing!?!?!?

She immediately pulled back. “I...” she said with wide frantic eyes, panicking—having no idea how to explain herself. “I-I’m sorry... I’m not sure why I––” 

But, that didn’t seem to matter. Before she was able to finish, he kissed her again, muffling the words when his tongue pried her lips apart and darted at hers. She let out a soft moan, clasping the collar of his shirt and yanking him closer. 

Spinning her around, he backed her up against the wall by the staircase, shoving his hips against hers. “Tell me, Ann…” he said as he pulled back a little, his voice gruff and husky. “Why did you really come here?” 

“Huh?” she replied with bewildered eyes, her heart doubling at the way his silver eyes narrowed and bored into hers. 

“Did you come here just to talk? Or was there something else you wanted from me?” 

“I-I...” she stammered, feeling her cheeks grow hot. “I-I did come here just to talk.” 

His lips were lightly brushing hers, wisps of his breaths tickling her lips. “Then, why did you kiss me again?” 

“I-I don’t know... It just felt like the right thing to do...” 

“Hmm? Oh, really?” he said in a lazy drawl, playfully tracing his finger right along her collarbone that made her quiver under his hold. “The right thing to do, huh? Then, what should I do?” 

“I-I….” 

His eyes darkened, giving her that intense smoldering look that made her heart beat a hundred times faster than it did just a few seconds ago. “There’s something you want, isn’t there?” 

“I don’t know…” 

“Don’t be shy… we’re friends, right? You can tell me anything.” 

“Ren…” 

“Tell me, Ann…” 

What did she really want? And why did she really come to see him? It was just to apologize for that night and to make-up with him, right? 

Then, why did you kiss him?

She didn’t know. She had no clue. All she really wanted was to reconcile their friendship. That’s all. She never intended to get this far—to kiss him and get all up on him—but then that stupid little voice in her head pestered her and it just... happened. Like something snapped in her. As if something had been festering in her, making its release just now. 

No... That’s not all. She wanted to prove herself wrong. Prove that she didn’t mind if he’d never see her as anything more. That there were no underlying feelings for her best friend left over from youth.

Yet, all she really did was contradict herself further. How naive of her to think that kissing him would’ve proved there was nothing there. If anything, it only confused her more, causing more conflict within her thoughts and feelings of him. 

So, what were these feelings exactly—these feelings that caused her turmoil? Why? Why couldn’t she stop thinking about him? Was it because of that night? 

Or... had it always been this way?

Whatever the reason was, all she knew was that she wanted him to kiss her again. 

“K-Kiss me...” she uttered out quietly. “Kiss me again...”

“Oh? And why would you want that?” he asked, quirking a curious brow.

“B-Because...” she began, looking away in shame. “...it feels good...” 

“It feels good?” 

“Y-Yes... It feels good when you kiss me,” she said, blushing furiously. 

“Is that so?” he replied, a smirk playing on his lips. “Hmm... Are you saying I’m a good kisser then?”

Her eyes narrowed a little, slightly vexed by the cocky inquisition. “So what if I am? I like it—it makes me feel good.”

“Even though we’re just friends?” he pointed out bluntly, reminding Ann of their conversation just a while ago. “You do know that friends don’t normally engage in these sort of intimate acts, right?”

Ann lowered her head, muttering, “Yeah... well, as much as I want to put that all behind us, we already crossed that boundary when we slept together that night.”

“So, now what? You want something more?”

“I-I...” she faltered, not sure how to answer that. “...I don’t know. I mean... I just got out of a relationship.”

“Yet, you want me to kiss you like your ex used to...” There was a slight hint of mockery in his tone.

“N-No... that’s not—”

“Then, what is it, Ann?”

“I don’t know!!!” she snapped, her screech echoing all throughout the vacant café.

And, just like that, another wave of silence swooshed between them, awkwardness creeping in between them once more.

Then, slowly, Ann looked up at him.

“I just… can’t stop thinking about that night...” she said, voice barely audible. “...and you.”

Ren kept a straight face, saying nothing.

“I don’t know why...” she went on, opening up to him more. “ I shouldn’t be feeling this way... I just got out of a relationship—I’m not ready for a new one. Yet, I can’t help it. I can’t help wanting to see you—wanting to do it with you again...”

Again, he said nothing.

“Maybe...” she said, looking down with rueful eyes. “Maybe I’m just feeling lonely... and deprived.”

And he still said nothing, much to Ann’s embarrassment. 

“W-What am I saying!?” she squeaked with burning cheeks, pushing him off of her. “I’m sorry! N-Never mind!!! F-Forget I said anything!!! I’ll just—“ 

Before she was able to say anything else, Ren darted forward and kissed her again, pinning her up against the wall with the weight of his body. She conceded despite her uncertainty, her legs weakening at the way his hands slid up and down her sides, how one hand lightly curved up to the nape of her neck, drawing her closer to deepen the kiss.

Parting from her lips, his mouth found her neck, trailing it up with open-mouthed kisses that sent shivers down her spine. He nipped at her earlobe, wisps of his breaths tickling her inner ear.

“Then, maybe as your friend,” he whispered, purring in her ear, “I should fix that for you...”

“W-What do you mean?” she asked, her breath hitching in her throat.

He slid the red-hooded coat off her shoulders, tossing it back where it landed on one of the booth seats behind them.

“You’ll find out soon enough,” he told her in that deep husky voice, sliding one hand under her blouse and running it up to fondle a cupped breast, rolling it slowly under his palm. She moaned softly in response, whimpering out his name under her breath.

Hooking her leg around his waist, he gyrated his hips into hers, inciting a heat that coiled down within her. He was hard, and the direct contact only fueled the heat in her more, practically melting her. Had it not been for the wall behind her, she probably would’ve fallen limp to the floor.

This was so wrong, but it felt so good. It felt so right. 

Sinfully right.

He kissed under her jawline, down her neck, and to her collarbone. Ann felt herself growing weaker the more his lips touched her skin, the harder he ground his erection against the moistening essence between her legs. Looking up at the ceiling, she wondered if anyone outside would hear them, or even see them through that windowed entrance door. And it all happened over a freaking kiss that shouldn’t have happened. What in the world was she thinking earlier?

“Ren...” she said, gasping when his mouth went up the other side of her neck. “S-Someone might see us...”

His hand reached around her back for the hook of her bra, flicking it open with a simple snap of his fingers. 

“Should’ve thought about that before you kissed me then...” he replied, a smirk in his voice. 

“B-But—”

“We’re in the shadows,” he pointed out, though it didn’t ease Ann’s worries. “Someone would really have to squint through the door to see what’s going on.”

“A-Are you sure?” 

He let out a low laugh. “How cute... you’re shy...”

“That’s not—mmph! 

His mouth smothered hers. It didn’t take long for her to drop the subject from that point, moaning softly against his lips as he swept his hand under her unfastened bra, laying it over her breast and then lightly pinching the nipple, rolling it between his thumb and forefinger. Her legs trembled and her back arched as she felt the warm tingling sensations coil down in her lower stomach again, flooding the moist area between her legs.

Pulling back a little, he gave a slight tug at her leggings, sliding them downward. Ann shifted a bit to help him to pull the rest down, followed by her panties. She fumbled with the button of his jeans and then at his zipper, tugging down his pants and boxers enough for his length to jut out for her to grasp in her hand. Ren let out a low groan at the slight squeeze of her hand sliding down his length—long, thick, and ready for her.

“Wait...” He suddenly stopped her, grasping the wrist of her hand that held him. His eyes were stern and grim as they peered into hers. “You’re on some kind of contraceptive, right? I didn’t ask the last time.”

“I-I’m on the pill...” she answered nervously.

His lips twisted into a dark mischievous smile. “Perfect.”

Almost immediately, Ann found herself lifted off the ground, her legs seized by his hands as he slammed her back into the wall, instantly sliding himself into her that had her gasping for air. She held onto him for dear life, tightly wrapping her arms around his shoulders. 

“So, Ann... Who is it that you really see right now?” he asked, the corner of his mouth curling at the sound of her whimpering in his hold.

She blinked, not sure what he’s talking about. “H-Huh?”

He gave her one deep thrust of his hips, earning another moan from her.

“You’re not thinking of him, are you?”

Oh. He must’ve been referring to Kenta.

“N-No...” she answered, not sure where he was going with this. If she were honest with herself, Kenta hadn’t been on her mind for the last few minutes until Ren reminded her just now. 

As a matter of fact, since they started this whole thing, Kenta was the last thing on her mind.

“Is that so?” Ren looked a bit skeptical. 

“Y-You... don’t believe me?”

He gave another thrust, making her limp in his hold.

“It doesn’t matter either way... It’s not like I want to be in your thoughts.”

“L-Liar...” she managed to mutter under her raspy breaths, her forehead laying against his. “Then why did you ask?”

“Just curious. That’s all.”

Ann’s eyes looked up at his, managing a glare. “I still think you’re lying.”

“Think what you will,” he told her, thrusting another—again and again.

“W-Well.... a-actually...” She closed her eyes, dwindling blissfully under his mercy. Without thinking, she spoke out, “...you’re the one I imagine a lot in my dirty mind.”

He quirked a brow. “Oh?”

Her eyes shot wide open when she realized what she unveiled, flushed cheeks darkening again. “O-Oh my god! Why am I telling you this!?”

“So...” He gave her a another lazy smirk. “...you fantasize about me, huh? When you touch yourself? When you’re with other men?”

“N-No, I—” 

“My, my, Ann... You really are a naughty girl, aren’t you?”

Before Ann was able to retort, he kissed her once more, thrusting himself harder and and deeper into her, gradually picking up the pace.  

Aaaghh!!!” she moaned again, her lips barely parted from his.

“Like this?” he murmured against her lips, letting out a groan of his own as he was now practically pounding her against the wall.

“Y-Yes...” she breathed, arching her head back as she felt his pelvis grinding up against her clit with each thrust. “Ah, yes...! That feels so good...”

Eventually, his mouth found her ear, whispering, “Is this how you thought of me in your fantasies?”

Ann couldn’t answer, pleasant tremors building within her as he pounded into her relentlessly. She shut her eyes with a slight roll, reveling in the rippling sensations. Dear lord—it was a hundred times better in reality than any fantasy she ever concocted of him.

He gave a slight laugh, devilish in tone. “I bet you’re enjoying this more than whatever he could do...”

Ann felt her loins clench at that, her hands tightly gripping the back of his shirt as her legs squeezed taut around his hips. How bold of him to make such an accusation. Almost brutal in a way.

But... she would be lying if she straight out denied it. Indubitably, this was definitely a hundred—no—a thousand times better than whatever Kenta had ever given her.

“S-Shut up...” she retorted in a stutter, clumsily stumbling over her words. “Q-Quit being so... cocky...”

“You know you like it...” he taunted in a low purr, pounding harder.

“I...” she struggled, practically digging her nails through the fabric of his shirt as she felt the tremors escalate within her, her peak so close, so close she could almost reach it.

It wasn’t long until she finally lost herself, all the sensations coming at her all at once as she cried out in ecstasy, leaving her limp and breathless against him. He shortly found his own release seconds later as he let out one final groan of his own, and they stood still against the wall, catching their breaths as they remained tightly entwined.

“Are you okay?” he asked after a while, kissing her neck.

“Uh huh...” Ann responded with a weak nod, still panting heavily.

“Can I let you go now?”

“No.”

He let out a soft chuckle and held her against the wall longer, waiting until she finally gave him the okay to release her. 

 


 

Ren and Ann walked outside in silence after he locked up shop and started accompanying her back to Makoto’s and Haru’s apartment. They had been this way for a while now since their little escapade moments ago. Ren had no idea what to say or how to make the situation less awkward than it was now, but he needed to say something—they couldn’t be doing this the entire way.

He cleared his throat.

“So...”

Ann finally looked at him.

“So, uh...” he began again, scratching the back of his head. “I guess we, uh... did it again.”

“Y-Yeah...” she said, rubbing her arm nervously. “I’m sorry... It’s all my fault.”

“Well...” He pocketed his jeans. “I didn’t exactly stop you. So, I’m just as fault.”

Silence came between them again.

“So... what do we do now?” asked Ann.

“I don’t know...” he said with a small shrug. “Obviously, there’s some sort of mutual attraction here, but neither of us are ready for a relationship at this time. I mean—like you said—you just got out of a relationship. And I’m not looking for anything serious right now either.”

They both halted in their tracks, turning to face each other.

“You don’t think there’s anything else going on here besides physical attraction?” Ann brought up, looking at him straight in the eye.

“To be honest with you...” he said, folding his arms in contemplation. “I really don’t know. I find you very attractive, yes. But, dating you? I don’t know. We’ve been friends for a while now, and I’ve enjoyed our friendship as is. I don’t want to complicate things if we started something and then things don’t work out.”

“Yeah...” she responded faintly. “I feel the same...”

They both resumed their walk, sauntering quietly beside the other.

“But...” He decided to go on, taking a quick moment to glance at her. “It’s not like I didn’t enjoy what we did back there at the café.”

“Y-Yeah.... Me too...” she admitted, a tinge of red brushing her cheeks as she shyly lowered her head in response.

“Maybe...” he trailed off, musing for a while, “...doing those things together once in a while wouldn’t be a bad thing?”

Her head immediately snapped in his direction, eyes wide as saucers peering straight into his. “What do you mean? Like... having sex without any strings attached?”

“Well... both of us are single. We’re not ready to date. Yet, we both find each other attractive and enjoy each others’ company,” he pointed out. “It isn’t like neither of us have had casual sex before. But, at least in this case, we’re not strangers.”

“True...” she said.

“That.... and it might help keep your mind off Kenta...” he added.

Ann said nothing.

“I mean...” he started again, “...we could stop anytime whenever either of us are ready to date again.”

“Yeah...” she replied, her tone hesitant as she looked downward again. “Maybe... we could.”

They went on awkwardly in silence again. Ren scratched his head, speculating that she was probably against the idea. But, that’s fine—it was only a silly thought anyways. 

“Hey,” he said, placing a hand on her shoulder. “It’s just an idea. You don’t have to be for it if it makes you uncomfortable. I just thought that since we already done it twice, it was something worth trying out.”

“Yeah...” She timorously slid a lock of hair behind her ear. “...I’ll keep it in mind.”

Shortly afterward, they came to a stop in front of an opulent stone-grey building, lofty and lined with a multitude of windows, some even showcasing the extravagantly furnished rooms within. Its chic design reflected the finest contemporary architecture had to offer. Was this place even affordable? Then again, this was Makoto and Haru here—especially Haru, who notably came from a very wealthy background.  

Nothing else was said for a moment as the awkwardness still lingered around them, but Ann spoke up anyways.

“Anyways... thanks for walking me back, Ren...” she said, nervously straightening the straps of her purse around her shoulders. “...Even after all that happened tonight.”

“Don’t worry about it,” he told her with a small smile. “I’m always here when you need anything. Just let me know.”

“Thank you.” She smiled back, giving him a friendly hug. “Be careful on the way home, okay?”

“I will...” He returned the embrace.

“Goodnight, Ren.”

“Goodnight, Ann.”

They remained this way for a while before parting, Ann giving a small wave before making her way up the stairway entrance. Ren waited until she was finally inside the building before heading on his way home.

“ ‘Maybe doing those things together once in a while...’ ” he mocked his own words, letting out a long sigh. He had no idea how the idea came to mind or why he even suggested it, but it should’ve been a no-brainer that Ann would’ve been opposed to it. “What were you thinking, Ren? Of course she’d be against it...”

Was it the sex perhaps? It had been a while since he got down and dirty with someone before doing it with Ann. Perhaps his body was plagued with lust, making up for those months of sex deprivation he had after his last relationship ended on mutual terms. 

Though... if it was just sex, why couldn’t he stop thinking about her? And why specifically did it have to be with her?

This was so confusing.

Ren pocketed his hands in his jeans as he ambled onward, kicking a recently fallen leaf on the pavement. Why was this becoming more complicated as time went on?

 


 

The next few days for Ann came with some interesting events. More modeling shoots for this week and the whole month, which was always a good thing. She decided to quit her other part-time job after her manager deemed it okay to bribe her into sleeping with him for extra cash. That sleazy old perv. The audacity of some people these days.

“Oh, wow. That’s good you quit that job,” said Haru as she set down a freshly made cup of hot coffee on the dinner table for Ann. “Sounded like it was a toxic environment. But at least you got more photoshoots for this month. I think you’re doing wonderful so far, Ann.”

“Thanks, Haru.” Ann smiled, sipping her coffee.

“Well, if you ever want to try another part-time position again, you can always come and work for me. I just opened up a new restaurant in Shibuya, and I’d be happy to have a friend to work with.”

“I’ll consider it, but I think for now, I should try and focus on my modeling since business is picking up.”

“No problem. Just let me know.” Haru said, taking a seat across from her. “So... How are things with Ren?”

Ann nearly choked on her coffee, smacking her chest a few times to ease the violent coughing spells.

“I take it that things are going well?” Haru giggled behind her delicate fingers.

Ann frantically shook her hands. “N-No! It’s nothing like that!!!”

“You came back late that one night again after you went to visit him. Something had to have happened.”

“We talked for a bit,” the blonde tried to explain, though it seemed that Haru was not taking it. “Nothing else happened, I promise!”

“Again, Ann...” Haru had a deadpan look on her face. “You’re such a bad liar. Both Makoto and I saw that look you had on your face that night. That look definitely said more than just ‘talking things out’.”

“Haru!!!” the blonde whined.

“It’s okay, Ann. We won’t tell anyone else about it. Though, it’s pretty obvious something is going on between you two. I don’t think anyone else would be surprised.”

“N-Nothing is going on between us!!” Ann protested, blushing furiously. “Y-Yeah... I admit that we did fool around a little bit last night... but—”

Haru let out a coy gasp. “Well, well... So, something did happen between you two at Leblancs.”

“But—!” Ann quickly interjected. “Neither of us are ready to date at this time. I... just got out of a relationship. I’m still trying to get over Kenta. And Ren... Ren’s not looking for anything serious at this time either.”

“Oh, dear...” Haru palmed her forehead, shaking her head in disappointment. “You two really are something else...”

“It’s true though!”

“Alright. So you’re not over Kenta quite yet. But let me ask you this: Have you ever felt anything for Ren?”

“Well...” Ann began to think, poking her chin as she looked up in contemplation. “Yeah. But that was all in high school. I’m over it now.”

“Really?” Haru raised a skeptical brow. “You can honestly say you feel nothing for him now—not even a tiny ounce?”

The blonde gave a slow, small nod.

“Not even a slight skip in your chest at the thought of him?”

Ann paused for a moment, double taking that question. Well, now that Haru mentioned it, there were a few times her heart skipped for him—even before that drunken night. But... they didn’t happen all the time she thought of him. So, they had to be meaningless, right?

“I-I guess there were a few times... but not all the time,” she admitted, turning away for a second. She then looked back and gave Haru a hard stare. “What’s your point?”

Haru simpered a bit, definitely noticing Ann’s hesitation there. “Well, I think it means something. Obviously, there’s something about him that still brings you excitement. Why not give him a chance? I’m pretty sure he feels the same for you.”

“But... I’m still not over Kenta. And Ren’s not interested in anyone right now.”

“Ren said he wasn’t interested in dating. That doesn’t mean he’s not interested in you.

“Huh?” Ann blinked, looking lost.

“And as for Kenta... his influence will diminish as time goes on. The moment your heart starts beating for another man, then it shows you’re moving on—little by little.” Haru gave her a warm smile, sipping her coffee. “And from what it sounds like, you’ve been on that track for a while now. It sounds like you’ve always had a special eye for Ren.”

“Eh!? Don’t be absurd!” Ann squeaked.

Haru let out another giggle behind her fingers.

“Oh, Ann... You’re so silly.”

 


 

 

Ann had been idly laying in bed for a while now, eyes fixing on the spinning ceiling fan from above. That conversation with Haru earlier that evening was a bit silly. What was she implying—that Ann still had feelings for Ren and vise versa? That was absolutely insane! There was no way any of that was left over from high school.

...Speaking of Ren, how was he doing? 

Sighing, she shifted over on the mattress and reached for her phone on the nightstand to check if she had any new messages, but there were none. She tapped the ‘messaging’ icon on her screen, typing out something on her keypad.

 

Ann: Hey.

 

It had been a while since Ren and her last spoke. Things have been busy these past few days with her job and trying to find a new apartment. The last time they really spoke in person was on that night they fooled around in the café. 

 

“Maybe... doing those things together once in a while wouldn’t be a bad thing?”

 

It wasn’t as if she was entirely opposed to the idea. As Ren had said, they were both single and not looking for anything serious. In a way, she did feel a bit sexually deprived, considering that she hadn’t done anything during those last few months with Kenta before sleeping with Ren. And if Ren was in a similar boat, and if both were on the same page with this, maybe such fun once in a while could be of some benefit for the two of them. They could help each other vent off stresses and frustrations that arise. They were no stranger to each other either, which was a plus since that minimizes the risks of casual sex.

That, and sex with him felt incredible—she never had felt so alive in so long.

But... sex was a very intimate and emotional act too. What if feelings got in the way? What if she began to fall for him, and he didn’t return her feelings? The last thing she wanted was getting hurt again.

 

Ren: Hey.

 

The reply came back relatively quickly. It sort of relived her in a way—at least it didn’t seem like he was trying to ignore her.

 

Ann: Are you busy right now?

 

She missed him. She really missed her best friend. Perhaps now, she could see him again—maybe even tonight. She didn’t care how late it was—she just wanted to see him now.

 

Ren: No. Why?

 

They could meet up, hang out, and chill like old times. Or, maybe just talking for a bit would be enough. She was cool with that too—she did have some news to share with him after all. 

Anything would be sufficient enough... because she missed him just that much. 

 

Ann: Can we talk for a bit?

 

She missed his tousled raven hair. His smooth voice. His smoldering silver eyes. His soft lips...

 

Ann: In person???

 

...Everything. She missed everything about him.

 

Ren: Well, Morgana is with Futaba again tonight. So, it should be okay.

Ren: Why? What’s wrong?

 

“Maybe... doing those things together once in a while wouldn’t be a bad thing?”

 

Perhaps it wouldn’t...

 

Ann: I want to try out something with you.

Chapter Text

 

 

When Ann arrived to Ren’s place, it didn’t take long for things to escalate when she unexpectedly pushed him down onto the sofa and began kissing him like there was no tomorrow.

“I want to try something with you…” she said after barely parting from his lips, her long cascading hair veiling around his face as she hovered over him. “…That idea you had the other day—let’s do it.”

“Are you sure?” he asked, eyes concerned as his hands planted on her hips. “I don’t want you feeling pressured into doing something you don’t want to.”

Her finger traced circles on his chest. “But, I do want it… and I know you want it too.”

“Ann…”

She kissed him again, sliding her hands under his shirt and running them all over his chest and abs that were chiseled to perfection. This elicited a soft groan from him as he drew her closer, venturing his hands up and down her sides.

“You do want it, right?” She pulled away again, her pretty azure eyes boring into his. 

“I do… but…” he said, looking away in hesitance.

“Do you… want me?”

He looked back at her, an impenetrable look in his eyes that she couldn’t read well. Slowly, her confidence dwindled, and she sat up with her flushed cheeks.

“I… I’m sorry.” She shifted over to the edge of the couch, allowing him to sit up beside her. “I just made things awkward again, didn’t I?”

He stood up without a word, much to Ann’s embarrassment. Did she come on too strong? Did it change his mind? What was going on in his thoughts?

Before she knew it, she was lifted up in the air, carried bridal style in his arms.

“H-Hey!!!” She instantly locked her arms around his neck as he moved toward his room. “Where are you taking me!?”

He took her to his bed, following her down onto the mattress. 

“Ren… What are you—?”

He interrupted her with a short but deep kiss.

“I do want you,” he murmured out as soon as their lips parted, smoldering eyes showcasing a lustful gaze that made her heart flutter in her chest.

“You do?” she asked for certainty.

“Don’t believe me?” He smirked, flicking the button of her jeans open when he moved toward her ear and whispered, “Then let me show you—how much I want you.” 

He tugged the zipper down as he kissed her again, parting ever so slightly when he slowly slid her leggings down her legs, leaving her with just her top and panties on. Slowly, did he make his way down her, kissing down her neck while fumbling with the buttons of her long-sleeved blouse, then down her chest to her stomach while one hand slipped under her panties, finding the little sensitive nub of her essence and lightly massaging it with his thumb.

“Ahh...” Ann moaned, arching her back at the gentle rubbing. She felt herself weakening, growing wetter by his touch. Such finesse he had. She loved the way he touched her like this, how it simply made her want more and more. “Feels so good....” 

“You’re so wet...” He looked up at her, a smug look on his face. “You really like that, huh?”

“Mhm...” she mewled, losing herself in the blissful sensations as she closed her eyes. “S-So... good...”

Ren pressed a little harder, grinning wider at the increasingly loud cries she could no longer contain.

“Hmm... I love the sounds you make...” Ren kissed along the inner side of her right thigh, then her left. His lips were so warm and tickling. He then looked up at her again, lust completely overtaking his eyes. “You’re such a naughty girl.”

“R-Ren...! Ahh!!” she moaned again, tensing up as she felt an impending release coming.

But, just as she was about to reach her heavenly bliss, he drew back, simpering when she managed to shoot him an irritated glare.

“Y-You... jerk...” she muttered under her breath, breathing unsteadily with a dissatisfied scowl on her face.

“Am I?” he asked, looking satisfied with himself. “Maybe I am...”

Ann pouted. “Stop teasing me! Now you’ve really upset me!”

“I’m sorry...” he cooed in a mocking tone, hands lightly grazing up her inner thighs. “I’ll make it up to you soon...”

“Really? That’s it? Ugh... You’re such a big tease.”

“Who said I was done with you?” he said, curling his fingers around the hem of her panties and sliding them down her legs. Tossing them over with a flick of his wrist, he spread her legs and hoisted them over his shoulders. “I’m not done with you yet.”

“What are you—”

Ren lowered to the moist region between her legs, lightly placing the tip of his tongue near her entrance and working his way upward—making her shudder nonstop. His tongue gently tapped her little bundle of nerves, earning a shaky gasp from her as the sharp sensation pierced her senses. She lifted her hips toward his mouth and granted him better access, encouraging him to keep going.

“O-Oh god...” She gasped again, taking in heavy labored breaths. 

He buried his face between her thighs, swirling his tongue around her clit and flicking it occasionally while gliding two of his fingers into her entrance.

“D-Don’t stop...” she pleaded, shutting her eyes as she tilted her head back and grasped the white bed sheets under her, reveling in pure delight as he played with the swelling nub in his mouth while fingering her incessantly. “P-Please... don’t stop...”

Her hand found his tousled mane, encouraging him further with gentle strokes and tugs at his hair.

“O-Oh my god, Ren...!” Her voice strangled, barely able to make out the words as every part of her body tensed up for her pending release. “L-Like that...! Like... Like... Oh my god...! Oh my god!!!!

And just like that, everything came to her all at once as she broke against his tongue, tremors rippling throughout her body as stars danced in front of her eyes. Blissful. Euphoric. Heavenly. She truly felt like she was in heaven.

After a few more calming strokes of his tongue, Ren finally pulled back, wiping his mouth with his forearm. Ann panted heavily as her body shuddered in rhythmic spasms, catching her breath as she laid all sprawled out on the mattress.

“Better?” he asked, the corner of his mouth curling.

In a white haze, Ann managed a nod through her heavy breaths. “Better... thanks.”

“I could tell. You look more than satisfied.”

She tsked, giving him a wry look, “Oh, quit it with your ego.” 

He shifted over on the bed beside her and gave her a cheeky smile. “But, it’s true isn’t it?”

She turned her head away with a furious blush. “Fine. But don’t get it up in your head.”

“Someone’s feisty.”

There was a brief period of silence. After a while, Ann looked back at him, shyly rubbing her arm. “So, um... if we’re really going to do this, then maybe we should come up with some rules here.”

“Yeah, I agree,” he said. “Any ideas?”

“Hmm... How about this? Number one,” she began, holding up one finger. “We’re just friends doing this for fun.”

He nodded. “Alright, that’s a start.” 

She thought for another moment, and then held up two fingers. “Number two: Sex is just sex and nothing more.”

“Mhm...” he sounded, nodding again.

She then held up three fingers. “Number three: Any kinds of sex will do, just remember that no means no and to speak up whenever you’re uncomfortable with something.”

“Agreed.”

She held up four fingers. “Number four: Cuddling after sex is okay.”

“Alright.”

Ann paused to muse again, but couldn’t find anything else at the moment. “I’m not sure what else we should follow. Do you have any other suggestions?”

Ren poked his chin, thinking over some other ideas for a few seconds before something finally came to mind.

“How about this?” he started. “Number five: Communicate often to see how things are between us.”

Ann snapped her fingers in excitement. “Yes! That’s a very good idea!”

“Number six: Try not to let anyone know about us... it may potentially complicate things if others hear and try to get involved,” he explained, earning another satisfactory nod from Ann

“Sounds like a good plan.”

The two quieted for another moment, unsure of any other ideas. Then, something finally came to Ann.

“What about this one?” she said. “Number seven: If, by any chance, either of us begins feeling something for each other, then it’s time to call it quits.”

There was silence for a while on his part before he gave a small nod. “Alright, sounds like a good rule.”

“Any other rules you can think of?” she asked.

He shook his head. “Not at the moment... Think this is good enough for now?”

“I think so. Maybe we should write these down so we don’t forget, haha!” 

“Yeah... we probably should in a bit.”

“Anyways...” She changed the topic, suddenly rolling over on top of him, “...it’s your turn now, right?”

He quirked a curious brow. “Oh? My turn? And what might you have for me?”

Her shy demeanor dwindled into a little mischievous one, a smirk curling her lips as she sweetly traced circles over his chest. “You act all tough and mighty, but I’m pretty sure you have a weakness too.”

“Is that so? And what do you think that is exactly? Enlighten me,” he challenged.

She gave a coy smile, tugging at the belt around the hem of his denims. “You’ll see...”

The corner of his mouth curled. “Heh. Alright. Bring it.”

 


 

Three months later...

 

Since the two have established rules and boundaries for their new makeshift relationship, they went on with it for the next few months, fooling around whenever either of them saw fit. Neither have had any issues with it so far. If anything, both actually found it quite fun. It was quite relieving in a way—pouring whatever stresses they had onto each other. And all it took was just some simple asking and having a little free time in their hands.

Spring was on it’s way and Ann had just finished her photoshoot for the springtime catalog, making her way back to the apartment she moved into a few weeks ago. It was small, but it would do for now, since it was just her anyways.

The moment she walked into her place, her phone vibrated in her purse. She pulled it out to see what it was.

 

Hey. Done with work yet?” the message had said. It was Ren.

Ann smiled, typing back:

 

Ann: Yeah. Just got back home 

Ann: What are you up to?

 

Ren responded:

 

Ren: Nothing. Just got back home from work too

Ren: How’s the new apartment?

 

Ann: It’s great! I think I’m pretty much settled in now thanks to you and everyone

Ann: Did you wanna stop by?

 

Ren: I’d love to, but Morgana’s been feeling neglected 

Ren: Says I’ve been out too much and thinks I’ve forgotten about him lol

 

Somehow, Ann felt a little disappointed. She was hoping to see Ren tonight, since it had been a few days since they seen each other. Recently, there had been an increase in clientele wanting her to model for them. It was a wonderful feeling getting more known and well-liked, but because of business, Ann was sometimes too busy to go out and visit friends, including Ren and their little ‘playdates’.

 

Ann: Aww... Poor thing

Ann: Well, okay... I guess we can meet up some other time then

 

Ren: Sorry :( 

Ren: I really wanted to stop by

Ren: We could’ve had some fun tonight

Ren: Make up for some lost time...

 

Ann felt her insides quiver a little bit. Was that a tease? No, it couldn’t be. It had to be in her head.

 

Ann: Oh? What kind of fun?

 

And then, Ren typed:

 

Ren: Use your imagination ;)

 

Definitely. Ren was definitely at it again—teasing her with his dirty mind. Was he really going to do this over text though? Perhaps he was just messing around. Such a silly guy he was sometimes. 

Though, she had to admit... his risqué reply did excite her a little bit.

Ann just laughed, typing out her next reply.



Ann: lol 

Ann: Are you horny???

 

Ren typed back:

 

Ren: Maybe... 

Ren: I haven’t seen you in days

 

Perhaps engaging in a little dirty talk over phone wouldn’t be so bad. After all, she hadn’t seen him in a while. A little mischievous smile crept on her lips.

 

Ann: That’s too bad

Ann: If Morgana wasn’t there

Ann: I’d totally do some dirty things with you

 

And then, she immediately came to regret it, a small blush heating her cheeks. She really didn’t think this part out thoroughly before typing it—it sounded sexy at first, so she typed it like that. To be honest, she never tried this dirty-talking-over-text thing before. What if it sounded a bit cringy? Did she just kill the mood?

Three dots finally danced at the bottom of the chatroom after what seemed to be a long pause. Ann’s heart flipped at the wait. 

His response?

 

Ren: Oh, really? Like what?

 

Ann flabbergasted for a moment. Well, at least he seemed interested. So, what was she supposed to reply with? 

Her mischievous smile slowly returning, she decided to be a little subtle much like he did.

 

Ann: Use your imagination

Ann: ;)

 

There was a pause. Perhaps he was doing some chores around the apartment? Maybe he lost interest? After a while, Ren typed:

 

Ren: Ha. Fine. Be that way lol 

Ren: Then... 

Ren: I’ll just imagine pinning you down and making you beg for me

Ren: Because we both know deep down, you love it when I’m in control

 

Tingles coiled down her within stomach. God, he was so cocky sometimes, but Ann knew he was right about that. Though she loved taking control once in a while, she just loved his dominance—whether he took her over or under the covers, on the wall, the table, the couch... anywhere. She couldn’t help it. It was super sexy...

Just like how he was being now.

 

Ann: You’re right...

Ann: It’s pretty hot when you’re domineering sometimes

 

Ren: Sometimes?

Ren: I highly doubt that’s what you really feel 

Ren: (•̀⌄•́)

 

The blonde rolled her eyes. There he went with that smug attitude again, acting like he knew what she wanted and what she really loved.

 

Ann: And, how would you know? You can’t read my mind

 

He typed:

 

Ren: Well, you do beg me to dominate you quite a bit

Ren: Just like how you begged me the other day to tie you down and go all out on you regardless whether you told me to stop or not

Ren: Or that time when you wanted me to take hold of your hair and push your face into the bed while I took you from behind

 

Another pleasant tingle coiled down Ann’s stomach. She remembered those occurrences, and that last text brought her back to that one Christmas they had together after the gang left his place to return home. Luckily, Morgana was out roaming around the neighborhood that night and didn’t return until two or three hours later when Ann finally got dressed and went on her way back to Makoto’s and Haru’s place.

That was an unforgettable night indeed. She wondered if they could do that again someday.

 

Ann: Hmm....

Ann: That was a very fun night. Let’s do that again sometime, hehe ;)

 

Ren: I’d love to do that now, but Morgana won’t let me go out with all this guilt tripping ( .. ) 

 

Ann chuckled. A heat fueled in her body as her heart doubled in her chest. Feeling a little bolder, Ann typed out:

 

Ann: Well then...

Ann: Why don’t I just come over and take you down now?

Ann: I’ll show you who’s boss (•̀⌄•́)

 

Ren: Heh

Ren: I’ll take you down first

Ren: Push you down on my bed, kiss you, then run my hands all over you...

 

Ann felt her loins clench between her thighs.

 

Ann: Oh yeah?

Ann: And then?

 

Ren: Then strip you down and mark you all over with my mouth

Ren: Slowly make my way down and then tease your clit with my tongue while fingering you...

 

Her loins throbbing and aching now, Ann felt her cheeks heat up, now seriously craving for his touch, his lips—him.

 

Ann: Ah... You’re making me blush

 

Ren: But you’d like that, wouldn’t you?

 

She definitely would.

 

Ren: I know you love it when I go down on you 

Ren: The way you ride my tongue says it all

 

Oh, god. Was it just her? Or was it seriously hot in her apartment right now? Trembling a bit, her fingers tapped some letters on her keypad.

 

Ann: lol 

Ann: You’re so naughty, do you know that?

 

And he responded:

 

Ren: And you’re not?

Ren: Don’t play innocent. I know you’re just as bad as me. Heh...

 

He was right. She was just as naughty as him.

 

Ann: Yeah. You’re right, hehe

 

That’s probably why they were so physically compatible.

 

Ann: It’s too bad you’re not here... 

Ann: ...I want your touch and kisses so bad.

 

Oh. How she wanted him so bad right now.

 

Ren: Yeah. I want yours too...

 

It seemed like he was craving her too.

 

Ren: And I want you on me

Ren: riding me

Ren: going down on me...

Ren: It’s really sexy... seeing you want me so bad

 

Well, if he really wanted it that much, then there was only one way to resolve the issue.

 

Ann: Well, if you come down now, maybe I’ll give you a little surprise... 

Ann: especially for all the times you made me feel so good ;)

 

Ren typed:

 

Ren: Hmm... You’re really tempting me, you know?

Ren: You think Morgana would mind if I leave for a bit?

Ren: I can’t wait any longer...

Ren: I want to see you... right now

 

She couldn’t wait any longer either. Her eyes darkened, a roguish curl to her mischievous smile.

 

Ann: He’ll live

Ann: Come here

Ann: I’ll make it all worth it ;)

 

Ren: Heh. Hope you’re prepared then...

Ren: Because I won’t go easy on you (。◝‿◜。)

 

Neither would she. 

 

Ann: We’ll see about that (•̀⌄•́)

 

Tonight was going to be another fun night.

 


 

The night had ended on a very satisfying note after Ann’s and Ren’s little playdate—Ann ending up being the one in control near the end and practically riding him to oblivion. Both got what they wanted and gratified their tenacious urges. A fulfilling feeling indeed—and another night to look back on for their future escapades.

However, when Ann woke up the next morning, it was as if she had been hit with the most terrible hangover ever, combined with a major case of sea sickness. Her head throbbed. She was nauseous and prone to vomit at the slightest prodding. Not again. This was the fourth time in a row she woke up in the morning like this. Was it something she ate last night again?

Saliva watered up in her mouth and she retched. Whatever it was, she needed to hurl... NOW.

Like a stone catapulted in the air, Ann shot out of bed and darted toward the bathroom, the congealed contents of her stomach wasting no time to wait for her to reach the toilet. Barely did she make it on time to crouch over and spew up the vile viscous chunks of chyme into the toilet. She heaved again with another load, and then another—she did this a few times until her stomach settled peacefully.

There was a soft knock on the door. 

“Ann?” Ren’s voice sounded from behind. “Are you alright?”

Ann wiped her mouth, flushing the toilet shortly after. She washed her hands before rinsing her mouth at the sink. “E-Everything’s fine! Maybe it was something I ate last night.”

“Do you need me to go out and get you something?”

“I-I’m fine! Really,” she said, weakly opening the door to a shirtless Ren.

“You don’t look okay. And you sound miserable,” he noted, using the back of his hand to feel her forehead. “It doesn’t seem like there’s a fever...”

“Really, I’m—”

Ren walked over to her room, putting on his shirt and pants that were laying on the floor below the bed. “I’ll go out and get you something from the store. You just stay here and rest.”

“Come on, Ren. You don’t have to—” She came into the room to stop him, but to no success when he turned to look at her with stern eyes.  

“Lay down,” he ordered, pointing at the bed. Ann hesitantly complied, sliding in bed and tucking herself in the sheets. “I’ll be back shortly. Just rest for now.”

“O-Okay...” she said, watching him head out of the room. Shortly after, she heard the entrance door open then close. 

Although she was comforted by his kindness and concern for her, she still felt like crap. Perhaps she had come down with something. The stomach flu maybe?

Suddenly, she remembered something. Getting out of bed, she opened the drawer of her nightstand, pulling out a pack of birth control pills and heading to the kitchen for a glass of water.

As she swallowed the pill, something then began to nag at her. What if, perhaps, there was something else going on that was non-illness related?

Come to think of it, when was her last period on the pill...? Two months ago?

She shook her head. No, there was an explanation for that. Sometimes the pill could cause some bleeding irregularities, at least from what her doctor told her when she lent her the pills. 

Then again, she never had this kind of issue with her pills before. That, and it felt like she’s been using the restroom more often to pee. Her pants also felt just a bit tighter than usual and her sweet cravings have been off the roof. What if... perhaps, by some really horrible luck, she was possibly—

She shook her head again. No. That couldn’t be. It just couldn’t. Perhaps Ann was overthinking things. 

Though, maybe... maybe it wouldn’t hurt to go the store later when she felt better and buy a test. Better safe than sorry.

 


 

After Ren gave Ann some over the counter medicine he bought from the pharmacy nearby her apartment, he shortly made his way back to his place after she persistently reassured him that she would be all right by herself. Did she have to be that pushy though? All he wanted was for his friend to be safe and okay. He was only worried for her—what was wrong with that? 

The moment he arrived back, he was met with a rather indignant welcoming at the entrance way.

“Ren! You left me alone again!” snarled Morgana, his fur bristling at the back of his neck.

Ren hung his keys on the key holder affixed to the wall nearby the entrance door, kicked off his shoes, and walked over to flop onto the couch.

“Sorry, Morgana,” he apologized to his cat friend below him, who wasn’t having it. “I had... some things to attend to.”

“Yeah, yeah...” The displeased cat rolled his eyes. “I know you were with a lady, but come on! Don’t forget about me! It’s either you’re working, you’re out late at night, or you’re bringing me to Futaba’s so she could watch me while you do whatever you need to with your female companion.”

Ren looked at the cat in mild surprise, not expecting him to piece a bit of what was going on. Brushing it aside for now, he gently pat Morgana on the head. “I’ll make it up to you, I promise. I’ll bring you all the sushi you want.”

Morgana simply let out a long crestfallen sigh, his ears drooping a bit. “Still... I’m worried about you, Ren. All these late nights... You haven’t even been sleeping well.”

Ren did feel his eyes were a bit heavy, but he shook his head anyways to ease the cat’s worries. “I think I’m okay...”

“Four hours of sleep is not enough!” chided Morgana. “You need more than that!”

“Yeah, I know.. You’re right.” He sat up toward the edge of the couch, palming his forehead. “I’m sorry...”

“I’ve never even met this lady either—none of us had. I hope she’s not taking advantage of you.”

“It’s nothing like that Morgana. She’s just someone I’m having fun with. Neither of us want to take things seriously.”

“But... why? Why do neither of you want to be serious? Don’t you think it’d be more fulfilling to just be with someone wholly rather than partially?”

“I... don’t think I want to be in a relationship right now,” said Ren with a bit of tentativeness. “The past previous ones were a lot of work. And even then, they didn’t work out in the end.”

“But, she could be different from the rest, you know? Why not take another chance? Do you even care about her?”

“Of course I care about her. She’s...” Ren paused, thinking of how to describe his feelings for his longtime friend. “...not just some fling. She’s my friend.”

“So, then, do you like her? Like... do you like her more than a friend?”

Ren thought about it for a bit. He’s definitely attracted to Ann, and he even had said so himself. Her smile. Her laugh. Her silly perks. Her kindness... She was practically perfect to him in every way. But, feelings? It’s not that he didn’t want to date her, contrary to what he told Ann a few months ago before they started this casual thing between them. But, Ann had some emotional baggage from Kenta, and Ren didn’t want her to take all that out on him. Besides, the last thing he wanted was to be misplaced in the same category as that asshole in her eyes. 

“I don’t know...” he said, shaking his head. “It’s complicated.”

“How is it complicated? Either you like her or you don’t,” Morgana said matter-of-factly. “I don’t get it...”

Ren’s eyes lowered.“She’s... just going through a rough time right now.”

Morgana hopped onto the sofa beside Ren, looking straight at him with a defiant set of eyes. “Then, be there to support her. Hold her! Be her light! Ease the pain in her heart and show her how much she’s special to you! Where’s that gentlemanly spirit in you? I thought I taught you better than that!”

Ren said nothing, looking idly across the room as he was lost in thought. 

I’m not supposed to love her that way though, he thought, a rueful look in his silver eyes. We agreed to stop this thing if either of us develop any sort of feelings.

Are you admitting that you’ve fallen for her?

I don’t know. I’m not sure. Maybe... it’s always been her this whole time.

Ren shook his head. Why was he thinking all this nonsense? Admitting how he really felt would ruin everything they had—at least right now, when her thoughts were still all over her ex-boyfriend.

She hasn’t really mentioned him in a while, though. Maybe she’s moved on already?

Ren highly doubted it. She was with the guy three years. Three months wasn’t enough time to move on for such a long period of dating, was it?

Or, did it even matter?

“Anyways, let’s get some sleep. I know the sun is still up, but I’m pretty sure you haven’t slept enough last night,” Morgana advised, jumping off the sofa and making his way towards Ren’s room. “After that, you can buy me some take out sushi from that restaurant in Ginza to make up for leaving me behind last night.”

Ren chuckled, standing up from the couch. Some things never change with the little guy.

“Of course, Morgana. Let’s get some rest.”

 


 

Late evening...

 

The moment Ann arrived home from the pharmacy, she headed straight to the bathroom, taking the plastic bag with the box she purchased inside with her. Tearing it open and looking over the folded page of instructions tucked inside the box, she followed the directions word by word. Uncapping the test? Check. Voiding on the tip of the test for seven seconds? Check. Recapping the test and setting it aside for five minutes? Check. Simple enough. Now, all she needed to do was wait.

She sat on the rim of her tub, every so often checking the time on her watch.

Deep breaths, Ann. She coached herself, taking in a deep breath. There’s nothing to worry about. Everything will be fine. There’s no way that I’m—

Her phone vibrated in one of her denim pockets. She pulled it out to see what it was.

 

Ren: Hey

Ren: How are you feeling?

Ren: Feeling better?

 

Ann typed back:

 

Ann: Yeah. Feeling better

Ann: Thanks for the medicine earlier. It really helped

 

Ren responded:

 

Ren: That’s good. Worried me there for a moment ~( ~´・_・`)~

Ren: You looked really sick earlier

Ren: But, I’m glad you’re doing better

 

Ann smiled. To see him so concerned was sweet in a way.

 

Ann: Thanks, Ren :) 

 

Ren typed:

 

Ren: So, uhh…

Ren: Gotta go get Morgana some sushi for upsetting him earlier lol

Ren: Let me know if you need anything

Ren: Just wanted to make sure you were alright

 

Ann: Oh Morgana lol

Ann: Okay

Ann: Thanks for checking in again

Ann: You’re the best(^_^)

 

Ren: Of course (^ _ ^)/

Ren: Talk to you later then

Ren: Take it easy and get some rest 

 

A small giddy smile plastered her face as a sense of ease came to her for a moment, and she nearly forgot about the pending results of the test left on the sink countertop until the timer on her watch went off.

She got up and walked over to the sink, taking the test in her hands as she inhaled a deep breath and tried reassuring herself to relax. Pulling the cap off, she looked over the results on the test window...

And then.. her eyes shot open wide in disbelief. 

“Oh... my... god.”

Ann’s hands trembled, her grip on the test weakening as the color on her face drained. 

“No way… This can’t be…” 

Her eyes had to have been lying to her. She rubbed her eyes with her palms a few times and then rechecked. Nope. Not a lie. Still there. Crystal clear right in front of her azure eyes.

Her eyes fixated on the two red color bands displaying on the test window as she stood there in silence, wondering what the hell went wrong, what in the world she was supposed to do. She’s not ready for this. There was no way she was prepared for any of this.  

She slowly lowered the test onto the countertop, eyes never breaking from the display of results.

“It’s… positive?” 

Chapter Text

Chapter 6 - With or Without

 

“Takemi Medical Clinic...” Ann muttered to herself as she looked down at her Google Maps app on the phone, then looked up at the sign on the building. “I think this is the place....”

She walked up the steps, entering an elevator that took her to the floor where the business was located on. Her heart was palpitating, her stomach turning inward. Perhaps it was a false positive. It had to be. But, what were the chances? What were the chances that Ann wasn’t really pregnant—that she wouldn’t have anything to worry about after all, going on with her life as normal?

What if it really was legit? What should she do then?

A petite lady in pink scrubs was the first person Ann saw when she walked inside the small medical clinic. 

“Good morning,” greeted the staff member behind the counter, bowing her head. She seemed amiable in appearance. “How can I help you today?”

“Um...” Ann wasn’t sure how to word it, but she needed confirmation—this definitely wasn’t something to mess around about. Thankfully, there weren’t many people around in the waiting room to overhear the conversation. “I have a bit of an issue. I need, um, confirmation of something.”

She bobbed her head to the side, furrowing her brows in confusion. “Confirmation? On what exactly?”

“Well...”Ann began, fidgeting her fingers. “...Yesterday, I took a pregnancy test, and it said I was positive. I was hoping to see someone about it today.” 

“Oh!” She smiled, pulling out some forms and a clipboard with a pen from the drawers. “Then, in that case, we’ll need to gather some history from you. Please fill out these forms out in the waiting lounge and then we can take you back here for our doctor to come and see you.”

“Thank you...” Ann bowed her head, taking the forms and clipboard and walked over to sit in one of the empty chairs in the lounge.

 


 

Shortly after completing on what seemed to be a novel of forms, the nurse from the counter took her to one of the exam rooms to do another brief questionnaire on her before doing a quick physical assessment. It was awkward answering all those personal questions, especially since some of them were already answered on paper. But, if it helped lead them to an accurate diagnosis of her problem, then so be it. 

A lady with bobbed blue hair wearing a studded necklace choker, a lab coat over a short black dress accessorized with a red grommet belt around the waist area, and strappy black platform high heels walked into the room shortly after the nurse left. The appearance was an interesting juxtaposition in a way, seeing a medical professional dressed in a punk (or was it goth?) fashion. It definitely wasn’t something one would see everyday in a health care setting. 

So, this was the doctor whom she and the Phantom Thieves helped through that one Mementos raid those years ago. This was obviously the first time Ann seen her, but not the first she heard of her. She heard of her maybe twice during her time as a Phantom Thief: one time when Ren had mentioned how he was getting their medical supplies when Makoto questioned him during one of their meetings, and then the other time when Ren was discussing Mementos requests. She recently heard of her again when she read an online article last night regarding the top ten recommended family physicians in the Tokyo area, immediately recognizing her name in the list.

“Good morning, Takamaki-san,” said the doctor, heels clicking against the hard surfaced floor as she made her way toward Ann on the exam table. She looked a bit stultified with tired eyes at first glance, but then seemed cordial and tactful when she gave Ann a friendly smile. “I’m Dr. Takemi, the main doctor of this clinic here. So, you’re here for a pregnancy confirmation, is that correct?”

Ann nodded. 

“We’ll have to draw some blood from you first—this is how we’ll confirm it. Are you afraid of needles by chance?”

Ann cringed a bit. “I don’t like them, but do what you need to do—I can manage.”

She chuckled. “Hm. I like your attitude. I’ll grab one of my nurses from the back then. The results won’t take too long once we run them. So sit tight for a moment.”

“Got it.”

 


 

Ren stood idly at the kitchen sink, scrubbing some mugs and plates under water.

 

“But... why? Why do neither of you want to be serious? Don’t you think it’d be more fulfilling to just be with someone wholly rather than partially?”

 

The bespectacled barista sighed. “If only it were that simple, Morgana...” 

 

“How is it complicated? Either you like her or you don’t...”

 

If only what were simple?”

Ren quickly glanced over his shoulder to see Sojiro digging for something in the refrigerator.

“Oh. Uh... nothing,” Ren replied, quickly returning back to his task.

“Something’s off with you, kid.” He grabbed a pot of some curry that was prepared overnight, bringing it to the stove. “Come on, spill it out. What’s going on? Maybe an old geezer could lend some help.”

Ren turned off the faucet, flicking his hands a few times over the sink before picking up a towel to dry his hands.

“Well... I—”

“He’s been sleeping with Ann and has no idea how sort out his feelings,” someone else interjected from behind.

Ren immediately swiveled, seeing Futaba sitting at the coffee bar with that cheeky impish grin plastered on her face.

“Futaba! Since when did you—” Ren exclaimed with wide eyes, having no idea where she came from.

“For a while now!” she chirped, pridefully typing away on her laptop. “You’ve been so preoccupied washing dishes that you didn’t even notice, hehe!”

“Wait a minute—” Ren halted, giving Futaba a stern, disapproving glare. “Did you hack into our phone conversations?”

Well, so much for keeping their casual relationship private.

The orange-haired shrugged, still typing away on the keyboard. “I was curious.”

“That’s private, Futaba,” reprimanded Ren, folding his arms. “You can’t just go and eavesdrop like that.”

“Well, Morgana came to me the other day claiming something was up with you, and that you were hiding something,” she added, taking a quick sip out of her mug that was on the side. “So, I delved into it a bit to be sure you were okay. Don’t worry, I didn’t tell him anything about you and Ann.”

Ren said nothing to that. At least she seemed to do that out of concern rather than boredom. Still, that was overstepping boundaries—there was really no need to go that far.

“Anyways...” She shut her laptop and slid it into her bag, standing up from her seat with a  small salute of her hand. “I’ll be heading off now. See ya!”

And of course, just as soon as she left, Sojiro went and smirked at the frustrated barista, smugly folding his arms and leaning on the refrigerator. “So you two are finally together, huh? Kind of figured it would happen eventually.” 

“No,” Ren said, walking over the other side of the countertop to take a seat on one of the stools. “There’s nothing between us.”

“Is that so?” Sojiro raised his brows, giving him a little perplexed look. “So, it’s a casual fling—with someone who you already know and are close to?”

“She’s... just a friend I sleep with. No strings attached.”

The middle-aged owner scratched the back of his head, looking even more confused. “So let me get this straight... You’re sleeping with a friend you have known since high school, someone who’s one of your closest friends, and yet there’s nothing between the two of you?”

Ren double took that remark for a moment. The way Sojiro had put it sounded so contradictory.

“Are the two of you seeing anyone else?” Sojiro asked.

Ren shook his head. “No.”

“Why not? There’s nothing between you two, right?”

Okay. Just where exactly was Sojiro getting at?

“We...” Ren paused, contemplating for a moment as he looked down at the countertop. “...haven’t been looking. Don’t have the time to.”

“Really?” Sojiro looked skeptical, stroking his goatee. “Well, then. Have you guys discussed the possibility of seeing other partners in the picture? How either of you feel about it?”

“No.”

“Alright. So answer this then: Are you okay with the idea of her seeing other guys while you two are engaging in this thing?”

Ren didn’t say anything to that, the question taking him aback a bit. Ann had seen other men in the past, but did it ever bother him before? 

Maybe it did... But, he never dwelled on it. There was always someone else in the picture for him. Someone who always kept him distracted.

But, now that there’s somewhat a degree of intimacy between them, now that he’s had a chance to see her in a way so open and vulnerable, somehow he didn’t want another man to have such an opportunity. It felt... special, in a way. Something only exclusive between the two of them.

“Or... how about this— What if she decides she wants to actually date and commit to someone else again? It doesn’t bother you one bit?”

Even if it did, there’s plenty of fish in the sea. Ann wasn’t the only special woman in the world.

“Well?” prompted Sojiro when Ren didn’t say anything in a while, waiting for an answer.

Oh, who was he kidding? Another man kissing and touching her the way that he had been doing these past few months? Of course he hated the idea. Of course he despised it. He wanted no other man touching her AT ALL.

“I’d...” Ren began, still unable to meet the middle-aged store owner’s gaze. “...rather not think about it.”

“Why not? You don’t see her that way, right?”

“I don’t know...”

Sojiro sighed, shaking his head as he palmed his face in frustration. “Yes, you do. Stop beating around the bush, kid.”

“Well, it’s... not that I don’t see her that way...” Ren finally admitted. “I just... don’t think she’s ready for another relationship. She’s already been hurt enough as is from the previous one. I don’t want to be another reason she’s disappointed again, nor ruin our friendship.”

“And why would you think that?” Sojiro asked. “Do you intend on hurting her?”

“Of course not, but—”

“Then, what’s stopping you? I’ve seen the way you two interact when she’s here—she obviously enjoys being around you. Why not take a chance? Show her that you’re different—that you’re not like the other guy that hurt her.”

Ren quieted once more. Perhaps Sojiro had a point. Why not take a chance? Hell. He hasn’t even tried yet, and was already assuming the worst.

“Yeah...” Ren finally said. “Maybe you’re right.”

But still... they had an agreement. Neither of them were supposed to let feelings get in the way. 

And what if it was one-sided? What if it was only him who had these feelings in place? What if she still wasn’t ready to date again? Did it mean that he needed to call it quits, now that there were deeper feelings involved—that it was potentially one-sided? Deep down, he knew the answer, but admitting it would mean that he might have to let her go again, just like he had to do in high school...

And, as far as he could tell, he really didn’t want to do that again.

 


 

Ann still couldn’t believe her eyes, gripping each side of the paper in her hands.

 

Pregnancy Positive

 

How? How could she be positive? She was on the pill, for Pete’s sake! What were the chances it would fail like this? How could it fail? Why?

“But, Sensei... I don’t understand.... I’m on the pill...” Ann said, still in disbelief.

“Typical use—where you take it daily but not always as directed or at the same time—is only effective about 91 percent of the time,” explained the doctor, hooking a leg over the other on her rolling stool. 

Okay. Fair enough. But, seriously? She was seriously in the nine percent that got the buck? How? How could this have happened? Why? Why her?

“W-What should I do now, doctor?” Ann asked, cautiously looking up at her.

From her work desk, Dr. Takemi slid over toward Ann to place a hand on her shoulder. “That is up for you to decide, It’s your body and your life—no one can tell you how to live it. However...” she paused, letting go of her. “...pregnancy isn’t something to take lightly. You’re dealing with two individuals here—yourself and the unborn baby. Keep that in mind.”

Ann’s gaze averted downward. “Yeah... I know. I just... this is all too sudden. I have my modeling job to consider. I don’t even know how my friend will take it—we’re not even together as a couple.”

“I see...” Takemi said. “So, the father doesn’t know yet, and you’re unsure if he’ll accept the pregnancy.”

Ann palmed her forehead, shaking her head slowly in shame. “I know, I know... I’m the worst, sleeping casually with one of my best friends...”

“That doesn’t make you a bad person, Takamaki-san. Everyone practices sex differently. What you do with it doesn’t define you as long as you aren’t hurting anyone.”

“I just...” Ann began, beating herself mentally, “...feel so stupid. Now look, I’m pregnant—with no one to help. This is all my damn fault! What was I thinking in agreeing to have this kind of relationship with my friend?”

“You’re not stupid. The failure rate of the pill is small, but still possible. It could happen to anyone—you definitely aren’t the only one who’s experienced this,” said Takemi, patting Ann’s shoulder again. “And don’t take all the blame for this. The father also has a part in this outcome as well. Stop being so hard on yourself.”

“I... I don’t even know if I could go through with this. I know that there are... other ways... to handle this...” Ann cringed, the thought of abortion or adoption making her feel sick to her stomach. “...but I just can’t just give up on the child like that. That just... wouldn’t be fair to do. Yet... how can I raise a baby all alone? I’m clearly not capable of raising one at this point in my life.”

“You’re not alone, Takamaki-san. Even if the father wants no part of it, you still have your family and friends, right?”

Ann wasn’t sure what to say to that. Sure, she could confide in her friends, but most of them have already kickstarted their careers—even Shiho. She couldn’t burden them like that. And her parents are almost always overseas. They can’t just drop everything to help her out.

Boy, was she at a loss right now.

“I know this is all to take in, but, everything will fall into place,” said Takemi, uncrossing her legs and sliding back toward the desk to jot something down on some forms on her clipboard. “Remember to take care of yourself, that’s the most important thing here. In the meantime, as much as I’d like to help you and your pregnancy, I’m going to have to refer you to an OB who will be able to better assist you with it than me. There are plenty of competent obstetricians in Tokyo, but this one in particular I know very well, and you’ll like her.” She unclipped a page, sliding back over to hand it over to Ann. “Be sure to call for an appointment ASAP. Early prenatal care is very important in ensuring a healthy pregnancy and baby—if you choose to move forward with this. Feel free to reach out if you need anything else, Takamaki-san.”

“Thank you, doctor. This means a lot.” Ann smiled with a small bow of her head, folding the page and sliding it in her purse.

Takemi got up from her seat and led Ann out of the exam room. When Ann reached the entrance doorway of the clinic, Takemi seemed to remember something else.

“Oh, and one more thing.”

“Hm?” Ann looked back, seeing the doctor leaning on the doorpost.

“Try not to handle this on your own whether you choose to continue carrying the baby or not,” she advised. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You’ll need all the support you can get.”

Ann gave a firm nod, turning the doorknob and opening the entrance. “Got it. Thank you for the advice, doctor.”

With that, Ann left the clinic, trying to sort out her thoughts over the matter as she walked toward the Yongen-Jaya subway. What was she supposed to do now? Her pregnancy was now official, but how was she supposed to bring the news? To her modeling agency? To her family and friends? To Ren?

I know I should tell him... but... she thought, her eyes sinking to the ground. ...how am I supposed to tell him? What if he gets angry?

“Ann?”

A familiar voice ahead of her prompted her to look up, identifying its owner.

Her azure eyes widened. “R-Ren?”

Speak of the devil...

“Hey.” He gave a small smile. “What are you doing here? Is everything alright? I just saw you walk out of the clinic.”

“O-Oh!” The comment stiffened her, a nervous smile beaming her face. “I-I’m fine! Just—uh—going for my yearly physical!”

Ren raised a brow. “Is that so?”

“Uh huh! Gotta make sure my health is in top condition.” She threw a fist pump in the air. “We should all be doing these every year. Helps with preventing serious illnesses, you know?”

“I see...” he said, scratching his right cheek in confusion. “Well, are you heading back, now? Maybe we can walk back together?”

“Um... okay. We can do that, I guess.”

And they walked in silence. Ann wasn’t sure what to say. Should she tell him now? Was this a good time? He didn’t appear to be in a bad mood.

“So, uh, I was wondering....” Ren started, rubbing his neck. “Why don’t we do something together this coming weekend?”

Ann blinked, bobbing her head to the side. “Huh? Like what?”

He gave a nonchalant shrug, sliding his hands in his denim pockets. “Not sure. Just wanted to hang out with you. That’s all.”

As a friend? Or, as a date? she wanted to ask, but decided not to bring it up. It would’ve been a dumb question anyways. Ann already knew that Ren had no feelings for her, so what’s the point in even asking?

God. He’s going to freak when she told him the news.

“Sure.... we can hang out,” she finally answered. “Maybe lunch?”

“Yeah. Sounds good,” he agreed. 

Maybe that’ll be the best time to tell him, she presumed, considering that they’ll have time to discuss many things at the table, versus talking to him right now while they were on the way home. “So... everything is still good right?”

“Huh?”

“Between us,” said Ann. “Just checking in with you. Remember? Rule number five: Communicate often to see how things are between us.”

Ironic, considering she’s doing quite the opposite right now. But, maybe seeing where he currently stands might be a pointer to how he might take the news later on.

“Oh,” he replied, quieting for a moment. There was an expression she could not decipher on his face, as if he was maybe conflicted about something. “I guess... things are still the same... What about you?”

Complicated was what she wanted to say.

“Same...” she answered, unable to meet his eye. She looked on ahead. “Nothing’s changed.”

And they continued on toward the train station, trying to go onward as if nothing was different between them.

 


 

 

Fast forward to Sunday, Ren and Ann ate lunch together as planned. They chose the diner in Shibuya, for old time’s sake. It was a place they haven’t been to in a while, and a place where they could sit down and talk about whatever happenings were occurring in their lives. 

“Everything alright?” he asked, setting his steak aside. “You seem very hungry today.”

Ann was midway into a bite of pasta when she immediately stopped, putting down the fork. She didn’t realize how bizarre this probably looked to him, seeing her stuff herself with a bunch of food like it was the end of the world. He probably never had seen her eat so much before. Sure, she had her moments where she craved certain foods in front of him, but never to this extent.

“O-Oh,” she said, turning away with a light shade of red on her cheeks. “Sorry. I, um... have been craving so much pasta lately. Haven’t had much food in a while since I been sort of restricting myself these past few weeks, haha!”

“Is that... so?” he replied, obviously confused. “Well, I guess that makes sense...”

Should I tell him now? She wondered, the thought of telling him making her heart double in her chest. 

“Ann…”

Ann flinched at her name.

“Y-Yes?”

“You seemed overwhelmed. Is everything alright?”

Oh, no. Was he catching on?

“What makes you think that?” she asked.

“I don’t know. The look on your face—it seems like you’re conflicted about something,” he said, leaning forward a bit. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Yeah. I’m pregnant.

No, wait. That wouldn’t work.

Yeah. I’m pregnant—and you’re the father.

God. Was there any easier way to go about this?

“Ann…” he prompted when she didn’t say anything in a while.

“Huh? Oh, sorry…” she finally replied, nervously fumbling with her hands. “I’m fine. But, can I ask you something?”

“Sure. What is it?”

“Um…” she paused for a moment, thinking that maybe easing into the subject would be the best way first. “Do you like kids?”

He blinked, obviously taken aback by the question.

“Uh… Sure. They’re alright. Young and full of energy. Why?”

Because you’re going to be getting one in the near future, she thought to herself, frustration building up within her. “Well… Have you ever thought of having any?”

“Huh?” His brows furrowed in confusion. “Where’s all this coming from?”

She swallowed, her heart doubling in her chest again. “I-I’m just curious. We’re already adults, you know? Just wanted to know your take on your future.”

He took a while to respond. “Well, I mean… I have, I guess. I think most of us have wondered about it from time to time.”

“So…” she drawled a bit, “...do you want kids?”

He gave her another perplexed expression, but went on anyways.

“I don’t know.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Maybe no? Not right now at least—it’s too early to tell.”

Of course he’d say that. What was she expecting? Kids weren’t his priorities right at this time. He was only 23, the same age as her. No rush for a family right now if neither were ready.

But, the problem was that there was a child in the picture now. That his priorities would have to change if he decided to stick around with her. 

Oh, god. He’s going to freak. There was no doubt in her mind. He’s not ready for a child. He’s not ready to commit. He’s not ready for such responsibilities. What was she going to do now?

She’s so screwed.

“I-I see…” Her eyes fell. “Well, yeah. You’re right. It’s too early to tell.”

“What about you?” He drew the question back to her. “Do you want kids?”

Kind of have no choice now… she anguished, now feeling super trapped. But, despite her inner turmoil, she gave him a small smile and answered, “Yeah… Hopefully, some time in the future after I’m successful in my modeling career.”

It was technically the truth. She did plan for children in the future if she settled down with some nice man. 

But, obviously now, time wasn’t going to wait for her. She had three options. One—go on with the pregnancy and try to raise the baby with all the resources she had right now. Two—go on with the pregnancy and set the baby up for adoption, not knowing how his or her future will be. Or three—go with an abortion, a very heavy controversial decision she didn’t want to make if she didn’t have to.

She just couldn’t give up on someone like that, let alone a baby. Her baby. But, at the same time… was she clearly capable of raising a baby on her own if Ren decided he didn’t want to help at all? 

“How’s everything here?” Their perky waitress came up to the table to check on them.

Ann smiled. “Everything’s good. Thank you.”

“Any room for dessert today?”

A grimace contorted Ann’s face. For the past few days, the thought of anything sweet made her stomach turn.

“Not today...” Ann replied, shaking her head as she rubbed her stomach. “Maybe next time. Could we have the check now, please?”

The waitress smiled and gave a small bow, walking off to grab their tab for the meal.

“Ann…” Ren said, looking at her with concerned eyes. “Is everything alright?”

Ann blinked, snapping out of her thoughts. “H-Huh?”

“You’ve been acting strange… Are you sure you’re feeling okay?”

Ann looked down at her lap. “I’m fine.”

“You rejected dessert. You never reject dessert, nor sweets of any kind whenever we go out together.”

“I’m just… not craving any today. That’s all.”

Ren said nothing, a grim suspicious look on his face. 

Why must you pick these things up so well with me? she wondered, looking away again.

The waitress came back with their tab, placing it on the table before picking up their empty dishes and heading off. Ann was about to pull out some cash for her portion of the meal, but Ren stopped her with a raise of his hand, pulling out his wallet in intending to pay for the whole thing.

Like a gentleman—not letting the woman pay. Come to think of it, Ren always paid whenever they went out together. It was almost as if they were already a couple.

It’s almost as I’m more to you than what you say...

Could it be... Could it be that maybe—that maybe he possibly...

“Say, Ren…” Ann said.

“Yes?”

“You know… We’ve been doing… this…. for a while now.”

“Yeah? What about it?”

“I, um…” she hesitated, fumbling with her hands over her lap. “I know we talked about it the other day… But, I just wanted to be sure… nothing really has changed, right?”

“What do you mean?”

Ann took in a deep breath, then exhaled slowly.

“You really don’t… feel anything toward me, right?”

Ren quieted again. Then, Ann finally looked at him.

“Be honest with me,” she said, her heart pounding against her chest faster. “I promise I won’t get upset.”

Wait a minute... Why was her heart all in chaos over this? What was she all nervous about? 

It was almost as if she wanted him to say yes. 

He looked conflicted, his gaze veering off to the side.

“Ren?” she said again when he said nothing for a while.

He turned back to her.

“If I did.... then whatever we’re doing right now would end,” he finally answered. “Nothing has ended yet. So, does that answer your question?”

There was a heavy feeling in Ann’s chest, as if her heart felt betrayed in a way. Of course, he wouldn’t feel anything. What was she thinking? That there was a chance he may have been experiencing the same feelings as she was? 

Stupid. How naive could she be? 

She put up a bright smile anyways.

“That’s... good to know,” she said, clasping her hands over the table. “I feel the same too, haha.”

And now, she was stuck carrying a baby—on her own. What was she supposed to do now? How could she tell him with a straight face now? Would he at least offer to help—not as a lover, but a friend? Because if fun was all that he wanted from her, then staying to help her raise a child was probably completely ludicrous.

Exactly. He wouldn’t stay to help. And why would he? They weren’t together as a couple anyways. He didn’t love her that way...

...Not that it mattered whether he loved her or not. 

Now, she was all alone. Nowhere else to go or turn.

Her hands clenched in fists on her lap. Fine. Screw him then. She didn’t need him. She could do all of this herself—with or without him.

“Ann?”

His voice snapped her out of her thoughts.

“Huh?”

“Is everything alright? You seem upset about something.”

“Maybe...” Ann began, looking down, “Maybe we should stop this.”

Ren’s eyes widened, looking at her incredulously. “What? Why?”

“I think... I’m ready to start meeting people again. To start.... dating again.”

Lies. All lies.

“Oh,” he said quietly, pressing his glasses upward. When Ann finally looked up at him, there was that impenetrable look again she couldn’t read well. “Well, if that’s what you want, then perhaps it would be best to go back to the way things were before all of this.”

She tried to maintain the mirth in her smile the best she could.

“Y-Yeah! Y-You too, Ren. You should... start meeting other women too. I’m pretty sure there’s someone out there for you.”

Why? Why did she feel her heavy heart twist in her chest after saying that? All these feelings she was having, all the hurt she was feeling...

...It was almost as if she had fallen for him.

Or... was it always that way the entire time?

“Yeah...” he said, still stoic and unreadable. “Maybe I should...”

She was hoping he’d protest a little—protest to keep this casual relationship going. But, nothing. Not even a trace of disappointment in his eyes. He was so nonchalant as usual, as if nothing fazed him.

She felt a knot forming in her throat, a tingling feeling in her eyes.

“O-Okay, then!” she said with her cheery tone, standing up from her seat and dashing toward him to pull him into a big hug that caught him off guard for a second. “Let’s go back to the way things were then and move forward.”

“Ann...” he said softly, pulling back a little to look at her, but she held onto him tighter. “You’re shaking...”

Oh, god. He sensed something wrong. She drew back immediately, still maintaining her happy-go-lucky face.

“N-Nothing, Ren!” she answered, quickly gathering her things. “Anyways, I’ll be heading off now. Have a photoshoot to attend to,” she lied again, giving him a small wave. “See you later!”

“Ann... Wait—!”

Before he said anything else, she ran off, dashing out of the diner in a blink of an eye.

Stupid! Stupid! You weren’t supposed to fall for him, you big idiot!!! she reprimanded herself, tears on the verge of falling as she ran down the pavement, carelessly bumping into a few people along the way. But, it didn’t matter. All she wanted to do was run, run wherever her legs took her, far far away from the world—from him.

Eventually, she ran into a little secluded alleyway, hoping to let the waterworks fall there while she was alone. 

But of course, right when she was about to let everything out...

“You’re lying, Ann,” someone said behind her, prompting her to immediately turn around and see that Ren had caught up to her. “Tell me what’s wrong.”

“Nothing...” she replied, feeling a lump coiling down in her throat as she looked away. “It’s nothing... I—”

He grabbed her shoulders, making her look back at him in shock.

“I’m not an idiot, Ann.” His grip tightened, the fabric of her sleeves scrunched up under his hands. “Don’t play dumb with me. I know something’s up with you.”

She averted her eyes again. “I-I don’t know what you’re talking about, Ren. Just let me go, please...”

“Then, look at me...” he told her, his voice soft, but stern. “Look at me and tell me everything is okay then.”

No. Because she knew that if she looked at him like this, the tears would fall. And she wasn’t doing this here. Not in front of him. He needed to let her go now before she lost it.

She shook him off of her, taking one step back.

“Please, Ren... Stop. You don’t know anything.”

“Which is why I’m still here,” he said, taking a step forward. “I can’t leave you like this.”

God, he was so stubborn. Why won’t he just let her be? 

“I mean it, Ren...” She backed away. “Drop it.”

He took another step forward. “Can’t you see that I’m worried about you?” he asked, making her heart sink some more. “I care about you, Ann... You... mean a lot to me. Why can’t you see that?”

“Ren, please don’t say things like—”

“Do my concerns and feelings not matter here?”

“I told you, Ren! Please! Just leave me—”

Ann gasped, suddenly taken in his arms. 

“Are you upset at the idea of me dating another woman?” he asked, drawing her closer to him.

Ann said nothing. If she said something now, she might cry right then and there.

“Be honest with me...”

She still said nothing, completely frozen in his hold.

“Is that what’s bothering you?”

Of course, it bothered her—she hated the idea of it! Why else would she be so anguished right now—besides the fact that she was carrying his child without his own knowledge?  What was she supposed to do? How would she let some man who probably didn’t feel a damn thing toward her know that she was pregnant with his child? 

“Ann...”

She had to tell him eventually though. There was no way she could keep a secret like this forever, unless she disappeared to another city without letting anyone know. That’d be too extreme though.

“We said that we’d communicate about these things, didn’t we?”

But, she couldn’t tell him now... she wasn’t ready yet.

She shoved him off of her.

“We did. But that was when we were benefiting each other. It’s over now. The rules don’t apply anymore.” She turned around, then added, “Forget about it, Ren. Let’s just go back to how we were before all of this, okay?” 

“Ann, wait—!” She heard him yell out when she quickly darted away through the alley—never looking back, trying to escape the biggest dilemma of her life.

Who could she turn to now?

Chapter Text

 

“Maybe...” Ann began, looking down, “Maybe we should stop this.”

Wait... What?

Ren’s eyes widened, looking at her incredulously. “What? Why?”

“I think... I’m ready to start meeting people again. To start.... dating again.”

Meeting new people... Dating? Ann wanted to date again? She wanted to be with someone other than him?

His stomach turned and his heart dropped, his jaw clenching a bit. He didn’t want this. He really didn’t want this.

Yet...

“Oh,” he said quietly, pressing his eyeglasses upward as he tried to maintain his cool. “Well, if that’s what you want, then perhaps it would be best to go back to the way things were before all of this.”

Somehow.... that came out a bit harsh. He didn’t intend it though.

It didn’t seem like she caught that, however. She smiled wide, yet something seemed off about it. Or... maybe that was just his imagination.

“Y-Yeah! Y-You too, Ren. You should... start meeting other women too. I’m pretty sure there’s someone out there for you.”

But, he didn’t want to meet any other woman... He had her right here.

He couldn’t say it though. Why couldn’t he just say it? Why won’t the words come out of his goddamn mouth?

“Yeah...” was what came out. “Maybe I should...”

Her smile... seemed really off. And her eyes looked so... mirthless.

“O-Okay, then!” she said in a cheery tone that seemed feigned, standing up from her seat and dashing toward him to pull him into a big hug that caught him off guard for a second. “Let’s go back to the way things were then and move forward.”

His eyes widened. Was she... trembling?

“Ann...” he said softly, pulling back a little to look at her, but she held onto him tighter. “You’re shaking...”

She drew back immediately, still maintaining that happy-go-lucky face that seemed like a facade.

“N-Nothing, Ren!” she answered, quickly gathering her things. “Anyways, I’ll be heading off now. Have a photoshoot to attend to.” She gave him a small wave. “See you later!”

Something was definitely off. She was hiding something.

“Ann... Wait—!” He tried to reach out to grab her, but before he said anything else, she ran off, dashing out of the diner in a blink of an eye.

Oh, no. He’s not letting her get off that easily. 

Giving a quick apologetic bow to the several witnesses in the restaurant, Ren went after her, jostling against a few incoming customers on the way out of the establishment.

Was it... Could it maybe be that she—

“Ann!!!” he called out, picking up speed. He screwed up. He screwed up so bad this time. If it really was what he suspected, then he needed come out clean with her now.

She was quick indeed, but it didn’t take too long for him to catch up to her. He followed her into a secluded alleyway, where she finally stopped, her back facing him. Her face couldn’t be seen, but he definitely knew that she was on the verge of crying. He took a few steps toward her.

“You’re lying, Ann,” he said, prompting her to immediately turn around with widened glossy eyes. “Tell me what’s wrong.”

“Nothing...” she replied, looking away. “It’s nothing... I—”

He grabbed her shoulders, making her look back at him again with another shocked expression.

“I’m not an idiot, Ann.” His grip tightened, the fabric of her sleeves scrunched up under his hands. “Don’t play dumb with me. I know something’s up with you.”

She averted her eyes again. “I-I don’t know what you’re talking about, Ren. Just let me go, please...”

“Then, look at me...” he told her softly, yet stern. “Look at me and tell me everything is okay then.”

She shook him off of her, taking one step back.

“Please, Ren... Stop. You don’t know anything.”

“Which is why I’m still here,” he said, stepping forward. “I can’t leave you like this.”

“I mean it, Ren...” She backed away. “Drop it.”

God. She was so stubborn! But, he wasn’t giving up that easily. He took another step forward. “Can’t you see that I’m worried about you? I care about you, Ann... You...” he paused, trying to find the right words, “...mean a lot to me. Why can’t you see that?”

“Ren, please don’t say things like—”

“Do my concerns and feelings not matter here?” His voice raised a little, a pinch of frustration in his tone. But, that didn’t seem to faze her in the slightest.

“I told you, Ren! Please! Just leave me—”

Without missing a beat, he pulled her straight into his arms, earning a sharp gasp from her.

“Are you upset at the idea of me dating another woman?” he asked, drawing her closer.

Ann said nothing. 

“Be honest with me...”

She still said nothing.

“Is that what’s bothering you?”

Still nothing.

“Ann...”

Why won’t she speak? Was she that terrified telling him the truth?

“We said that we’d communicate about these things, didn’t we?”

Well, maybe if he had been more honest earlier, then she probably wouldn’t be so hellbent into giving him the silent treatment.

Maybe he should come clean first. Maybe then she’d open up to him. 

However, before he had a chance to say anything else, she shoved him off of her.

“We did.” There was a cold tone in her tone. “But that was when we were benefiting each other. It’s over now. The rules don’t apply anymore.” She turned around, then added, “Forget about it, Ren. Let’s just go back to how we were before all of this, okay?” 

She then ran off.

“Ann, wait—!” he yelled out, trying to follow after her, but lost her the moment they exited the alleyway and into the crowded streets. 

“Dammit!” he cursed to himself, his hands clenching into fists. How could he have lost her at such a critical time? 

What was he supposed to do now?

 


 

Ren couldn’t stop thinking about what happened earlier today. He laid on his bed, hands behind his head as he looked up at the ceiling in contemplation.

Ann... I know you’re hiding something from me... he thought to himself. Why won’t you tell me?

A long sigh escaped his lips. He was certain she was hiding something. Her behavior. Her words. Something was definitely bothering her. 

 

“Forget about it, Ren. Let’s just go back to how we were before all of this, okay?” 

 

But, he couldn’t. Even if they went back to the way they were before all of this, there was no way he could ever forget all the amorous things they did together—the intimacy they shared, no matter how casual it was supposed to be.

She should know that too.

 

“Same... Nothing’s changed.”

 

“That’s... good to know... I feel the same too, haha.”

 

Bullshit. All this time, she was lying to his face. 

 

“You should... start meeting other women too. I’m pretty sure there’s someone out there for you.”

 

Her dejected eyes. The way she trembled when she hugged him. That contrived cheery tone in her voice. That forced smile...

Why didn’t he realize it sooner?

Ren kicked himself mentally in the head. Even after Sojiro’s pep talk, Ren still couldn’t find the courage to be honest with her. Why? Why couldn’t he had just tell her how he really felt, that it had always been her, that it had took him until recently to realize it? What happened to the clever Joker he once was? Seriously! None of this would’ve happened if he had just been honest with her, telling her how he really felt, that he wanted nobody else but her. Why? Why did he have to go and make things more complicated between them?

“Ren?”

Morgana’s voice snapped him out of his angsty thoughts.

“Oh. Hey, Morgana,” Ren replied with a tired smile, sitting up in bed.

“Is everything alright?” asked the tuxedo cat. “You look down.”

“I’m fine,” he answered, getting out of bed. “Did you need some more food or water in your bowl?”

Morgana shook his head. “No—well—maybe, actually. But, that’s not the reason I came in here. I’m worried about you, Ren. Ever since you came back from your meet up with Lady Ann, you’ve been so quiet, either looking at the ceiling like this or staring out in the distance with that stoic expression on your face,” the cat noted. “Not only that, you also haven’t been getting much sleep lately. Is something bothering you?”

“Morgana...” Ren said, crouching down to pat the cat on the head. “Thanks for looking out for me.... but don’t worry about it. I’ll be okay.”

“Did something happen with Lady Ann? Is she okay?”

“Nothing happened. She’s definitely okay.”

Morgana said nothing, crestfallen eyes averting downward.

Ren looked down at his watch. “Huh. It’s almost time for dinner. I should probably go out and buy some ingredients. Want to come with?”

Morgana contemplated, taking another moment to respond.

“Sure. Let’s go. I’m craving tuna tonight. Can we have tuna please?”

Ren smiled and nodded. 

 


 

The next afternoon, Ann headed straight to the OB clinic Dr. Takemi referred her to for her appointment. Luckily, she was able to get this time when she called earlier this morning. She wasn’t sure what to expect, but she hoped everything would go smoothly. 

Entering through the automatic doors, there were many women Ann saw in the waiting room, many with the noticeable bumps on their bellies (probably close to their due dates). The majority of them had their partners alongside them, obviously there for support.

The atmosphere in this area was quite joyous. Not surprising. Pregnancy was supposed to be an exciting time for many couples and families. Too bad this wasn’t necessarily the case for Ann, who hadn’t planned this out obviously, but what else could she do but suck it up and own responsibility for her own actions?

It would be nice if she had some support right now.

She took a seat in the lone corner after checking in, quietly observing the area and the elated couples. How nice it must be to have a loving and supportive partner. That... could’ve been her and Ren—if their feelings matched.

But, they didn’t. So...

The door to the back opened, a very petite nurse appearing with a clipboard in her hands.

“Takamaki Ann?” she called out, looking around the room.

Ann stood up, walking up to the nurse.

“Takamaki-san?”

The blonde nodded.

The nurse gave a friendly smile. “Come follow me to the back.”

And Ann followed as she was told. Like at the Takemi Clinic, they weighed and took a quick set of vital signs on her before taking her to the examination room, where the nurse handed her a blue drape and instructed her to undress bottom down (since they’ll be doing a pelvic exam as a part of the check-up) before giving her some privacy in the room.

She jumped onto the exam table with the drape over her bare half, waiting for the doctor’s arrival. All those medical tools and instruments in the room.... look very intimidating. And... wait.... What was that thing? Was that going to go inside—

There was a loud knock on the door.

“Takamaki-san? Is it okay to come in?” a female voice sounded behind the door.

“Y-Yes!” Ann answered, straightening on the exam table.

The door opened, revealing a taller lady with long wavy chocolate hair and crystal stud earrings. She wore her lab coat over what appeared to be a plaid shirt dress with a stylish belt strapped around her waist.

“Hello, Takamaki-san. I’m Dr. Tonegawa, the OB of this clinic,” she introduced with a bow, her black ankle-strapped pointy pumps clicking on the hard surfaced floor when she began walking toward Ann. “So, you’re here for your first prenatal visit?”

Ann nodded. “Ummm... yes. Takemi-sensei recommended me to come to you to follow up on my pregnancy.”

“Ah, Takemi-san!” She flashed a pearly grin. “We we’re colleagues in med school. How’s she doing?”

“Oh. Um, she seems to be doing fine.”

“Anyways...” she sat on the rolling stool by a computer. “Since this is your first visit, we’re going to be asking you many questions about your history, along with a physical exam and a few lab tests to determine several things like your blood type, immunity status, and anemia.”

“O-Okay. Do what you have to do,” Ann said, eyes nervously lingering back to the medical instruments on the small table next to her. God.... was she really going to use those to examine... down there? The blonde certainly didn’t like the idea of it, but still, what needed to be done had to be done.

“But, first...” The fashionable doctor turned to Ann. “Is this your first pregnancy?”

She nodded.

“Is the father involved by any chance?”

Ann grimaced a bit, the question unsettling her nerves as she recalled what happened with Ren the other day.

“Well... He doesn’t know. I haven’t told him yet.”

The doctor paused for a bit, looking like she was contemplating something.”

“Oh. Are you afraid that he’s not going to accept it?”

“Something like that... He’s my friend. We’re not even a couple.”

The doctor mused for a bit, then went on.

“Oh, I see. Well, that’s okay if you’re not ready yet. Take your time. But you won’t be able to hide it for long. Eventually, he’s gonna find out—especially if you’re close friends.”

Ann looked down, grasping the drape over her lower half. “I know... I just, need time.”

“If he’s your friend, then he’ll be there for you—regardless whether there’s romantic feelings or not. If he doesn’t support you, then he’s not worth your time. You have family and friends to support you, right?”

Well, she did. Sure, her family was a bit distant, but Ann did have plenty of friends. Still, her pregnancy might be a little too much for most of them to handle.

 

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You’ll need all the support you can get.”

 

Dr. Takemi was right. But still...who could she turn to? Who’ll offer their support without judgement?

Ann nodded anyways. “Yes... I have a good support system...”

“Good.” Dr. Tonegawa smiled, moving onward to the questionaire. “So, we’ll start with your medical history. Any history of Diabetes? High blood pressure? Kidney or heart problems?”

 


 

Ann went to pick up her prenatal vitamins that the doctor prescribed after her appointment. After that, she went straight to the apartment, collapsing on her bed the moment she arrived in her bedroom.

She was eight weeks pregnant. Still in the first trimester. 

How was she going to report this to work? Will this affect her modeling career? Will anyone even want to photoshoot a pregnant model? What was she going to do?

Well, first things first... as much as she was reluctant to ask for help right at the moment, Ann needed someone to confide in. 

Ann sighed, scrolling over her contacts in her phone.

Mom? No. She was probably busy.

Definitely not Dad.

Of course, she could call Shiho and ask for a meet up, but Shiho had her own thing going on right now with the start of her semester in college. And volleyball. Ann couldn’t get in her way.

Futaba? No, she probably wouldn’t get it. Yusuke? He definitely wouldn’t understand. Ryuji? Dearest lord, no. Makoto? Unless Ann wanted a good scolding of a thousand reasons why she was stupid for engaging in a casual relationship with Ren, Makoto probably wasn’t the best person to turn to at this time. That, and Ann really was in no mood to handle such criticism right now.

Her thumb scrolled to one more person she knew.

 

Haru

 

Ann paused for a moment, thinking. Perhaps Haru would be able to listen without judgement and offer some support.

Her phone vibrated, a new message popping up on her screen.

Speak of the devil...

 

Haru: How’s everything with you, Ann? 

Haru: Just checking in

 

Ann typed back:

 

Ann: I’m okay... I’m loving the apartment so far

Ann: But... Are you busy right now?

-

Haru: I just got back from work

Haru: Why?

-

Ann: Is Makoto with you?

-

Haru: Oh. I think she’s still working right now. It’s just me in the apartment

Haru: Is everything okay?

-

Ann: Is it okay if I come over for a bit?

Ann: I really could use an ear right now

-

Haru: Of course it’s okay

Haru: You’re always welcome to stop on by :)

-

Ann: Thanks, Haru

Ann: I’ll be there in a few minutes.

 


 

“Thanks for having me over, Haru,” Ann said as she took a seat on the living room sofa. 

“Of course, Ann.” The bouffant-haired smiled.  “Would you like some tea or coffee?”

Ann cringed, remembering Dr. Tonegawa’s advice back at the clinic of limiting caffeinated beverages.

“No, thank you,” the blonde replied.

Haru took a seat next to her. “So, what’s going on? You mentioned that you could use an ear right now.”

“Yes, well...” Ann paused, scratching the back of her head. “I’m in a bit of a pinch right now.”

“How so?” Haru asked.

“It, um...” the blonde hesitated, “...has something to do with Ren.”

“Mhm,” Haru hummed, slightly leaning over her lap. “Go on.”

Ann fumbled with her hands.

“Please don’t tell anyone about this, especially Ren.”

Haru nodded.

The distressed blonde took in a deep breath, then exhaled slowly.

“I’m... pregnant.”

Haru immediately straightened, gasping behind her hands. “W-What?”

“I’m pregnant,” Ann said again, unable to meet her gaze. “Eight weeks pregnant.”

“And... Ren is the father?”

Ann nodded. “...I haven’t slept with anyone else but him.”

Haru quieted, obviously stunned. Then, Ann continued, “We’re... not even together as a couple.”

“What!? Still?” she responded in disbelief.

“I tried telling him that I was pregnant, but I got scared...” Her hands trembled, distress in her eyes. “I asked Ren if he ever wanted kids, and he told me he didn’t know, but he wasn’t planning on having them now.”

“Ann...”

“And... you were right, Haru. I... still have feelings feelings for him...” Ann said, feeling tears well up in her eyes. “...but rather than telling him that, I terminated our casual relationship instead—because my feelings are obviously one-sided.”

“Why would you think that? Did he say he doesn’t feel the same way?”

“I asked him if his feelings for me has changed.... He said no.” Ann leaned over, burying her face in her hands. “He doesn’t want kids and he doesn’t love me that way. How’s he going to react when I tell him that he has a child on the way? He’s going to freak!”

“Ann...”

“And then there’s my modeling! Will they even take a pregnant model in? Oh, god! My career is ruined! What am I going to do!?”

“Deep breaths, Ann. Breathe.”

“I’m sorry...” Ann lifted her head, wiping a tear. “I just... don’t know what to do anymore.”

Haru placed a hand on Ann’s back, rubbing gentle circles. “I’m here for you.”

Ann sniffed, turning to Haru. “Tell me, Haru... What should I do?”

“Well,” Haru began, shifting on the couch a bit to face Ann, “first of all, assuming things isn’t going to alleviate your fears. So stop and think for a bit.”

Ann quieted.

“I honestly don’t know much about modeling, but I’m pretty sure there are agencies that take pregnant models. I see expecting mothers in the catalogs I buy time to time.”

“True...” The blonde pondered for a bit—she almost forgot that those agencies existed in the fashion industry.

“Also...” Haru moved on to her next point, looking Ann straight in the eye. “Do you honestly believe Ren would abandon you like that?” she asked rhetorically. “Because the Ren both you and I know isn’t anything like that. He’s never abandoned us as a team—he even turned himself in to protect all of us. Does that really sound like the same Ren you think he might be right now—a man who’d abandon you like you’re nothing to him?”

Ann said nothing, her gaze sinking downward in shame.

Haru placed a hand on Ann’s shoulder. “Ren cares about you, Ann. I can assure you that he’d never do such a thing regardless of whether he reciprocates your feelings or not.”

“Haru...”

“He deserves to know the truth, Ann. He’s the father. He at least needs to know that much.”

“I know... but... I’m just not ready to tell him yet. I... need time.”

“Time? Time for what?” Haru bobbed her head to the side.

“To mentally and emotionally prepare myself,” Ann answered, letting out a rueful sigh.

Haru giggled. “Oh, Ann. Well, at least tell him how you feel.”

“What!?” the blonde squeaked.

“Come on, Ann. Think about it for a moment. Was he really being honest with you about his feelings when you asked? Because Ren could’ve been saying that out of fear too,” enlightened Haru.

“I asked him twice though,” Ann pointed out.

“Doesn’t mean he’s telling the truth,” Haru stated. “If you want to know what I think, I think he’s full of it. Even before you two started sleeping together, I’ve seen the way he looks at you during our little reunions, and how he bought you that cake on your birthday as a surprise.”

Ann was still skeptical.

“But, going back to the matter...” Haru steered back to the topic. “He’ll eventually find out whether you tell him or not. Keep that in mind while you’re trying to prep yourself for the reveal.”

“I’ll keep that in mind for sure,” Ann said. “But, thank you for listening and sharing your thoughts, Haru.”

“Anytime, Ann.” Haru smiled. “That’s what friends are for.”

The two giggled and hugged, sharing a little moment together. 

“So... You’re pregnant, huh?” a voice behind crept up on them.

The two ladies snapped their heads back at the voice behind them.

“M-Makoto!?” Ann yelped.

She was leaning on the wall with a stern expression, arms crossed as if she were ready to scold a child. 

“I thought you were at work, Mako-chan,” Haru said, looking just as surprised as Ann.

“No. I was taking a little nap in my room. I just woke up and snuck by early enough to overhear the conversation.”

Ann swallowed, expecting Makoto’s stormy scolding ahead when she directed her attention to her.

“I was going to scold you. But after overhearing everything, it seems like you’re going through a lot right now—so me scolding you right now won’t be of benefit.”

Well, that’s a shocker. A good shocker. 

Makoto walked over to the ladies, sitting next to Ann. She placed a hand on her shoulder. “Know that your friends are here for you, Ann. We’re here for you. So, if you need anything, let us know—we’ll do everything we can to support you.”

“Makoto...” Ann said, feeling a happy tear making its way down her cheek.

“Yes, Ann. She’s right.” Haru smiled. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you need anything like wanting someone to accompany you to your doctor appointments, let us know.”

“Thank you, guys.” Ann sniffed with a beaming smile. “You two, along with Shiho, are the best friends I could ever ask for.”

“But...” Makoto said, the side of her mouth twitching as she balled her hand into a fist. “I’m going to have a word with our former leader after all of this is resolved. He should know better than to not carry protection around him wherever he goes.”

“Makoto!” Ann exclaimed as Haru giggled in the background.

 


 

A few weeks later...

 

Ren: Hey

-

Ann: Hey

-

Ren: How are you doing? I haven’t heard from you in a while

-

Ann: I’ve been good. Sorry, I’ve been busy with all these photoshoots.

Ann: How about you?

-

Ren: Good

Ren: Listen...

Ren: I want to talk to you. Can we meet up sometime?

-

Ann: Oh

Ann: I’m sorry. My schedule’s booked this week too...

Ann: Maybe some other time

-

Ren: I see

Ren: Alright then... Let me know whenever you’re free

-

Ann: Okay. I will

 

Ren sighed, setting his phone down on the coffee table and then slouching back into the sofa. This was how it had been these past three weeks. He’d ask to meet up, and then she’d come up with some excuse to not meet up. Either she really was busy, or she was completely avoiding him.

He assumed the latter, and he had no idea what to do...

It was also driving him insane.

“Goddammit, Ann...” he muttered under his breath, running a hand through his tousled hair and ruffling the back. Of all times, why did she choose to be stubborn now? 

He let out another exasperated sigh and sat up, reaching over for his phone. As much as he hated venting out his feelings to someone and asking for advice—perhaps this was the only way to keep him sane right now.

 

Ren: Hey. Do have some time?

Ren: I really could use a drink right now.

 

Ren waited for a response, which wasn’t long.

 

Ryuji: Sure, dude! Just got off of work

Ryuji: Meet you there around 8?

-

Ren: Sounds good

 

 


 

“Hey, man!” Ryuji came up to Ren and threw an arm around his shoulder, giving his back a few slaps. “Long time no see!”

“Back at you,” said Ren when they pulled apart, heading toward the empty seats at the bar. “How’s everything?”

“Great, dude! The running team is going great. Have a competition coming in a few weeks.”

“That’s good to hear.”

They ordered their drinks from the bartender, then resumed on their conversation, catching up on each other’s lives for a bit.

“So...” Ryuji said a while into their conversation. “You wanted to talk to me ‘bout something?”

“Right.” Ren sipped his beer. “I, uh... Have you heard from Ann recently?”

“Huh?” Ryuji blinked. “No. Last time I heard from her was Christmas a few months ago. Why? Everything alright?”

“Well... Things have happened...”

“Things? What kinda things?”

Ren explained the situation with Ann, including details of their agreement and when it came to an end.

“What a mess.” Ryuji ruffled the back of his head. “I told you that sleepin’ with a friend is askin’ for trouble.”

“Yeah... And I think she’s fallen for me.”

“Well, yeah. She’s always had a thing for you.”

The confused bespectacled man blinked. “Huh?”

Ryuji facepalmed, hard. “Dude. Come on. Think about it, now. All those times she went to you rather than her boyfriends? She always thought of you before any of them.”

A doubtful look plastered on Ren’s face. “That’s a bit of an allegation, don’t you think?”

“Not really. You just need new glasses, dude.” Ryuji flicked his forehead.

“Uh... Ryuji?” said Ren, rubbing the area his friend flicked. “These are fake.”

“WHAT!?”

“Yeah. I used to wear these to look unsuspicious back in high school, but I grew to like the look a bit. So I wear them for stylistic purposes.”

“What the hell?” The blond threw his hands in the air. “I’ve known you for years and I never knew that?”

“You never asked.” Ren shrugged.

“Well...” Ryuji began, going back to the topic. “Did you tell her how you feel?”

“Well... no.”

“Dude!” Ryuji slammed his bottle on the countertop, grabbing Ren’s shoulders and shaking him like a rattle. “What the hell is wrong with you!? Why didn’t you tell her!?”

“I... tried!” Ren struggled, trying to get Ryuji to stop. “But... she ran away when I tried to tell her in the alleyway!!!”

“THEN YOU SHOULDA WENT AFTER HER!!!!”

“I did!!! But I lost her in the crowd!!!”

“Ren-Ren!!!!”

“I’m serious, Ryuji! Stop shaking me!!!!”

Ryuji finally let go of him, raising out his hand as if demanding something. “Give me your goddamn phone.”

Ren blinked. “What? And why would I do that?”

“Because if you won’t tell her, I’ll tell her for you!”

“It doesn’t matter if you tell her for me or not. She’s avoiding me, remember?”

“UGH!!!” Ryuji groaned, ruffling his hair. “Seriously!! What’s wrong with you two?”

“I mean... I’m trying! I’ve tried messaging her for the last three weeks... seeing if we could talk for a bit. But she always says she’s busy and can’t meet up with me,” Ren pointed out in a frustrated fit, guzzling down his beer.

“You two really are something else.” Ryuji sighed, shaking his head. “Well... Keep trying, man. She’ll eventually give in.”

“Yeah... I don’t know. Ann’s pretty stubborn.”

“So are you.”

“How am I going to get her to give in?”

“Hmmm....” Ryuji mused, setting down his drink. “Maybe we could all go somewhere as a group. And then whenever you two have the chance alone, that’s the time to talk.”

“I don’t know about that... Ann probably won’t come if she knows I’m there.”

“We won’t tell her then.” Ryuji shrugged. “I’ll tell Haru and Makoto what’s goin’ on. They’ll understand and agree not to tell her.”

“Wait... You’re going to spread around that I like Ann?”

“Dude. Everyone knows! The only people who don’t know are you two apparently.”

Ren quieted for a moment, turning to his beer and contemplating for a bit. He looked back at Ryuji. “Alright. Where would we all go?”

“Well.... There’s a cherry blossom festival coming up in Ueno Park in a few days. I know Haru and Makoto were mentioning about it the last time I came to see them for a bit. Why don’t we all meet up there?”

“I guess...” Ren conceded, looking back at his beer. “It’s worth a shot.”

 


 

Dressed in her lavender blue button-up shirt under her red and white jersey jacket, a white skirt over some black leggings, and some red Converse shoes, Ann had just entered Ueno Park. A slight breeze rustled the cherry blossoms in the trees, the fluttering petals falling to the ground one by one. It was colored pink everywhere. The scent of fried street foods wafted the air while a traffic of people crowded the pathway. Paper lanterns were spread all over the premises, and groups of friends and families were gathered on ground sheets and blankets under the blossoming sakura trees—eating and drinking to celebrate the arrival of spring.

Ann placed a hand on her belly, gently stroking it as she looked up at one of the sakura trees.

“Well... here it is. Springtime. It’s my favorite season, you know?”

A small smile suffused her face. She was almost 12 weeks now, close to the end of the first trimester. Though the bump wasn’t quite noticeable yet, she was beginning to feel the effects, mainly that her jeans were feeling a little tighter than before. Unfortunately, the morning sickness, food aversions, and food cravings were relatively the same. Haru and Makoto bringing her some foods that didn’t aggravate her crazy nausea spells seemed to help with the food aversions. They also brought some recipes for her to try out too if she was ever in the mood to cook; though, many times, they just came to help her cook while assisting with her chores. 

Ann wondered what the gender would be. Somehow, a part of her was hoping it would be a girl. Though, she wouldn’t mind having a boy. It was just the idea of dressing her baby up in cute little dresses and bows appealed more.

What would she name her?

“Maybe... I’ll name you Mariko... Mari-chan! That’s a cute name, hehe.”

And, if the baby were a he?

“Hmm... For a boy? Maybe Miki? Miki-kun?”

What about appearances? Who would the baby take after the most?

“Probably him...” Her smile turned wistful as she thought of Ren being by her side, happily carrying the baby in his own arms as a joyous father.

What kind of father would Ren be? 

Right... What was the point in even daydreaming if he doesn’t know yet? In fact, when was she going to tell him?

She pulled out her phone from her purse, scrolling through some old messages with Ren. It seemed that he really wanted to talk to her. More in likely about that day she ran away, since he didn’t seem like he let that slide at the time. But, she wasn’t ready—she still wasn’t ready to face him yet.

So... when would she be ready?

 

“He deserves to know the truth, Ann. He’s the father. He at least needs to know that much.”

 

Ann sighed, knowing Haru was right. But still... 

“Hello, Ann.”

Ann jumped, recognizing that voice. Oh, no. Could it be...?  

Slowly, she turned around to face the person who greeted her from behind. Her stomach literally dropped the moment her suspicions were confirmed.

“R-Ren...?”

“Long time no see,” he said with a casual wave of his hand.

“O-Oh. Right... Long time no see...” Her foot tapped the ground behind her as she looked away. “H-How are you doing?”

“I’ve been good.” He pocketed his jeans. “You?”

“Good... just been busy with work.”

“Is that so?” he replied with a nonchalant look, casually leaning onto a cherry blossom tree nearby. 

And then, there was silence. Dearest lord. Where was everyone? The awkwardness was suffocating her!

“U-Um...” Ann’s eyes flickered all around as she thought of something else to say. Obviously, staying quiet wasn’t going to help the tense atmosphere right now. “The weather is nice today, don’t you think?”

“Very,” he said, staring off into the distance toward the lake ahead of them. “And the cherry blossoms are nice too.”

“They are,” she agreed, sitting on the nearby bench. 

Neither said anything again for a few moments, both just quietly viewing the tranquil lake covered in cherry blossom petals.

“I, um...” Ann started again, head turning toward him, “...wasn’t expecting you to come.”

His eyes finally met hers.

“What? Would you have stayed home if you knew I was coming?” There was a slight edge to his tone.

Ann looked away.

“N-No... I don’t mind you coming. I was just surprised to see you here.”

“Oh, really?” he said, the edge to his tone sharpening. “Because it seems like you’ve been trying to avoid me these past few weeks.”

“I’m not—”

“YO!!!” called a male’s voice behind them. They both turned to see Ryuji, Makoto, and Haru just arriving. “Ready to enjoy the views?”

“Oh, it really is beautiful here!” Haru said, taking a whiff of the air. “The food smells good too! Why don’t we grab something to eat before we view the pretty cherry blossoms?”

Ann immediately stood up, immensely grateful for their appearance. “I agree! Let’s try out some of the food stands! I’m starving, haha!”

God, it was so obvious that she was trying to avoid that conversation with Ren. Ren sighed.

“Anyways... Where’s Yusuke and Futaba?” asked Makoto.

“Said they couldn’t make it today,” said Ryuji, rubbing the back of his neck. “Both of them had errands to do, I guess.”

“I see...” the bobbed brunette replied. “Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s go try out some of the stands, shall we?”

 


 

After a few hours of sight seeing, eating food, and trying out different festival games, the group eventually took a little break under one of the sakura trees by the lake, finishing up on some cherry blossom flavored ice cream they bought from one of the food stands.

“Wow! That was delicious!” Ann praised after taking her last spoonful of ice cream in her mouth, amazed that the sweetness didn’t even make her nauseous.

“Never thought cherry blossom could be a flavor...” Ryuji swallowed his last bite, tossing his paper cup in the trash bin beside them.

“Me too,” Haru said, gathering all the empty paper cups and putting them in the trash too. “It’s certainly an interesting flavor.”

“Anyways...” Makoto said, standing up from her spot. She looked at Ryuji, then to Haru, giving them both a knowing look that Ann couldn’t quite decipher. They nodded in unison. “I’m going to the ladies room.”

Haru raised her hand. “Me too!”

Ryuji stood up. “I’m gonna take some pictures of the lake from there.” He craned his head ahead, making his way toward the area. “I think I’ll get a better view.”

“What? Wait—” Ann tried to halt them, but to no avail.

“Watch our stuff, you two!” Haru winked at Ann, then walked off with Makoto.

Ren and Ann sat in silence. 

“Ann...” he said, making Ann flinch a bit. “Can we talk now?”

“Umm... sure. What did you want to talk about?”

“Why did you run off that day?” He went straight to the point.

“I had a photoshoot to go to,” she answered.

There was a doubtful look on his face that sent shivers down Ann’s spine. “Be honest with me, Ann.”

“I am.”

“You’re hiding something,” he claimed.

“No, I’m not,” she insisted. 

“Ann...”

She stood up, breaking out a nervous smile.

“U-Um...! I’m going to get some more of that cherry blossom ice cream!” Ann tried changing the subject, obviously uncomfortable with the current topic at hand. “Do you want some? I... I’ll go grab us some!!”

Ren got up and snatched her wrist when she tried to walk away.

“Stop trying to run, Ann,” he told her, voice firm and stern. “You can’t keep this up forever.”

Her eyes narrowed sharply.

“Why must you be so damn persistent all the time?” she spat out, eyes smoldering with vexation as she pulled away from his grasp. “I said I’m fine! Stop reading into it!”

“If you’re fine, then why won’t you look at me when you tell me you’re alright?” he pointed out.

“You don’t know a thing...” she muttered.

“You’re avoiding me.”

“I’m not avoiding you...”

“Bullshit, Ann!” he snapped, anger and frustration finally bursting out. “Ever since that day we ended our agreement, you don’t return my messages. You find every possible way to avoid me!”

“That’s not...”

Ren stepped forward.

“I’m tired of playing these games with you, Ann...” he said, moving towards her.

Ann backed away cautiously. “I’m not playing anything with you.”

He persisted, eventually walking her back against a sakura tree. “Stop lying to me...”

“Please, Ren...” she pleaded, unable to meet his intense gaze.

He leaned forward, his face inches away from meeting hers.

“Did you end the agreement because you started having feelings for me?”

Her eyes widened.

“Did it upset you... when I told you nothing had changed?”

Ann shook her head. “Ren... stop.”

She felt his fingers curling around her chin, turning her to face him.

“Look at me and tell me the truth, Ann.”

She said nothing, her breath hitching in her throat.

“Fine.” He let her go, drawing back. “Be that way.”

“Ren...” she said softly, a pang of guilt hitting her chest. He was obviously frustrated, hurt—and she was making it worse by refusing to reveal her secret to him. This would probably be the time to come clean with him now, but she was still hesitant, scared. She still needed time. “I... I’m sorry... I—” 

Then, suddenly, something didn’t feel right.

“If you don’t want to be honest, I’ll just tell you instead...” Ren went on, looking her straight in the eye.

Her vision blurred, and her head felt light. 

“Ann... The truth is... that I—”

She tried to refocus, but the world began spinning, her legs weakening.

“Ann...?” he said, now seemingly catching on to the episode she was having.

Then... everything turned black.

 


 

A group of paramedics were the first thing Makoto, Haru, and Ryuji noticed when they were walking back to their meet up spot.

“Oh, my...” said Haru behind her hands. “What happened here? I hope the person is alright.”

“Yeah...” Ryuji chimed in, squinting and raising his hand to his brows to get a closer look. “Not sure what’s happenin’, but it looks like they got everything under control.

Once the three got close enough to identify who was placed on the stretcher, their stomachs dropped.

“Ann!?” They all cried in unison, immediately rushing to the scene.

Obviously, things didn’t go as planned.

“Ren!” Makoto ran up to him, followed by Ryuji and Haru. “What happened!?”

“I don’t know. We were talking and then she suddenly passed out,” he explained calmly despite the worry in his eyes.

Makoto remembered Ann mentioning having occasional dizzy spells one time, claiming that it wasn’t uncommon for pregnant women per what her OB told her when she asked during her last visit. She presumed that this might be the case. Still, was it really normal for her to pass out like this?

“I forgot to ask...” one of the paramedics said, looking at Ren. “Is there a chance she could be pregnant?”

Ren shook his head. “Not that I’m aware of...”

Makoto bit her lip, glancing at Haru who had the same nervous look on her face.

They need to know the truth... Makoto rationalized, feeling conflicted in keeping Ann’s secret safe from Ren until she was ready to tell him the truth. She had hoped that she’d tell him the truth by now when they had the chance to speak alone, but that obviously didn’t happen. What if they give her drugs or do other tests in the hospital that’s harmful to the baby?

She swallowed, internally apologizing to Ann and stepping forward.

“Wait...” the brunette said, looking at the paramedic who asked Ren the question. “...There is.”

The paramedic gave her a questioning gaze that inquired for more clarification while Ren looked incredibly lost in place.

“What...?” Ren asked, taking an uneasy step forward. “What do you mean, Makoto?”

Makoto took in a deep breath.

“She’s pregnant...” she finally answered.

Ren’s eyes shot out a mile wide.

“She’s... what?”

Chapter Text

 

“She’s pregnant...”

Ren’s eyes must’ve shot a mile wide. He must’ve heard that wrong. Ann was... what...?

...WHAT!?

“She’s... what?” he asked again, feeling his stomach drop.

“She’s pregnant,” Makoto repeated, still avoiding his gaze.

He stood frozen, his world practically stopping in place. Pregnant...? She’s... pregnant? Pregnant!? By... him? Him!? No way!!! That had to be a joke!!!!

Apparently, Ryuji was just as shocked, his jaw practically dropping to the ground when he let out a dazed, “H-Holy shit...”

The paramedic looked at Makoto, then to Ren, then to Makoto again.

“Oh. Thanks for the information, Miss. That’s very important to know. Thank you.”

The paramedics wheeled Ann up to the back of the ambulance. Then, one of them asked, “Do any of you want to accompany her?”

Had Ren not been so stunned speechless, he would’ve offered to go, pressing and demanding answers the moment she woke up. What was going on? Was it true? Was she really pregnant—by him? Was he really going to be a father? If so... why? Why didn’t she tell him? Was she planning on handling this herself? Was she insane!?

  Makoto raised her hand, saying, “I’ll go.” and then turned to the group.“I’ll message you guys the details once we arrive. Meet you guys there,” she told them, and then made her way into the back of the vehicle.

“Alright,” Haru said with a firm nod, looking at one of the paramedics, who was making his way around to the front of the ambulance. “Which hospital are you guys taking her to?”

“Tokyo University Hospital,” he answered as he entered the vehicle, strapping his seatbelt and then saying to her before shutting the door, “It’s the closest one we can take her to.”

“Thank you.” She gave a brief bow, watching the ambulance drive off before she turned to Ren and Ryuji. “Okay. Come on, guys. Let’s go.”

“Haru...” Ren said, still in disbelief over everything that just unraveled right in front of him. “Did you already know?”

His bouffant-haired friend looked a bit nervous to answer, and then said, “Yes.”

“Am I... the father?”

She nodded.

He really couldn’t believe what he was hearing. This couldn’t be happening. Ann’s pregnant... by him—and he never knew!? Seriously—why didn’t she tell him!? Shouldn’t he know something like this? Wasn’t this a big thing?

“Why... Why didn’t she tell me?” Ren asked, feeling a mix of confusion and anger. Did she not trust him enough to tell him this?

“Ren...” Haru said, looking down at her feet for a second, then looking back up at him. “I think... this will have to be something you and Ann need to discuss together. Right now, let’s just find where this place is at.”

“But—”

Ryuji laid a hand on his shoulder. “She’s right, dude. Come on. Let’s get goin’.”

Reluctantly, Ren conceded, knowing that’s the only option for now. With that decided, he walked alongside his friends, trying to make sense of what he had just learned while figuring out where this place was.

 


 

“Ugh...”

Ann woke up on her left side, an array of medical supplies and monitors being some of the first things she noticed in her vision. Wires were all over her chest and limbs. She winced as she sat up on the gurney, feeling the most thunderous ache in her head. 

Makoto jumped in her seat. “Ann! You’re awake! Thank god!” 

“W-Where am I?” asked Ann, the oxygen mask sealed around her nose and mouth fogging up with each breath she took.

“The back of the ambulance, Miss,” said a man across from her brunette friend, hanging up a bag of fluids on a pole nearby that would connect to the IV in her hand. “How are you feeling?”

“A bit dizzy...” she replied in a daze, rubbing her forehead.

“Are you having any pain right now?”

“Just my head. Everywhere else is fine.”

“Your blood pressure is low and your pulse is a bit high.” He pointed to the numbers on the monitor screen next to her. “We’re going to administer some fluids to help bring that up a bit.”

There was a moment of quiet, then Ann looked to the paramedic.

“Umm... I’m not sure if anyone told you... but I’m pregnant.”

“Ah, yes. This young lady informed me here earlier,” he mentioned, craning his head toward Makoto. 

There was a look of contrite on Makoto’s face, which Ann could not decipher. Did something else happen at the festival she wasn’t aware of?

Ann went on anyways, looking back at the paramedic. “Is... my baby okay?”

“Well, unfortunately, we won’t be able to confirm that until we get to the hospital. But don’t panic. There’s no bleeding or signs of anything going wrong with the pregnancy. That, I can assure you.”

It wasn’t the answer she was hoping for, but it wasn’t negative news. Hearing that there were no alarming signs was fairly reassuring. As long as her baby wasn’t injured or harmed as a result of her fall, all was good. 

The blonde looked at her crestfallen friend, wondering why she looked so remorseful. “What’s wrong, Makoto? You look upset.”

“He knows…” she finally said, her voice low and meek.

Ann bobbed her head to the side.

“Who knows… what?”

“Ren…” Makoto fumbled with her hands nervously. “He knows you’re pregnant.”

The blonde’s heart nearly stopped.

“W-What…?” Ann said, her eyes wider than saucers. “But how—”

“I’m sorry, Ann. I had to,” Makoto interjected, her hands no longer fidgeting. “What if you hadn’t woken up and they did tests or give you drugs that’s harmful to the baby?”

Ann said nothing, still stunned speechless.

“The people here need to know these things, Ann… Not only so they know how to treat you, but so they could also pass it on to the hospital staff when you get there,” she rationalized,  then bowed her head deeply. “I’m sorry, Ann! I know you wanted to tell him when you were ready—but I couldn’t risk yours and the baby’s health. I’m so sorry!!!”

The blonde looked at the brunette in silence for a while, mortified that the secret is out, but understood why it had to be told. Ann didn’t blame Makoto for what she had to do—she certainly had noble intentions. If there was anyone to blame here, it was Ann herself for not telling Ren in the first place. Some of the drama here could’ve been avoided had she been more honest with him.

She reached out for her distressed friend’s shoulder, giving it a gentle pat. “No, Makoto. Don’t be. I would’ve done the same too if I were in your position.”

“Ann…” Makoto looked up at her, her expression still full of remorse.

Ann smiled. “You had good intentions, and I appreciate you watching out for my baby. You saved my baby from harm... Thank you.” 

“But… what about—”

Ann shook her head. “No. He had to find out sooner or later. Haru was right. Ren deserves to know the truth. I’ve been delaying it for too long…”

“I…” Makoto paused, tearing her gaze away from Ann again. “I just wish he didn’t have to learn all of this under these circumstances. If there was someone he needed to hear the pregnancy from, it was from you. And I just potentially ruined your guys’—”

“Please, Makoto,” Ann tried to reassure again. “You did what you had to do. Please don’t beat yourself over this.”

Makoto said nothing for a moment and then... 

“I just hope he doesn’t get too upset over this.”

“What goes on between Ren and I is between us,” Ann stated emphatically, looking in her friend’s crimson eyes. “And... whatever happens after all of this is on me. No one else but me… So don’t worry about it, Makoto. Please stop blaming yourself for what happened, okay?”

“Ann…”

“I don’t know how he’ll react—and I have a feeling it won’t be good.” Ann looked down at her lap for a moment, then looked back at the brunette with determination. “But, I’ll face him head on and accept the consequences of my actions. I can’t keep delaying this. It’s time he learned the truth.”

Makoto smiled at her resolve. “Right. Let’s hope for the best.”

“Mhm.” Ann hummed with a firm nod, returning a reassuring smile to her friend.

 


 

It was a hellhole when Ren, Ryuji, and Haru arrived at Tokyo University Hospital’s Emergency Room. From patients with broken limbs, to confusion and delirium, to chest and body pains, all sorts of people awaited in the waiting room to be evaluated.

“Only two visitors are allowed at a time,” said the triage nurse behind the front desk. “There’s already one in with her right now, so one more could go in.”

“I’ll go first,” Haru said, looking over at Ryuji and then to Ren. “Is that alright with you guys?”

They both nodded, Ryuji chiming in with that wide toothy grin, “I’ll keep him company while you girls talk. I’m pretty sure Ann wants to see you ladies first before us dudes.”

Haru smiled with a brief nod, then went on her way toward the back.

The guys found two empty spots at the back, taking a seat there amongst the crowded area.

“Why didn’t she tell me…?” Ren let out as soon as he sat down, leaning over with his hands digging through his tousled locks. “Why would she hide something like this from me?”

Ryuji placed a hand on his back. “She was probably scared.”

“Of what?” His head shot up, a glint of anger in his eye. “What could she possibly be scared of exactly?”

“Hey, man. I get it. I know you’re upset,” Ryuji empathized. “But you gotta calm down.”

“How!?” he snarled, earning a few stares from curious strangers around them. “Here I am trying to be honest with her. Here I am worrying sick about her. I’ve lent an ear to her problems—I’ve done nothing but supported her as a good friend. And she pulls crap like this and lies to my face the entire time? Does she not trust me enough to tell me these kind of things? What did I do to make her so doubtful of me?”

“I know, dude. But calm down. Until you hear Ann’s part in this, you gotta stay calm if you want her to open up to you.”

“Granted… I’m afraid too,” Ren admitted, continuing on. “I don’t know anything about parenthood or being a good father. But don’t I deserve to know this? Don’t I have a part in this? Does she not want me taking part in caring for this child—our child?”

“Come on. Ann’s an idiot for not tellin’ you sooner, but I’m pretty sure she didn’t mean on leavin’ you out in the dust for that long. She probably just needed time to sort out her thoughts before comin’ out clean to you.”

“I don’t know.” The fuming man gave a doubtful look. “She seemed so hellbent on avoiding me.”

“I know it seems bad right now. But try to hear from her side of the story before jumpin’ to conclusions,” Ryuji stressed, turning toward him more. “I mean, think about it—put yourself in her shoes and imagine you’re her for a sec: You two aren’t even together yet, and yet were foolin’ around in the past few months as fuck buddies—or whatever you call it. Then suddenly, you get pregnant with his kid? You’re supposedly just friends and it wasn’t even planned. How do you think he’s gonna take it?”

Ren quieted for a moment, the crease between his brows easing a bit.

  “Look. I get it. I’d be pissed too if I were in your position.” His blond friend continued, leaning back into his seat. “But I guess, in a way, I could also see where Ann might be comin’ from. Doesn’t mean she’s in the right, but I can kinda see why she’d be reluctant in tellin’ you.”

Yeah. Maybe Ryuji had a point. Ann probably had her reasons of not relaying the information to him. But still, the fact that Ann tried to hide something big like this from him not only angered him to no end, but disappointed him greatly. What was she thinking, in trying to handle this all herself? Did she not trust him enough to be reliable, after all the sacrifices he had made in the past for not only her, but his friends too? Did spending months in juvie those years ago to protect her and his friends not demonstrate his loyalty enough?

Children. Fatherhood. He wasn’t ready, of course. Hell, he didn’t know what to expect out of it. The thought of someday having kids crossed his mind a few times in his life, but it never dawned to him that it could’ve happened sooner than later. However, he still deserved to know this, despite her fears. How long did Ann plan on keeping this from him? Better yet—was she ever going to tell him at all?

He took off his glasses for a moment to rub the area between his tired eyes. He was so tired of all these secrets and lies. When he tried to be honest with her, she ran—she refused to hear him out and ran away. Why did she have to make things even more complicated when the simple solution was just to communicate with him?

He loved Ann, but… why couldn’t she see that? It was obvious he would do anything for her—that he cared about her to no end. But, why did she have to be so blind to all of it? Why would she think that them having a baby was going to push him away from her?

Perhaps... she wasn’t ready to open herself up to him. She didn’t trust him enough to tell him about the baby—perhaps she didn’t trust him at all. Why? Did their friendship mean nothing to her? All those years of ups and downs they went through together—the Phantom Thieves, Kamoshida, Shiho, their successes, their break-ups—did they mean nothing to her?

He loved her. He truly loved her. But... was loving her the right thing—if she can’t trust him at all?

Ren let out a long sigh. This was all too much for him.

“God. Why are women so complicated?” Ren finally managed to say, slumping back in his seat.

Ryuji laughed. “You’re tellin’ me, dude….” 

 


 

“How is he?” Ann looked at Haru as soon as the doctor left the room.

“Hm?” Haru bobbed her head to the side.

“Ren,” she clarified, swallowing a lump coiling in her throat. “Is he okay?”

“He’s fine,” Haru replied. “He was pretty shocked by the news though.”

“Yeah... I bet he’s mad too,” the blonde added ruefully.

“To be honest... I’m not sure. He didn’t say much during the trip here.”

“I see...” Ann’s gaze went to her own hands, fidgeting with each other in great unease.

“But... now that he knows, this is the time to face him head on and talk things out with him,” said Haru, placing a hand over Ann’s. “Be brave, Ann. You can do this. We believe in you.”

“I-I know... It’s just... I’m nervous...” Ann admitted, fretting over the possible scenarios that could befall the moment he walked in the room. “He’s probably so angry at me right now, and he has every right to be. I should’ve told him at the festival when we were alone—no, I should’ve told him sooner. But I couldn’t because I was so indecisive!”

“Ann...”Makoto chimed in from the other side of the bed, placing a hand over her shoulder. “Ren might be angry. But whatever happens, know that we’ll always be here for you if you ever need anything. You’re never alone. Remember that.”

Ann looked to Makoto with a small smile. “Thanks, Makoto. I’m so glad to have you girls as my friends.”

Both Haru and Makoto stood up.

“Well, are you ready? Should we go get him now?” Makoto asked.

Ann gave a firm nod, knowing what needed to be done. “Yeah. Have to face him sooner of later....”

With that said, the ladies left the room, leaving Ann to internally prepare herself.

There was no turning back now.

Ann felt her chest tighten, stomach turning as she waited for Ren’s visit. She knew he was going to be mad, so she braced herself for the worst. At worst, he’d say he’d want nothing to do with her and that she was on her own. If that’s the case, then Ann would have to respect that. He had every right to be upset—she lied to him over something so big after all.

A few minutes later, the curtains slid open and there he was, sharing a look with her for a brief moment before shutting them for their privacy. He seemed surprisingly calm, but Ann definitely felt the tense aura from him as he walked over to her, taking a seat on the stool nearby the bed. The air grew heavier—taut—and the pulse sounds on her monitor hastened as she felt her heart panicking. There definitely was no turning back now. Ann took in a deep breath, then out, having no choice but to face the inevitable.

“How are you feeling?” was the first thing he asked, still stoically calm.

“I’m okay… just dizzy. That’s all,” she said, still keeping herself on the err of caution.

He clasped his hands over his lap. “Makoto told me that the doctor said it was just anemia and exhaustion. Is that right?”

“Yeah...” Ann replied. “Told me I’m going to need to take an iron supplement for the time being.”

“I see,” said Ren, looking down at his hands. “At least... you’re okay.”

Silence lingered between them amidst the tumult noises coming from outside the room. People shouting orders nearby, carts and equipment rushing from down the hall, a monitor going off the hook from the room across from hers, something announced on an intercom that prompted even more disarrayed noises coming from the said room...

This definitely wasn’t the place to have a long and serious discussion with him about her pregnancy, but what could she do? She hoped the person across from her was okay though.

“I heard you’re pregnant,” he said after a while, setting Ann’s anxiety at its peak.

“Y-Yeah…” the nervous blonde replied, the monitor picking up her quickening heart again.

“I’m…” He slowly looked up at her, looking like he needed confirmation. “...the father, right?”

She nodded. “Yes.”

“Is the baby okay?” he asked.

“Yes,” she replied. “The doctor said the baby’s alright.”

Silence lingered between them for another moment before Ren went on. 

“How far in?” 

“11 weeks.”

He crossed his arms, knitting his brows. “So... You’ve known for this long and didn’t tell me?” he questioned, his voice now stern.

“Well… Technically, I’ve only known for about three weeks,” she said, knowing that it probably would not ease the anger obviously building up in him.

“Three weeks is still a pretty long time to ponder...” 

Ann said nothing, tearing her gaze from his.

He quieted for maybe about ten seconds, and then finally asked, “Were you ever going to tell me...?”

Ann finally looked at him.

“I wanted to tell you, Ren. But—”

“So, why didn’t you tell me?” His tone sharpened, laced with embitterment.

“I… I wanted to….” she answered meekly, grasping the blanket over her lap. “But I-I was scared.”

“Of what?”

“Of how you’d react. That you’d be upset—angry...” she said, feeling herself tremble under his intense gaze. “...That you’d blame me for being so irresponsible... That you’d want nothing to do with me...”

“Why would you think that?”

“You said that you didn’t want kids...”

His brows raised. “Huh? When did I say that?”

“When I asked you at the diner, I wanted to tell you, but didn’t know how to bring it up, so I wanted to see your take on the topic before telling you,” she explained, releasing her grip on the blanket after a while. “But... when you told me you didn’t know, and that it was too early for you to tell, I got scared.”

Ren said nothing in response to that, looking as if he were contemplating on it for a bit before his expression softened. He then uncrossed his arms.

“Ann...” he said as he leaned forward, his tone a bit softer now. “I said I wasn’t sure if I wanted kids... not that I ‘never’ wanted them.”

Ann blinked a few times. Oh. Right. That’s what he said. She quieted, feeling like a bigger idiot than she was.

“Regardless...” he went on, “You should’ve told me. I deserve to know this too, you know?”

Tears welled up in her eyes, but she had to be strong. She wasn’t allowed to cry. No excuses. She placed this upon herself, so she had to face the consequences of her actions.

“I know... I... I’m sorry,” she apologized meekly, choking on the words. “Yell at me all you want. Tell me I’m stupid and selfish. Please—I deserve it!”

Ren shook his head. “I’m not going to yell at you and call you names. But, I will say that I’m very disappointed, and extremely upset that you’d think I’d leave you out in the dust like that,” he spoke genuinely, silver eyes now saddened. “What have I ever done to make you doubt me? What kind of man do you think I am?”

Ann said nothing, still trying to hold onto her tough facade.

“I’ve done nothing but shown that I care for you over and over. That... I’ve been a loyal friend. What about the sacrifices I’ve made for you and the team in the past? Do they not matter to you?”

Ann couldn’t hold it in any longer, his honest words tugging at her heartstrings. How could she have been so blind to it all? Of all the things he had done for the team—for her. It was as if she had completely forgotten them all. A tear drop fell, then two, then three. “I know... I know, I’m so sorry... I...” she began to sob, feeling ashamed of working herself up over something so ludicrous.

“I thought we were friends, Ann. Or do you not consider me one anymore?”

“Of course I consider you my friend!” she cried out, voice cracking. “I—”

“But you don’t even trust me enough to support you through something as big as this,” he pointed out, cutting her off.

“That’s not—”

“You can’t even be honest with me...”

“I wanted to tell you, Ren...but—”

“But, you didn’t,” he cut her off again, looking away.

“I was going to tell you eventually...” she tried to explain again. “I just... I just needed time!”

“How much time is enough, Ann?” Ren’s eyes shot back at her, frustration growing back in them. “I know you were scared. I get it. I honestly do. I’d be scared in your position too—to be pregnant under these circumstances, where it was unplanned, especially considering the status of our relationship,” he empathized, but went on in disheartenment, “But still... It hurts that you’d keep something like this from me for that long. You’d always go on about how reliable I am, how trustworthy I am. You even told me that I was the one of the few who you could go to in a pinch, that I’m your light. Yet... you can’t even tell me something as big as this? Which is it, Ann? Do you trust me or not?”

“I-I...” she stammered.

“Or...” he paused, his eyes dispirited, “...am I not man enough for you?”

“No, Ren! That’s not—”

He raised his hand. “Enough of these excuses, Ann. I get it... You just don’t trust me to be responsible.”

“Ren...” she said as her sobs dwindled, wanting to say more but couldn’t. Nothing she said could repair the damage she just made between them. So, she remained silent, knowing any attempt in reassuring him would be futile now.

Ren leaned back, letting out a long doleful sigh. Much to her surprise, he had no other words to vent, allowing another moment of silence between them. Eventually, he spoke up, “Well... what do you want to do?”

“I...” Ann stopped for a moment, looking in the distance, “...want to keep our child...” she finished with a firm resolve, wiping her eyes dry. “I’m going to do the best I can to support him or her with all I have.”

“Okay.” He gave a firm nod. “So, what do you want me to do?”

“It’s... up to you,” she said, adding, “But, whichever you choose, I won’t hold it against you—especially after everything I’ve done.” 

He said nothing for a moment and then his face moved forward, inches from meeting hers. 

“Alright then. Let me make something clear, Ann...” he told her in a stern tone, looking at her straight in the eye. “I’m going to help and support you as much as I can for you and the child—our child—regardless of our status right now. Not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because I care about you and the future of our child. I can’t leave you to handle this on your own because that’s not the kind of guy I am, Ann.”

Ann nodded.

“But... that’s it. That’s all I’m going to do. As for us—our relationship...” he stopped, backing away from her. “There’s something obviously between us, and I... was hoping for something more, and I know you did too...”

Her eyes widened.

He then looked back at her, uncertainty in his eyes. “But now, I don’t know. I think... I need some time to think about it, and you should too,” he said, allowing another quiet pause between them before continuing, “However, I think our priority should be our baby. Let’s focus on that for now.”

Silence came again as Ann turned her gaze downward for a moment, then looked back at him with acceptance. “You’re right... “ she agreed with a firm nod. “I think that’s the best thing to do for now..”

Ren stood up, making his way toward the exit of the room. Before leaving, he took another long glance at her and said,

“I just... wish you had a little more faith in me, Ann.”

And with that said, he walked off, giving Ann some more time to ponder over everything spoken between them.

 

“There’s something obviously between us, and I... was hoping for something more, and I know you did too...”

 

So, he did feel something for her.

 

But now, I don’t know. I think... I need some time to think about it, and you should too...”

 

But... she screwed up. Big time. What was she thinking—hiding her pregnancy from him? He had done nothing but shown care and support for her. He had always been a good friend to her. How could she forget all of that? How could she view him in such a disreputable way? 

No wonder he’s so doubtful now. 

 

“However, I think our priority should be our baby. Let’s focus on that for now.”

 

Ann sighed, feeling a weight lifting off her chest at the conclusion of their conversation. He was right; their focus should be on their baby. All issues between them should be pushed aside for now. 

Still, if only she told him at that moment in the festival—no—if only she told him sooner than that, they wouldn’t be in this position now.

Well, she could regret all she wanted, but it wouldn’t change a thing now. All she could do was move forward, accept the consequences of her actions, and do the best she could with what she had at this point...

Because that’s all she could do for now.

Chapter Text

“What have I ever done to make you doubt me? What kind of man do you think I am?”

 

Maybe he overreacted a bit.

 

“I’ve done nothing but shown that I care for you over and over. That... I’ve been a loyal friend. What about the sacrifices I’ve made for you and the team in the past? Do they not matter to you?”

“I know... I know, I’m so sorry... I...”

 

Over and over, she kept apologizing. Yet, he still couldn’t help but be angry.

 

“I thought we were friends, Ann. Or do you not consider me one anymore?”

“Of course I consider you my friend! I—”

“But you don’t even trust me enough to support you through something as big as this...”

“That’s not—”

“You can’t even be honest with me...”

“I wanted to tell you, Ren...but—”

“But, you didn’t.” 

 

Did he go a little too far?

 

“I was going to tell you eventually... I just... I just needed time!”

“How much time is enough, Ann? I know you were scared. I get it. I honestly do. I’d be scared in your position too—to be pregnant under these circumstances, where it was unplanned, especially considering the status of our relationship... But still... It hurts that you’d keep something like this from me for that long. You’d always go on about how reliable I am, how trustworthy I am. You even told me that I was the one of the few who you could go to in a pinch, that I’m your light. Yet... you can’t even tell me something as big as this? Which is it, Ann? Do you trust me or not?”

 

Maybe he was a bit harsh. 

 

“I-I...” 

“Or... am I not man enough for you?”

“No, Ren! That’s not—”

“Enough of these excuses, Ann. I get it... You just don’t trust me to be responsible.”

“Ren...”

 

Perhaps… he shouldn’t have been so rough on her like that. Ann may have done something hurtful by keeping something important from him, but she probably had a lot on her plate too.

 

“I... I was scared.”

 

Over and over, those words kept repeating in his head. Scared. She was scared... of him? What else could he have done to make her doubt him so much?

 

“...do you want kids?”

 

There was that question she had asked back at the diner in Shibuya. 

 

“I don’t know. Maybe no? Not right now at least—it’s too early to tell.”

 

The way he had answered that could’ve been part of it, even though he didn’t intend it to sound so negative.

 

“Say, Ren…”

“Yes?”

“You know… We’ve been doing… this…. for a while now.”

“Yeah? What about it?”

“I, um… I know we talked about it the other day… But, I just wanted to be sure… nothing really has changed, right?”

 

Then, there was also that topic she brought up at the table.

 

“You really don’t… feel anything toward me, right?”

 

When she had asked that question a second time.

 

“If I did.... then whatever we’re doing right now would end... Nothing has ended yet. So, does that answer your question?”

 

It was such a cold and distant answer, even though he never meant it—it was a blatant lie.

He really wasn’t honest with her either. Should she really take all the blame here?

Ren sighed, stirring the curry he was making on the stove. After their heated conversation, he had left the ER immediately to cool off, leaving the rest of the gang behind. Ann had been discharged per what Ryuji messaged him over phone a few moments ago, since her and the baby were deemed stable enough by the attending doctor. 

At least she and the baby were okay.

“What’s on your mind, Ren?” his feline friend asked from behind, sitting on the edge of the dinner table with his tail swaying below him.

Morgana seemed so concerned about him these past few days that Ren began to feel bad about not disclosing anything. He wondered how Morgana would take it—Ann’s pregnancy. It seemed that Morgana’s crush on Ann had dwindled down over the past few years, but he still seemed quite fond of her. Would he feel betrayed about it, the idea that his closest friend knocked up his crush? Maybe so. Even then, Ren wanted to vent to someone. Anyone—even Morgana. 

...Then again, was announcing the pregnancy without Ann present the okay thing to do? She probably didn’t want anyone else to know up until a certain date.

Sorry, Morgana... Ren thought to himself. He shouldn’t disclose anything for now.

“Nothing… just tired,” he told Morgana, lifting the wooden spoon to his mouth and sampling the contents.

“I see…” Morgana replied, sounding a little disappointed. “Well, just make sure to sleep early tonight. You have work early in the morning tomorrow, remember?”

“Yeah.”

Ren went on with the rest of the day onward, still contemplating over the events that had transpired a few hours ago.

 


 

A few days later,  Ann had just finished up a photoshoot when she decided to go and speak to her agent about her situation.

“I see... so you’re 11 weeks pregnant now?” he said, setting down his pen and clasping his hands over the papers on his desk.

“Yes.” Ann fumbled nervously with her hands. “I don’t know what my other options are once I get further in my pregnancy. I’m going to be gaining more weight, and I know clients aren’t going to like that as I start looking pregnant. So, I was wondering what I should do.”

“Well...” The young agent rubbed his chin. “We could look into some places that are looking for maternity models. There are a few I can think of. In the meantime, just keep modeling like you’re doing as long as it is safe for you and the baby. I’d also keep quiet with your clients for now until you start to show more. Then, we’ll go from there,” he advised. “Also, be sure to stay on top of your health and exercises that are safe for you to do. Pregnancy puts a lot of stress on the body, as well as modeling. Let me know if there’s anything we can do to help.”

The blonde was stunned silent at first, not expecting such a kind response from someone whom she thought would get so uptight with these kind of things.

“Thank you, Fujikawa-san.” Ann bowed deeply, ever so grateful for his understanding. “I’ll do the best I can.”

He handed her an envelope—her pay for the week. “Now, go on and get some rest. And congratulations. This must be an exciting time.”

Ann felt a heaviness in her heart, remembering her downfall with Ren those days ago. She nodded anyways. “Thank you, sir. I’ll be going now.”

It was good to know that conversation with her agent went well. She had been worried about it for weeks.

But, what was she going to do about Ren? They haven’t talked for a few days. Then again, he was probably still mad at her. Still, Ann needed to maintain a relatively civil relationship with him somehow—for their baby’s sake.

There was a ping from her phone. She pulled it out and noticed a reminder that her 12 week ultrasound appointment was in two days.

She should probably ask if he could accompany her, to keep him involved with the pregnancy. But... how would she ask him? Just how angry was he still?

...

Didn’t matter. This was Ren’s baby too. He wanted to be involved, so this would be a good opportunity to let him in.

 


 

“Have a nice day, sir.” Ren bowed as the customer left, then headed over to tidy up the table, picking up stained plates and mugs and carrying them over to the kitchen sink. 

In the midst of his cleaning tasks, his phone vibrated a few times in his pocket. He set down the towel on the counter top, pulling it out to see his messages.

His eyes widened at the sender’s name, and his stomach knotted. He knew that she’d contact him eventually, but wasn’t expecting a message from her on this time of the day.

 

Ann: Hey... I know you’re probably still angry…

Ann: But I’m having an ultrasound this coming Monday

Ann: If it’s okay… I’d like you to come with me

Ann: so we can see our baby’s progress together

 

Oh. Was she asking him out of consideration for his involvement with the pregnancy? Well, that’s awfully thoughtful of her. 

Ren typed:

 

Ren: Okay. What time?

-

Ann: 0730 in the morning

 

Wow. That’s really early. But, that’s fine. At least he’ll get to see the baby for the first time...

Their baby.

 

Ren: I’ll come

Ren: Do you want to meet up at your place then?

-

Ann: Sure

-

Ren: Alright then

 

He almost pocketed his phone when a thought occurred to him, contemplating if he should at least ask her how she was doing, as he didn’t want to leave the conversation at just that despite their status right now. It wasn’t like he stopped caring about her because he was still upset—the least he could do was follow up on her well-being.

 

Ren: How are you doing?

-

Ann: I’ve been okay… just went to clear things up at work, which went surprisingly well

Ann: Told me to keep working for now as long as it’s safe for me and the baby 

Ann: They said that they’ll work on finding me clients tailored to my pregnancy when the time comes... 

 

That’s good. At least she didn’t have to quit her job yet. Ren wasn’t a model or anything of such, but he’s heard how harsh the fashion industry could be toward pregnant women. Luckily, it seemed like Ann had a supportive agency. Good for her.

 

Ren: That’s good. 

 

Ren paused for a moment, wondering what else to say. Then, he remembered that she must’ve been dealing with some of the harsh physical effects of the pregnancy. He then typed:

 

Ren: Have you been feeling okay? Physical wise I mean?

 

Ann typed back:

 

Ann: Yeah... Still feeling a bit nauseous at times, but it isn’t so bad today. It’s kinda off and on...

 

Oh, right. Morning sickness. She was still having those.

 

Ren: I see

 

He wasn’t sure what else to say, but it was good reading that she’s doing okay.

Three dots danced at the bottom of his screen again. Ann typed:

 

Ann: How about you? Have things been okay with you?

 

Even after all he had said to her that day in the hospital room, she still wondered how he was? Why would she care after all the harsh things he said? He was so mad that he failed to consider the bigger picture there, that Ann really was dealing with so much right now. Not only physically, but mentally and emotionally too. Not to also mention that her hormones were probably all over the place as her body accommodated to the pregnancy, which could explain why her mind wasn’t always in the right place at times. Certainly not an excuse for her behavior, but it was something to keep in mind whenever trying to rationalize it. 

Plus, he wasn’t so honest with her either, regarding his feelings toward their relationship, which also contributed to Ann’s doubts in him.

No wonder why Ann was so hesitant in telling him about the pregnancy.

Suddenly, he felt a little guilty.

Ren typed back:

 

Ren: I’m fine. Nothing new

Ren: I’m glad you’re doing alright

Ren: Anyways, I’ll see you on Monday

-

Ann: I’m glad you’re okay too

Ann: See you then

 

Maybe... he had some fault in this too.

 


 

Monday morning...

 

“Ah! You brought a friend with you today,” noted Dr. Tonegawa as she entered the examination room, taking a seat on the stool nearby the exam bed.

“Oh... This is Ren. He’s the father, “Ann introduced him, prompting Ren to give the doctor a polite bow.

“Ah I see. I’m Dr. Tonegawa, Ann’s OB/GYN.” She returned his bow with an amiable smile. “Pleasure to finally meet you, sir.”

“Thank you,” he said.

She turned the machine nearby the bed on, inputing some information on the screen. Afterward, she grabbed the probe connected to it, squeezing a dob of gel over it.

“This is going to be a little cold...” warned Dr. Tonegawa, looking at Ann. “Are you ready?”

Ann nodded, and then the doctor pressed the probe on Ann’s abdomen, the abrupt coldness flinching her at first, but only lasting a second.

Dr. Tonegawa searched around the area, black and gray hazes appearing on the screen in front of them as she slid the probe around Ann’s lower belly.

And then, she finally found it.

“Ah! There it is!” The doctor smiled as she looked at the screen, holding the probe there in place.

Ren blinked, squinting at the image. “Huh? Where?”

“Right here.” She pointed at the little bean shaped form on the screen and Ren’s eyes widened in awe. “At this point, your baby is the size of a plum. All the main organs have developed, along with the hands and feet too.” 

Ann gazed at the image with her own wide eyes, something stirring inside her as the doctor pointed out the baby’s traits. “Oh my god... Wow!” Automatically, she looked up at Ren, giddiness filling up within her. “Do you see that? The baby is so small!”

Ren smiled at her for a moment before looking back at the image. “It sure is.”

On the screen, the doctor zoomed in on the image for a closer look, and then something caught Ann’s eye.

“Oh! And what about that beating thing there? Is that the heart?” asked the blonde.

“Why yes, it is indeed,” she said, her free hand clicking around it with a touchpad, zooming in closer. Waves then appeared on the bottom of the image, thunder sounds of galloping horses overheard in sync with them. “And it’s beating very well at a good pace.”

Ann clapped her hands in glee. “That’s the heartbeat! Oh gosh! That’s so amazing!”

“Yeah...” Ren said, his smile never leaving his countenance. “It is.”

An exuberant gasp escaped her, and she pointed to the screen. “Oh! Look, Ren! The baby moved!”

Ren turned to the screen, scanning it intently. “Really—? Oh! I see it now!”

“Say...” Ann looked at Dr. Tonegawa. “When do we find out the gender?”

The doctor chuckled. “Well... I have a feeling what gender your baby might be. But it’s a bit early to tell right now for sure.”

“What do you think the baby will be then?” asked Ren.

“So far...” She studied the image again. “...looking between the legs here, it looks like the baby appears to be a girl. But don’t go clothes shopping yet. We might be able to get a clearer image of it when the baby is around 14 or maybe 16 weeks. Usually, we wait and tell you around 18 weeks, because the images are the most clearest around that time. But, for now, it looks like a girl is in development.”

Ann clapped her hands again. “That’s wonderful!” She looked at Ren again. “What do you think?”

“I’m good either way. As long as the baby is healthy, I’m happy.”

“You’re right.” Ann smiled.

They remained looking at each other until the doctor chuckled and commented. “Oh, you two make such a wonderful couple.”

Both Ren and Ann immediately tore their eyes away from each other, each one with a tinge of red on their cheeks. Ann coughed, quickly trying to correct the misunderstanding. “Oh, well... actually—”

“She really was scared in telling you, you know?” She turned to Ren, who’s eyes widened a bit. “ ‘What if he hates me’ or, ‘What if he wants nothing to do with me?’ she’d say. But...  I’m glad it all worked out for you two in the end. You two would make such a lovely family.”

Silence lingered between the two until Ann spoke up again, “Well, um... we’re not—”

The doctor slightly curled a hand in front of her mouth, speaking to Ren in a hushed tone.“Try not to be so hard on her even if she gets a bit off at times... Her body is going through many changes right now, and her hormones are all over the place, especially during the first trimester. Pregnancy has been known to alter a woman’s moods from her norm, you know?”

“H-Hey!” Ann blushed. “That’s—”

“I see... Thank you,” Ren interjected with a bow of his head, his nonchalant demeanor perplexing Ann. He then switched topics. “So... when’s the due date?”

“Based on her last period date, and what I see here, I’d say near the end of October. October 27th to be exact,” Dr. Tonegawa answered. 

“Woah. That seems so far off...” Ann said.

“Oh, it’ll go by quick, sweetie.” She chuckled. “As soon as you know it, she’ll be ready to come out to this new world.”

Ann’s heart throbbed in excitement, unable to wait for the day to come sooner to meet her little sweet pea. Looking at the screen again, another motion captured Ann attention.

“Oh!” she let out as she pointed to the screen again, tugging on Ren’s shirt with her other hand. “Look! Look! She’s waving at us!”

He looked back at the screen again, also noticing the baby’s tiny hand waving motions. “Well, look at that.” The corner of his mouth twitched. “She really is.”

Ann giddily waved back at the screen. “Hi!” She giggled, not caring how dorky it was to interact with something that obviously couldn’t see or respond to her. “Mommy and daddy is right here, hehe!”

“Heh. Seems like she’s photogenic like you,” commented Ren, almost as if he was... teasing her?

Ann looked at him for a moment, studying the way he eyed the screen for a bit. 

“Haha,” she laughed quietly, looking back at the waving baby. “Maybe so.”

 


 

Overall, the appointment was an amazing experience for Ann, and she presumed that Ren enjoyed it too, based on his expressions during it all. Though things were still tense and awkward between them, they managed to exchange a little, something which was a positive note for Ann. Even if she ruined everything between them, and even if he lost all romantic interest in her, Ann still wanted to at least maintain a civil relationship with him for the sake of their future child. 

The two walked down the pavement in silence, traffic droning up and down on the busy streets as neither said a word. Earlier, Ren insisted on walking her back to her apartment despite Ann’s protests. Even if he was still mad, he seemed to maintain some chivalry toward her. Perhaps he was also trying to keep things tactful between them.

Still, Ann wasn’t sure what to say. Maybe she should she try and apologize again? Anything to show how sorry she was for hurting him like that. Or, would that make things worse?

She thought long and hard of what to say, then took in a deep breath, ready to say it until Ren spoke out first.

“So... have you thought of a name?” he asked, pocketing his hands.

“Oh. Um... yes,” she answered, taken aback a little from his sudden question. “I was thinking of Mariko for a girl. I thought it’d be cute to call her Mari-chan as a nickname.”

“I see,” he said. What about for a boy?”

“Hmm... Not so sure yet. I have a little difficulty selecting one for a boy.” She poked at her chin, head tilting upward toward the clear azure sky for a moment before looking back at him. “But if I were to choose, maybe Miki? Miki-kun?”

“Sounds nice.” 

“U-Unless you have a better one in mind!” Her voice cracked as she stuttered a bit, tearing her gaze away from him. “F-Feel free to pitch in, Your ideas are probably better than mine.”

He shook his head. “No. Mari-chan is cute. So is Miki-kun.  I think you have good ideas.” There was a small smile on his face. “Seems like you were hoping for a girl—already having a name prepared and all.”

“Well... I did. I was super ecstatic to hear the possibility of our baby being a girl. But, I’m fine with a boy too if that’s what it’s meant to be.” Ann tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. “I guess... either way, I just want our baby to be happy and healthy. That’s all.”

“Yeah... I agree.”

The silence came between them again as they turned into a quieter corner, sounds of the busy streets in Tokyo dwindling from behind. 

“Thank you...” she said quietly, hands clasped together in front of her, “...for coming with  me today.”

“Of course,” he responded, slumping a bit. “That’s what supportive fathers-to-be do after all.”

Silence again. She gripped the ends of her long shirt, the guilt so overwhelming that it unsettled her nerves. Ann’s apartment was only a few blocks ahead, and she really needed to get this out of her chest before they depart.

“Ren...” she said, suddenly stopping in her tracks. Ren halted about a foot away when he realized this, turning around to look at her with inquisitive eyes. Her hands finally let go of her shirt as her upper body deeply inclined. “I’m really sorry for what I did. I know you’re still upset about it and still doubtful of me, and I don’t blame you. But I want you to know that I’m truly sorry. That I should’ve told you sooner. That I didn’t mean to hurt you like that...” She raised back up, gazing into his eyes with earnest sincerity. “There’s really no excuse for my behavior these past few weeks, but I want you to know that I will try my best to make up for what I’ve done. Even if we can’t be friends after this—or together—I still want to try and maintain a civil relationship with you—not just because I still care about you, but for our baby’s sake too...” 

Ren didn’t say anything at first, looking at her for a moment before averting away as if deep in thought. It was probably a good thirty seconds before he softened up and pulled his hands out of his denim pockets, finally responding, “You were that scared in telling me, huh?”

“I... I’m sorry...” she apologized again, her eyes downcast. “I just... I wanted—”

“—I’m sorry too,” he told her softly, surprising her as she looked at him with incredulous eyes.

“No, no, Ren! Don’t apologize.” She shook her hands insistently. “You have every right to be—”

“I was just... shocked. And upset...” he said, looking downward. “I was hoping our friendship didn’t have secrets like that, but considering how we were over the past few months, sleeping together casually, not being upfront with our feelings—I could see how it would lead you to doubt me a little.” He sighed, meeting her gaze again. “I should’ve been honest with you too—about how I really felt. Maybe then, you wouldn’t have stressed over how I might react over the pregnancy as much.”

“Ren...”

He took a few steps toward her. “From now on... no more secrets like this. I want you to trust me—and rely on me as your friend. Let’s just be honest with each other, alright?”

She nodded with a smile, her eyes watering up. “Okay.”

“A fresh new start for our friendship. Let’s do this together, Ann. For our baby’s sake too.”

“Right!”

He pulled her into a warm embrace, and they remained this way for a while. Romantic feelings may not have been exchanged, and their relationship may still be of the platonic kind for now, but this was more than enough for Ann. As long as she still had her friend by her side—her light—then this was more than gratifying for her.

Chapter Text

Two weeks had passed since Ann’s ultrasound appointment and Ann was already in her second trimester. She had read numerous suggestions online on when it would be best to announce her pregnancy to the others. So far, only a few of her closest friends in Tokyo knew, along with hers and Ren’s parents. Telling her parents was perhaps the most nerve-wrecking thing to do—even more so than informing Ren herself—though it went relatively well in the end. Apparently, it went relatively well with Ren’s parents too, much to his and Ann’s relief. Though there was technically no perfect time frame to announce the pregnancy, it was often said to wait until the second trimester—in case something terrible happened during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

So that’s what she did. She told Shiho over phone, who was more than ecstatic to hear the news; and then later told Futaba when she invited her, Makoto, and Haru to the apartment during midday.

Futaba seemed quite shocked at the news.

“What!? You’re pregnant!?” Futaba nearly choked on her water, letting out several violent coughs while Haru patted her back.

Ann nodded, who was sitting next to Makoto on the sofa.

“Yes,” she replied. “And Ren is the father.”

“Whoa!!!” Futaba’s mouth dropped. “I could barely tell with the loose clothing!” Her eyes skimmed Ann up and down. “But, now I sorta see it! How many weeks?”

“14 weeks now.” 

“So, wait!” Her perky orange-haired friend raised her hands. “You two are FINALLY a thing now?”

“No... it was accidental,” Ann explained, sipping her water. “We’re not really together, but he’s helping me out with the pregnancy.”

Futaba looked at Ann incredulously, then shook her head in disbelief. “Ugh! Why don’t you two just admit you guys want to be together. I mean... You might as well as be a couple already.”

“A lot of things had happened between us...” Ann said.

“Yeah, yeah...” Futaba drawled, rolling her eyes. “You guys were messing around for a couple of months—I knew that.”

“Huh? How would you— Wait.” Ann’s gave a suspicious look. “Did you hack into our texts?”

“Heehee!” she snickered. “I have my ways.”

“Futaba...” Makoto folded her arms in disapproval. “...that’s invasion of privacy. You should know better than to do things like that after all the times you had been lectured not to.”

“I know, I know... I’m sorry. Morgana was worried about Ren, so I decided to tap into his phone to see what was going on.”

“Worried?” Ann’s brows raised.

“Yeah. Said Ren was coming home late, not sleeping well, acting funny— Stuff like that.”

“I see...” Ann’s eyes lowered, a pang of guilt hitting her. He really was so caught up in their situation that he couldn’t sleep well? She felt so careless.

“But, anyways... Sure, some things have happened between you two, but you guys made up, right?” Futaba pointed out. “Why don’t you two just get together already?”

“After all that had happened, I think it’s just better to take things slow first and go from there,” the blonde said, reaching over for an apple in the fruit bowl on the coffee table, and then leaning back into her seat. “Besides, I want our focus to be on the baby.”

Futaba sighed, shaking her head. “You two really are something else. But I guess it’s good that both of you are now on the same page.”

Ann smiled, taking a bite out of her apple.

“So... How did your parents take it?” Haru asked, sipping her hot tea.

“Well, they weren’t entirely pleased at first, saying that we should’ve been more careful. But they’re sort of relieved that it was Ren who got me pregnant and not some other guy they don’t know,” Ann said. “They met him several times during their visit here and they trust him enough to be supportive of me while they’re not around. They also told me they’ll be taking some time off to come down and visit soon—so they’ll be able help us out for a bit.”

“What about his parents?” Makoto added.

“Same—they also lectured us, but were supportive, saying that they’ll help us out as much as they can.”

“Gee. That must’ve been awkward,” commented Futaba, scratching her cheek.

“Yeah. But at least they didn’t shun us like we were afraid of. They scolded us, but they still offered their support.”

“That’s good.” Haru clapped her hands in glee. “I’m glad things are starting to look up for you two.”

“Hmm... I wonder how Morgana took it...” Futaba mused.

“He’s fine. Ren worried for nothing, honestly. Morgana basically said that it was better that it was Ren than Kenta or another guy. Though, Morgana did scold Ren a little too, then said that he better take good care of me and the baby. Things like that.”

“He better,” said Makoto, raising a fist. “Otherwise, I’ll give him a good scolding too.”

Ann, Haru, and Futaba just looked at each other for a moment, letting out a nervous laugh right after.

 


 

On the other end, Ryuji and Yusuke had just arrived to Ren’s place not too long ago. Ren decided to go ahead and tell Yusuke about the pregnancy, since Morgana and Ryuji already knew.

“Ah, so you’ll be parents soon,” said Yusuke as they all sat down on the living room sofa. “Might I say that you two make a beautiful couple. Somehow, I’ve envisioned you two coming together one day.”

“Well, we’re not really together, per se,” Ren clarified. “It was actually an accident.”

“What? But you two copulated, right?” Yusuke mentioned, his choice of words making Ren and Ryuji cringe a bit. “Isn’t that what couples do?”

“It’s complicated, dude,” Ryuji cut in, shaking his head. “Don’t even get me started.”

“I don’t understand.” Yusuke turned to Ren. “Care to enlighten me?”

Ren explained the course of his relationship with Ann over the past few months, simplifying it as much as he could to keep it brief for Yusuke to understand.

“Ah. Sounds complicated indeed,” Yusuke responded after Ren finished. “A baby in the picture certainly thickens it too. But at least you two reconciled.”

“Yeah...” Ren sighed, leaning back into the sofa with his hands behind his head. “We just need to communicate better—be honest with each other more.”

“What about your feelings for her?” Morgana popped in, leaping onto the sofa’s arm. “You still love her, don’t you?”

Ren didn’t say anything at first, sitting up and he staring off into the distance.

“Of course I do,” he said, looking at Morgana. “It’s just... I think starting a relationship right now would sort of complicate things further, after everything that had happened between us. We just made up— I don’t want us to destroy something we just fixed.” 

“I can see where you’re comin’ from,” Ryuji empathized, folding his arms in a muse.

“Besides...” Ren added, “I think it’s just better to keep our focus on the baby for now. Maintaining our friendship would keep us working together to ensure Ann a healthy pregnancy.”

“And... what happens after the baby is born? How will you two handle custody of the baby if you both decide not to pursue each other romantically?” Morgana brought up.

“Ah, shit.” Ryuji cursed. “The cat’s right. You two ain’t living together. How are both of you gonna share the baby?”

Ren wasn’t sure what to say to that, as he didn’t think much about that fact at first.

“I mean... I’m pretty sure you two will be able to work it out.” The cat gave a firm nod, but then went on. “But if the parents aren’t romantically involved, how will the child learn what love really is between two people? Another thing.... Will the child even be happy with the idea of another mother or father in the picture when he or she becomes old enough to understand?” 

The bespectacled man still remained silent, pressing his glasses.

“I’m not saying you should go after Lady Ann, but those are just some things to consider when bringing up a child,” said Morgana, grooming his paw. “I’m still learning about humans—yes—but from what I observed during my strolls in different neighborhoods, and what I’ve seen or heard on the media, I know that children really do learn a lot from observing their parents.”

“He makes a valid point,” Yusuke remarked. “Children do indeed absorb everything around them—especially at an early age.”

“It could go both ways though—not necessarily negative,” Ryuji chimed in. “I mean, my father was an alcoholic and abused me and my mother. But I turned out alright. And I wouldn’t lay a hand on a woman unless she was tryin’ to kill me or somethin’.”

“That’s true... but you’re also vulgar and short-tempered,” Morgana mentioned.

“Hey. Don’t you dare put me on the same level as that asshole,” the blond warned with a nasty glare, raising a fist.

The tuxedo cat shook his head. “I’m not. I’m just saying that there are certain behaviors humans learn from their parental figures. You’re not an alcoholic like your father, nor do you abuse other people like him. I’m not saying you’re anything like him. But you do tend to get angry easily, which more in likely traces back to the way your father treated you and your mother.”

Ryuji said nothing, looking away.

“Well...” Ren began, redirecting the attention to him as to ease the tension in the room. “It’s not like I don’t love her, Morgana. I mean, love can be shown in different ways or forms. I can love her without being with her if it had to be that way.”

“But that’s the thing... you’re working together for the baby. You love Lady Ann, and I know that she loves you too... You might as well as be together then when the time comes. There’s no point in living in fear or beating around the bush.”

Ren quieted again, knowing Morgana was right. It’s not like Ren didn’t want to be with Ann, but right now, it was just too soon. If anything, it was better to just take things slow for now—see if they would potentially work out as a couple in the future—if it really was a relationship worth pursuing.

He reached over to pat Morgana on the head, giving him a small smile. “Don’t worry. I hear you, Morgana... I’ll take your words into consideration.”

 


 

Fast forward four weeks later and Ann finally made it to 18 weeks. By now, she definitely showed with her glowing face and the baby bump, and she couldn’t have been any more excited, counting down the weeks on her calendar.

Earlier this afternoon, she had another ultrasound appointment with her OB, which went very well. The doctor confirmed that they were indeed having a girl, and Ann was more than ready to go out and shop for the upcoming little one, already envisioning the baby’s wardrobe and the mini nursery she’d create in the corner of her room in her one-bedroom apartment. She expressed wanting to do some shopping after her quick lunch with Ren, to which he was reluctant to do at first but went with it anyways—despite knowing Ann’s bad spending habits.

Of course, with Ann being into fashion, she couldn’t help but go all out with the clothes for their upcoming baby, scavenging out different baby stores... And it took hours and hours until she finally settled with one that had decent prices.

“Oh! This one’s cute!” She pulled out a pink onesie with an English message on the front, a little golden crown designed on the top of it.

“What does it say?” asked Ren, squinting hard at the label.

“ ‘The Princess has arrived’,” she told him, giggling giddily.

“Oh. Sorry. It’s been a while since I used my English, haha,” he replied, scratching the back of his head.

Ann placed the onesie with the other fifteen and eight baby blankets in their cart, then fixated on something else ahead.

“Oh! Accessories!” She ran over to a small area of baskets consisting of baby bibs, bows, hats, and plushies, rummaging through the items. “Let’s buy her some bows and hats! Oh— and look at this bib!”

“Haha!” He chuckled. “Go easy now. You don’t want to buy the whole store.”

“I can’t help it! All these items are just soooo cute!!!!” she gushed in glee.

“They are, but remember... We should probably save up for other necessities,” he reminded her, prompting a long disappointed sigh from her.

“I know, I know. Sorry, got a little carried away.” She placed the baby bib down with an abashed look. 

“Plus, people might give us gifts for the baby shower,” Ren added. “My parents are also coming down to help out. So don’t get too crazy yet.” 

“Yeah... you’re right...” Ann said with another long sigh, then eyed a tiny bear plush. “Could we at least buy her this little cutie here? I’m sorry... it’s so adorable that I can’t ignore it.” She pleaded with puppy eyes, making Ren laugh some more.

“Oh, fine. But I think we’re done here for now. You should probably get some rest. We’ve been walking out and about for a while now. Let’s head back and call it a day.”

“Oh, okay.” Ann placed the bear plush in the shopping cart, grasping the cart’s end and guiding it toward the check out area despite Ren already driving it.

“I can drive it, you know.” He raised a brow, moving the cart along with her.

“Shh!!!” she hushed. “We gotta move quickly before I get distracted again. Let’s go!”

 


 

Ann immediately crashed on the sofa the moment her and Ren returned to her apartment.

“What a day.” She sighed, slumping into her seat. “I’m spent.”

“See? Told you that you should get some rest,” Ren said half-jokingly and half-scoldingly, taking a seat next to her.

“Yeah, yeah. But at least I got my activity done for the day. I still gotta stay active for my modeling, you know? Just because I’m pregnant doesn’t mean I could slack on my physical activities and diet.”

“I know, but don’t overdo it. You don’t want to hurt yourself or the baby, yeah?”

“Don’t worry, Ren. I got this.” She grinned, flipping a peace sign.

Ren smiled, leaning back in his seat too.

“Thank you again for lunch earlier, Ren.” Ann expressed gratefully. “You didn’t have to buy me anything, you know?”

He shrugged. “Why not? I have to make sure my baby and her mother are well fed.”

“I could’ve just paid for myself,” she pointed out.

“I know,” he said with a small smile. “I just wanted to contribute to the both of you.”

“I see... Well aren’t you quite the family man? Providing and cooking for us, pampering us too along the way,” Ann teased.

“Well... I am going to be a father soon, you know?”

“Hehe! Don’t spoil her too much now.”

“What are you talking about? If anyone’s going to spoil her it’s gonna be you. Buying all these things for her and everything. Geez!” 

“I bet you’ll spoil her with lots of attention and love too.”

“Well...” Ren paused, thinking about it for a bit. “Perhaps you’re right.”

“Hehe!” Ann giggled. “See? I knew you were a bit of a softie.”

Ren smirked. “Well... You can be the discipliner then.”

“Eh!?” She gave him a perplexed look, firmly shaking her head. “No way! I don’t think I’d be good at that.”

“Sure you’d be.” His smirk deepened. “Whatever happened to that ferocious panther in you?” 

Ann gave him a light shove. “Oh, stop it you.”

And they laughed for a bit, a comfortable silence immediately following right after.

“I just...” Ann broke the silence a moment later, her face then falling. “...hope I’ll be a good mother.”

“Hey, why the long face?” He playfully poked her cheek. “Of course, you’ll be. You’ve done so much for her, giving her all this love and care—she’s lucky to have you as her mother.”

Her face lit up. “You think so?”

Ren nodded, placing a hand on her shoulder. “I don’t think there’s any other mother out there who could love her as much as you do.”

“Ren...” she said, a warm smile making way on her face. “Thank you... And you’re going to be a wonderful father.”

“Haha...” he chuckled, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly. “I’ll try.”

She folded her arms with a huff. “Oh, come on. Quit being so modest. You’re going to be an awesome parent.”

“Not as awesome as you.”

“We’ll be awesome together.”

“Heh. You’re right. Together, we’ll be unstoppable.”

She lightly smacked his arm. “Oh, you’re such a dork.”

They laughed again, sharing another heartfelt moment together before Ann suddenly felt a fluttering in her stomach. 

“Oh!” she let out with wide eyes, placing a hand on her lower belly.

“What’s wrong?” Ren straightened in alarm.

“She’s moving...” Ann said.

He blinked. “Huh?”

Ann smiled at him. “Mari-chan. I can feel her kicking...”

Ren went silent for a moment, eyes moving to the small bump her hand was placed on. Looking back at her, he asked, “May I?”

Ann nodded, moving her hand away to give him room to feel.

“Oh, wow...” Ren’s eyes widened in awe a while after placing his hand where hers once was. “I can feel her kicking too...”

“Isn’t it amazing?” she said.

“Yeah...” he replied.

“To think that we did this—we made this...”

“We sure did.”

Silence came again.

“You know...” Ann began, moving her hand on the area of her belly above his and caressing it tenderly. “I wonder who she’ll take after.”

“Hmm...” Ren mused for a second. “Maybe she’ll be a blonde like her mother.”

Ann chuckled. “A blonde Japanese baby? That’s a rarity. Usually, mixed Asians end up either a lighter or darker brunette.”

“Maybe she’ll be special,” he surmised with a smile.

“Or maybe she’ll take after her father’s good looks.” Ann giggled, lightly elbowing his arm.

“Nah.” Ren brushed off with a casual wave of his hand. “She’ll probably take after her mom...” He paused for a moment, meeting Ann’s eyes as their hands on her belly fatefully met. “...and be just as beautiful as her.”

Her cheeks reddened, her heart fluttering with the baby within her, but she couldn’t help but return the soft smile he gave her, her fingers interlocking with his. They continued gazing into each others’ eyes, no other words spoken as he reached up and brushed her cheek with his free hand, sweeping a lock of hair behind her ear.

“Yeah...” he said softly, eyelids narrowing. “...Just as beautiful and lovely as you.”

Slowly, he leaned forward, lips inches from meeting hers...

...until the ringtone of his phone rang out loud.

They both jumped in response, Ren needing a moment to steady himself before he pulled his phone out of his pocket.

“Hello?” Ren answered.

“Yo, man! You busy right now?” Ryuji said on the other line.

Ren looked at Ann for a while, then immediately turned away.

“Uh...” He cleared his throat. “I’m with Ann right now. What’s up?”

“Oh! Hey, Ann! How’s it goin’?”

Ann chuckled. “I’m fine. Everything okay with you?”

“Ugh! I just need a breather, man.” His voice soured. “Today kinda sucked. Our team lost the competition.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Ren replied. “What are you up for?”

“There’s this new ramen place by the arcade in Shibuya. You guys wanna try it out with me?”

Ren looked at Ann again, and she shook her head. “No. That’s okay. I’ll pass. Ramen kinda makes me queasy,” she said, then leaned toward Ren, hushing her voice. “Go on. I’ll be fine.”

The bespectacled man nodded, replying to Ryuji, “Alright. I’ll accompany you. Wanna just meet up at the arcade in a bit then?”

“Sounds good. Meet you there in an hour?”

“Sounds like a plan. See you then.”

After their last few exchanges, Ren hung up, standing up from the couch.

“Uhh....” He scratched his head sheepishly. “I guess I’ll see you tomorrow then? You sure you’ll be fine?”

Ann nodded, standing up with him and walking him to the front door. “I’ll be okay. I still have our leftover pasta from yesterday night. Thank you for helping me out today with the appointment and shopping. I really appreciate it.”

“Anytime, Ann.” Ren smiled, opening the door. He paused, glancing back at her for a moment before heading off. “Take care.”

Shutting the door, Ann sighed, walking over to the kitchen to heat up those leftovers from yesterday’s home cooked dinner with Ren. She pulled out a bowl from the cabinet before heading over to the refrigerator to take out the pot of fettuccine Alfredo.

“At least I can still handle pasta.” Ann smiled, scooping some into her bowl.

 


 

Not only did Ann wake up feeling nauseous the next morning, she also felt a bit of pain in her back, along with some cramping in her stomach. It was mild though, so she didn’t think much of it.  Her doctor did mention that some cramping was normal during pregnancy as her body adjusted to the growing fetus in her, along with some mild back pain as long as it wasn’t one sided or persistent. Perhaps she slept the wrong way.

She noticed a little spotting too when she went to the bathroom, which had been happening here and there during the past few days. But, according to her doctor per last visit, that was normal too as long as it wasn’t accompanied by severe pain.

Geez. Will the symptoms ever end?

The doorbell rang and Ann went over to open the door.

“Hey,” Ren greeted with a wave of his hand. 

“Hey. Good morning.” She smiled, letting him in. “Sorry, I just woke up and haven’t made breakfast yet.”

“No worries. I’m in no rush. Do you need help?”

“Oh, it’s just eggs and toast.” She walked over to the fridge in the kitchen. “Nothing complicated about it—” she stopped as soon as she opened it, no eggs seen inside.

Ren peeked over her shoulder. “Looks like you ran out of eggs.”

“Ah! I’m so sorry, I totally forgot about them yesterday while we were shopping.”

“It’s alright. I’ll grab some at the nearby market.”

“Oh, no, Ren. That’s okay. I could just go—”

“Nonsense.” He raised a hand. “I’m already here. You just relax. I won’t take long.”

Ann looked down for a moment to think, but then conceded with his offer. “Okay. Thanks, Ren.”

With that said, he took off. Ann took a seat on her sofa in the living room, deciding to watch some TV while she waited for his return. 

A while later, she felt the flutters in her stomach, and she chuckled, caressing it tenderly.

“I know, I know...” Ann smiled. “Breakfast will be ready soon. Daddy’s buying some groceries right now.”

The flutters gurgled. She giggled.

“Oh, fine. Let’s have a snack then.”

She stood up from her spot, making her way toward the fridge again. Suddenly, the cramping came back and she winced at the discomfort, rubbing her stomach.

“Ugh... how long do these last anyways?” she groaned, the cramping a bit sharper this time. “Maybe I should get that heating pad in my room.”

A second later, the cramping stopped. Letting out a slow breath, she decided to go on, opening the fridge and searching for something to munch on to satisfy the little growing bean inside her.

“Let’s see... how about some melon?”

As she reached for the container of chopped up cantaloupe, she felt some pressure down in her pelvis area...

...Then, there was a gush.

Ann looked down, below her nightgown. Her eyes widened... 

Pink-tinged leakage trickled down her legs, dripping steadily on the floor.

“Huh? What is—” 

Before she had time to question it, there was pain... excruciating pain. 

“Augh!!!”

She crumbled down to the floor, curling in agony. It felt like her stomach was being torn to bits, ripped apart piece by piece. What was happening? Why did it hurt so much?

She looked down again and noticed bright red blood soaking through the silk fabric of her gown.

“N-No...” Her teeth clenched as she grasped her stomach, crawling over to her phone that was laying on the coffee table in the living room. With all her might she tried and tried, but the pain was too unbearable that she couldn’t move any further.

“No...” she feebly cried out, clutching her stomach tighter as tears began running down her cheeks. “No, no, no...! Please...!”

The door from the front opened.

“Ann!!!” Ren called out to her, dropping the bags and darting toward her, taking her in his arms. “Ann! Are you alright!? What happened!?”

“Ren... It hurts... so much...” she whimpered, feeling weak and light-headed. “Our baby... Oh my god... Please tell me... Please tell me nothing is wrong with her...”

Ren noted the blood all over her gown, and then the trail of blood left on the floor behind her. He immediately pulled out his phone, dialing for emergency services.

“Yes? Hello? Hi. I’m calling about my friend who’s 18 weeks pregnant. She’s bleeding and in a lot of pain...”

Through the agonizing pain, Ann weeped and sobbed helplessly, not because of the relentless pain itself, but because she knew—she knew something was terribly wrong.

“Hang in there, Ann...” Ren said after finishing up with the dispatcher, taking her hand in his and giving it a light squeeze. “I’m here for you... Just keep holding my hand, alright? Help will arrive soon.”

Ann could only nod in response, closing her eyes as more tears poured down her cheeks. It was an inevitable sign, but she had to believe, hoping for a miracle—even the tiniest one that would ensure the safety of her unborn child.

 


 

When Ann arrived to the ED, she was immediately sent up to the OB ward, where Dr. Tonegawa happened to be this morning. Three or four staff members rushed to Ann’s aid, wheeling her into one of the rooms.

“Takamaki-san?” Her eyes widened, obviously not expecting to see her here. “What’s going on?”

“I-I don’t know… I—ugh!! —There was a gush of fluid... pains in my stomach… then bleeding...” Ann struggled to explain, writhing in agony. “Is my baby— Is she going to be okay? Please tell me she’s going to be okay!”

The doctor turned to one of the nurses, firmly verbalizing, “Get me an ultrasound. STAT.”

“We have it right here, sensei!” said another nurse from the doorway, where a tech entered and rolled the machine next to Ann.

“Takamaki-san…” said Dr. Tonegawa, placing a hand on the panicked blonde’s arm while the tech prepped the machine, gelling the probe and pressing it on Ann’s lower abdomen. “We’re going to take a look and see what’s going on. I know it hurts, but hang in there.”

Ann nodded as the doctor turned and looked at the screen, studying it intensely while a nurse rolled a tray of medical instruments nearby.

“There’s a heartbeat. Baby looks fine,” she said, donning on some sterile gloves that the nurse unpackaged for her. “But... it looks like you ruptured too early.”

Ann’s eyes widened. “W-What?” she said, out in both fatigue and worry. “What do you mean?”

“I’m going to take a closer look inside. I’ll need you spread your legs a bit wider and bend them.” She sat down on the stool at the end of the gurney, grabbing a two-bladed speculum from the tray as Ann obliged to her instructions.“You’re going to feel some coldness and pressure, okay? Take a deep breath.”

Ann grimaced as she felt the pressure going inside her. It was so much more than just coldness and pressure, but she acquiesced obediently, the only thing on her mind being the threatened life of her precious little baby girl.

Ren, who had been beside her this whole time, took her hand in his, squeezing it gently. “It’s going to be alright, Ann. She said there was a heartbeat, meaning Mari-chan is still okay.”

“I-I’m scared...” She looked at him with frantic eyes.  “What if she—”

Dr. Tonegawa pulled the medical instrument out, giving Ann a very grim look.

“You’re six centimeters dilated...” she said.

There was a mortified look on Ann’s face. “W-What…? What do you mean?”

The doctor’s eyes fell.

“You’re going in preterm labor—in this case, since you’re less than 20 weeks, miscarrying. The baby’s on her way out.”

“What!?” Ann cried, desperation filling her eyes. “No! That can’t be! Isn’t there a way to stop it? There has to be a way to stop it. Please, sensei! I beg you. Please save her!!”

She shook her head, regret all over her face. “I’m so sorry, Takamaki-san… There’s nothing else we can do at this point. Once you rupture so much fluid and start dilating, there’s no way to stop it.”

“But...” Ann kept on hoping, refusing to believe it all as she kept shaking her head. “...she’s only 18 weeks... Please, Tonegawa-sensei! Isn’t there anyway to stop this? There has to be—“

“I’m sorry… there’s no way to stop a miscarriage process once it begins,” Dr. Tonegawa restated, as if trying to instill the reality in Ann’s head.

“Please!!!” the incredulous blonde pleaded helplessly. “Can’t you save her?”

“If she’s less than 20 weeks, the chances of her surviving outside of you are none.”

Ann felt like her whole world just shattered in pieces.

“NO NO NO NO!!!!” Ann thrashed in the gurney, pulling at her hair. “This can’t be happening!!! This can’t be! Why is this happening!?”

Silence filled the room amongst her anguishing wails.

“Sensei…” Ren said, calmly looking at the doctor. “Is there really nothing you could do?”

She shook her head. “I’m sorry. All we can do for her is try to ease the physical pain she’s going through. And then once the miscarriage passes, we monitor her a couple of days for infection and bleeding.”

“No... No no no no no....!” Ann buried her face in her hands, sobbing uncontrollably.

“Ann…” Ren said softly, touching her wrist. “Look at me…”

NO!!!” She jerked away. “I’m not going through this! I don’t want pain medicine or anything else that can harm her. She’s my baby—our baby! I can’t let her go!”

“There’s nothing they can do, Ann…” 

She tore her hands from her face. “There has to be! Mari-chan has a heartbeat! She’s healthy! She’s going to be due in October!”

He shook his head. “No, Ann. There isn’t.”

“How can you be so calm about this!?” she snapped.

His face lowered, raven tousled hair shading his eyes. “Because me losing it won’t change a thing.”

“But... But, still...”

“Please, Ann...” he gently pleaded with a saddened gaze. “Please... Let them help you...”

Ann quieted, feeling herself go limp and numb. 

“O-Okay...” Another tear ran down her cheek. “...Okay,” was all she could barely say, feeling ever so powerless. Her tears continued falling throughout her miscarriage as she mourned, digesting the loss of a daughter she would never know. 

Nothing, not even the intense agonizing pain of each contraction she had, could ever compare to the torture of her heart being crushed by the thousands of excruciating emotions cascading through her right now. Nothing... Nothing in her whole entire life could ever compare to this.

Nothing... Nothing at all.

Chapter Text

The shaded white ceiling was all she saw.

 

“I’m so sorry, Takamaki-san...”

 

Numbness was all she felt.

 

“There’s nothing else we can do at this point....”

 

All she could do was listlessly stare at the ceiling.

 

“...there’s no way to stop a miscarriage process once it begins...”

 

And stare...

 

“I believe you have an incompetent cervix, which is when your cervix opens too early during pregnancy, causing a premature delivery.”

 

...and stare...

 

“Since it was your first pregnancy, it’s common for it to go unnoticed during regular check-ups... It’s a really rare condition”

 

...and stare.

“Incompetent...” she muttered to herself, the word so sharp that it pierced through her soul. “So I guess... I was insufficient.”

That, among with all the stress she had in the beginning of the pregnancy with Ren, the other exercises she tried to do to maintain her health during the pregnancy for her modeling career, the modeling job itself and the physical strain those photoshoots probably did to her, and not being adamant for more tests during her prenatal check-ups...

All of them led to this outcome.

Was Mariko really gone? Mari-chan—her precious little bean? 

It still felt so unreal.

 

At least she lost it early...” 

 

She remembered overhearing one of the nurses aids talking about it amongst another outside in the hallway last night. 

 

“Yeah... My sister lost her baby right after birth. She was completely devastated. She had everything planned for the baby too—had all the nursery and baby items ready and everything.”

 

“Oh, that’s so heartbreaking.”

 

“Yeah... This girl here will jump back quickly. At least she can still get pregnant—she can always try again...”

 

She gripped the bed sheets. So, just because Mari-chan wasn’t full-term made her loss less tragic than the others? If that’s the case, why was Ann here staring at nothing, thinking of nothing but the daughter she will never know—the daughter who never had the chance to live? 

“Ann...” a voice from the door snapped her out of her trance.

Her head slowly turned toward the entrance. It was Ren, who was holding a small plastic bag.

“Ren...?” she said, looking a bit surprised by his presence.

“I stopped off at the market to bring you some snacks.” He walked over and grabbed a nearby stool, moving it next to her. He sat down, showing her the bag. “Would you like some? I bought some dorayaki and milk tea.”

She turned away, looking back at the ceiling.

“No, thank you... Maybe later...”

Silence came between them. Ren decided to speak first.

“How are you feeling?” he asked.

“I’m okay....” she replied, her flat, soulless tone betraying otherwise.

More silence. Ren tried again, clasping his hands over his lap.

“I... heard you’ll be discharged tomorrow.” 

Ann said nothing, lifeless azure eyes still staring at the white ceiling.

“I managed to get the day off tomorrow... I’ll stop by here to help you,” he said.

Still nothing.

“Do you...” he paused, unclasping his hands, “...want some time alone? I can leave if you want.”

Still no words. Still no reaction. Still no movement. She was still, as if time stopped moving—a cold torpid spirit. She felt nothing. Nothing moved her.

After a while, he stood up, about to head out when she kept her silence. Then, something in her finally snapped. She immediately reached out to grasp his hand, stopping him in his tracks. When he looked back at her, she finally managed to make one motion, shaking her head and then pleading, “No, Ren. Please... Stay. Just stay here... Just stay here with me... please.”

Her grip on him trembled, but his hand felt much warmer compared to her cold hands, and she eased a bit. Ever so gently, he gave her hand a small squeeze, a small smile suffusing his lips. 

“Of course, Ann...” he said softly, sitting back down on the stool. “I’ll stay as long as you need.”

 


 

The next day, Ren came as he promised to accompany her back to her place after her discharge. This was a few hours after managing to clean up her place when she lended her apartment keys to him to grab some extra clothes for her. He did his best to hide all the items they bought for the baby in a storage container and stashed it away in her closet, knowing full well that seeing them would bring more pain to Ann—and he wanted to do the best he could to ease the brokenness of her spirit.

Of course, hiding them all wasn’t easy for him either. It was sad knowing that there was nothing to do with these items. The toys would just be collecting dust. The clothes, hats, and blankets would forever remain unworn and untouched. All of it... would just be taking space. Dead space. What was there to do with them besides return them to the store they bought them at? After all, these items were fairly recent... they should be able to return them without any problems.

But... she still wouldn’t let go.

When they had arrived at her apartment, Ann went straight to her bedroom, where she found the little stuffed bear she bought the other day with Ren on the nightstand. 

Ren cursed himself; he apparently missed that spot when he was cleaning up her room.

“Ann... I...” he said from behind, taking a step toward her. “I’m sorry... I—”

She held the bear close to her chest, holding it dearly like she didn’t want to let it go.

“This was supposed to be for Mari-chan...” she spoke so soft, her tone so tender and loving, but sad at the same time. “She... would’ve loved this, don’t you think?” 

He saw her tremble in her stance. She held the bear tighter.

“She... would’ve been 19 weeks now.” She forced a chuckle, her head tilting upward. “Starting today... she would’ve been 19 weeks and 1 day.”

“Ann...” Ren could only say, being at a loss of words.

“Could you... give me some time alone here?” she requested quietly. “I... just need a little time to myself...”

It took him a while to respond as he watched her struggling to hold herself together. His hands clenched by his sides. He wished he could do something to ease the pain in her heart right now—in both their hearts—but what could he do? What did he know about her pain? Sure his pain was true and deep. He grew to become hopeful, to look forward to fatherhood, and to raise a child with her—together, as a family. But, he was only experiencing a part of it. She carried Mariko in her, and therefore had a deeper connection with her. Despite him suffering a loss too, he probably would never know how Ann really felt.

His pain... was only by proxy.

What was he supposed to say? As a friend? As a friend who truly loved her? How could he provide words of comfort? How could he console her? What was he supposed to do?

He turned around, their backs facing each other.

“Of course, Ann. Let me know if there’s anything else I can do for you.”

With that said, he headed toward the door, but not before taking one more glance at her over his shoulder.

She kneeled down to her knees, trying her best to stifle her cries as she held the bear taut in her arms.

There was nothing else he could do here. He had no choice but to leave. 

 


 

It wasn’t easy spreading the news.

 

Haru: Oh no... I’m so sorry

 

Makoto: I’m so sorry you two. Is there anything we could do?

 

Ryuji: Shit. I’m so sorry you guys

 

Yusuke: My deepest condolences for your loss

 

Futaba:  :( That’s horrible! I’m so sorry!

 

There were three missed calls, three new voicemails:

 

“Ann... I’m so sorry to hear about your loss. Know that I’m always here for you whenever you need. Please call me.”

 

Shiho was always there for her, despite the long distance.

 

“Ann... It’s me and Haru. We just want to know you’re okay. Please call us back when you get the chance. Our door is always open if you need to talk...”

 

Makoto and Haru were always there for support too.

 

“Hey, Sweetie... I just got your message and I’m so sorry. Your father and I should be down in a few weeks. Please call us when you get the chance... we just want to know you’re okay...”

 

So, was her mother and father, despite their jobs keeeping them so far from her.

Ann reached over and set her phone down on the nightstand, lying back down on her bed. She had no energy to respond to the group chat, no energy to return her missed calls despite the concern in their voices. Better yet, she had no energy to do anything at all—not even eat. All she wanted to do was sleep. Do nothing but sleep. 

And this was how it was for the last several days since she had been discharged from the hospital. Listlessly moving day by day as if she were a ghost... 

Hell. She had no idea what day it was anymore, and nor did she even care.

The doorbell went off several times and wouldn’t stop. Ann groaned, eventually getting out of bed and grousing toward the door. There better be a damn good reason this person was standing at the door all persistent for her to answer.

Right when she was about to give this person a piece of her mind as she opened the door, she saw Ren standing right in front of her, holding a bag with a large pink box.

“Hey,” he greeted with a small smile.

“Oh... Hey,” she greeted back, taken aback by his sudden appearance. “Is everything okay?”

“I’m alright,” he responded with a nod. “I just... wanted to see you for a bit—if that’s alright?”

So... he just wanted to hang with her for a bit? Why?

Come to think of it, he had been popping in to visit several times since her return from the hospital, helping with her house chores, cooking, running errands for her since she lacked energy to do them. Though, for him to come here just to hang out rather than helping her with tasks seemed rather strange.

So, why was he here? Was he feeling down like her too that he needed some company? 

No... that couldn’t be it. How could he be down—when he’s still ever so calm? Ever since the loss of their daughter, Ren showed almost no emotion from it. He never even mentioned about it once—not even about Mari-chan in general.

Did he even care? Then again... maybe he wouldn’t be here if he didn’t care.

Still... his lack of response confused her.

She moved to the side, welcoming him in. “Come in.”

He entered the apartment and she shut the door behind him.

“What’s in the bag?” she asked, craning her head toward the bag.

“I, uh... bought cake...” he answered, sheepishly rubbing the back of his neck.

Ann blinked. “Cake?”

“I stopped by at your favorite bakery on the way here...” he explained. “And they had your favorite ice cream cake this time.”

“Oh, Ren... That’s so sweet of you. But you didn’t have to—”

“I... wanted to, Ann... I thought you might like it.”

Ann didn’t say anything at first, taking a moment to look at the box in the bag. She really wasn’t hungry for anything, but she didn’t want his efforts going to waste. The fact that he took the time out of his day to buy her this really did mean a lot. 

After a while, she raised her hand toward the dining table. “Thank you, Ren... Just set them on the table. I’ll grab us some plates and forks,” she finally said, heading to the kitchen to grab some supplies.

He nodded, walking toward the table and setting the box on the center of it.

 


 

When Ann returned to the dining table with some plates, silverware, and a cake cutter, Ren opened the box, revealing a round chocolate ganache-coated cake decorated with chocolate chips on the sides, chocolate frosting swirls around the edges, and a red fondant rose at the center. They sat across from each other after getting their cake slices. Ren looked at Ann, silently prompting her to take the first bite since he brought it for her. So, she took a small bite, sampling it quietly.

“How is it?” asked Ren, noting a small smile spreading across her lips.

“Good...” she responded contentedly, taking another bite. “It’s good...”

He smiled, then began eating his slice. This was the first time he had seen her smile since her hospital visit, and it comforted him knowing that he was able to cheer her up—even if it was a little. They sat quietly, eating their cakes in a rather peaceful manner. And for a while, it was a very comfortable silence...

Until...

“It’s... very good...”

Ren looked up at Ann, her smile still present, but... forced.

“So... good...”

Something didn’t seem right.

“Ann?” he said, concern in his eyes.

“I-I...” she paused, her voice cracking, “I actually like sweets now... “

Ann kept on smiling, but it was quivering, harder for her to maintain.

“When I was pregnant with Mari-chan, I hated most sweets—especially cake...”

His struggling friend sniffed, taking another bite. 

“And now... I love them again...”

He saw her trembling, on the verge of breaking down with her watery eyes, but she still held back—just taking another bite out of her cake... then another... and then another...

“How nice...” she said, swallowing hard. “...to finally enjoy my favorite foods again...”

She sniffed again, wiping a chocolate residue off her mouth with the back of her hand.

“It’s wonderful... isn’t it?”

“Ann...” Ren replied quietly, knowing all too well that she was trying so hard to hide her pain, trying so hard to build up a wall around her, but failing miserably. 

It hurt to watch.

Ann lowered her fork, watery eyes stilling for a moment.

“Our baby... is gone.”

There was a clank when she suddenly dropped the fork on the small ceramic plate. Then, one, two, and three droplets fell onto the table.

“Mari-chan.... is gone...” she struggled out quietly, her hand covering her mouth as the tears began trickling down her cheeks, dripping all over the table. “Mari-chan is really gone...”

“Ann...” he said softly, feeling his heart drop heavy as he watched her breakdown, the walls she had been building up now crumbling down.

“I’m sorry...” she sobbed, burying her face into her palms. “If only I didn’t stress myself over this pregnancy in the beginning—if only I hadn’t overdone myself at work that week ago—if only I didn’t do those exercises the night before—if only my body wasn’t so insufficient.... our baby wouldn’t have died...” 

“That’s not true...” Ren tried to gently reason with her and provide some words of comfort, but to no avail.

“But it is!!!” Ann snapped her head at him, glaring eyes filled with anguish. “This could’ve been prevented had I asked for more tests! We could’ve caught it early, treated it, and she’d still be here with us!!” She shook her head, fingers digging into her scalp as she wept hysterically “Our baby was only 18 weeks, Ren! 18 weeks!! And I killed her.... I killed her!!!” 

“No, Ann... “ he tried again, shaking his head. “That’s not—”

She slammed her hands on the table, rattling the plates on the surface. “This is ALL my fault!!!!”

Ren sat there speechless, having no clue what to say as he watched his distraught friend wailing in tears at the table. What could he say to ease the pain? The sadness? The relentless remorse she felt? What could he say or do to make everything better for her? 

Nothing. He couldn’t say or do anything... and it was frustrating him to no end.

“I-I...” she choked, hands on the table clenching into trembling fists. “I just wasn’t meant to be a mother!!!”

“Ann...” Ren quieted for a moment as she cried helplessly, unable to provide any words to console her broken heart. After a while, he put down his fork, got up from his seat, walked over to her, and did the one thing he could give her at this moment...

He leaned over and pulled her into his arms—holding her in a gentle, warm embrace.

She clutched the fabric of his shirt in response, burying her face into his chest. “It’s all my fault...!” Her words muffled, tears soaking through his shirt. “It’s all my goddamn fault!”

“That’s not true...” he said softly, caressing the back of her head with his hand.

“Yes, it is!” she argued, pounding at his chest, each strike weak and growing weaker one by one. “Just admit it! Just admit that this was all my fault!”

“It’s not your fault, Ann...” he repeated again, holding her tighter.

“How!? How is it NOT my fault!?”

“You had no control over this...”

“But I could’ve prevented this!!!”

“Ann... Stop.”

“I could’ve prevented her death!!”

“You didn’t know. No one knew. It was a something that no one would’ve suspected. It’s not your fault, Ann... so please stop blaming yourself.”

Ann then gave up and cried... and cried... and cried. He didn’t know what else he could do. All he could do was remain by her side and hold her, cradle her in his arms as she continued wailing away in intense grief and anger.

But... was that even enough? 

“How...?” she managed to say when her cries eventually dwindled, her energy weakening to almost nothing as her head laid listlessly against his chest. “How can you be so calm?” Another tear fell on his shirt. “Aren’t you sad? Aren’t you hurt?”

What...? What was she thinking? Of course, he was sad! Of course, he was hurt just like her! But, he had to be strong. He needed to be strong—for her—for the both of them. To be the strength she could rely on, the one who could lift her up when she was down. To be the light who showed her the way through darkness. 

But... how was he able to be that when he couldn’t do a damn thing to fix all of this? Not being able to bring Mariko back. Seeing the woman he loved hurting so much and not being able to do anything for her...

“Of course, I’m sad, Ann...” he told her after a while of just stroking and caressing her head. “Mari-chan was our baby. I wanted to hold her just like you. I wanted to give her love just like you...”

Ann said nothing, still in his arms. When Ren pulled back to look at her, he found her sound asleep—the calmest and most peaceful she had ever been.

Ever so carefully, he brushed away the drenched tears on her cheeks with his thumb, Ann making no movement from the touch. 

How? How could he fix this?

...

Nothing. There was nothing he could do. 

He had never felt more powerless in his life. 

 


 

Days and weeks continued to pass, and nothing seemed to change. Ann was still down as ever, and Ren was still at a loss—having no idea on what to do to help her move forward. Her being stuck made him stuck too, and it was wearing him down. He had taken extra shifts at Leblancs to try and counter this, but all it did was make him avoid the entire issue altogether, as if he were just running away from it all.

Ann’s appetite had been gradually returning, and Ren decided to bring her some curry he made at work after ending his shift early in the evening. He hoped this would keep encouraging her to eat more. She’s been losing her pregnancy weight—yes—but it was a little faster than normal per what Dr. Tonegawa said during the last follow-up appointment he accompanied her to. This was understandable considering Ann’s circumstances, but still... her health worried him. 

Ren rang the doorbell as soon as he arrived Ann’s place. After a while, the door opened, revealing her father inside, who he obviously didn’t expect.

“Oh. Hi, Ren,” he greeted with a polite bow.

“Nice to see you again, Mr, Takamaki.” Ren greeted back, inclining his head deeper.

“Did you bring something for our daughter?” he asked, just noticing the bag Ren was holding.

“Yeah,” the tousled raven-haired barista answered with a nod. “I brought some food for her. Thought she might like it.”

“Well, that’s kind of you—Ah!” His blue eyes widened. “Where are my manners? Come on in.” Mr. Takamaki moved to the side, letting Ren in. “Ann is in her room right now, and a bit... agitated. Her mother is in there with her right now.”

“Is Ann alright?” Ren asked, looking concerned.

Mr. Takamaki let out a long sigh, his face falling. “Go ahead and place the food in the kitchen,” he said, trying to make an amicable smile. “I’ll bring you to her in a bit.”

And so that was what Ren did, placing the bag in the refrigerator before following Mr. Takamaki into Ann’s room.

 


 

“No!” Ann cried, immediately snatching the plush bear from Mrs. Takamaki’s grasp.

“Ann, sweetie...” Mrs. Takamaki cajoled, slowly reaching out for the little bear. “I think it’s best if we just donate some of these items.”

“No!!!” The perturbed blonde jerked away, holding the bear tightly into her arms.

“Ann...” Ren walked over to her, hoping to diffuse the situation as he kneeled down and gently placed a hand on her shoulder. “Calm down.”

“No!!!!” she repeated again, violently shaking her head as she held the bear tighter. “I’m not sending any of these back. I can’t!!! I won’t!!!”

“Sweetie... there’s nothing to do with these,” her mother tried to reason. “We should donate these to parents and babies who need them. Keeping these would only hurt you more.”

“Your mother is right, dear,” her father chimed in from the door. “This isn’t healthy...”

“I said... NO!!!!” Ann shouted, so loud that it practically shook the room.

No one said anything to that, standing helplessly in silence.

After a moment, Mrs. Takamaki volunteered to speak first. “Okay. Well... We should probably get going...” she said with a sad look on her face. She then leaned over to kiss her daughter’s forehead. “We love you, sweetie. We’ll be here for a while and will come visit again before we head on back to our travels, okay?”

Ann said nothing, still clinging onto the bear.

Her mother stood up, turning her attention to Ren, who was still kneeling beside Ann. “Thank you for remaining at our daughter’s side and being a good friend to her. Please don’t hesitate to call us if you need anything.”

Ren bowed deeply. “Of course, Mr. and Mrs. Takamaki.”

With that said, both Ann’s parents left, leaving Ren and Ann by themselves in the deathly silent frigid room. Baby clothes and toys laid all over the floor around them, labeled empty plastic bags set aside by the large container the items were previously all in. It seemed that Mrs. Takamaki was trying to sort out the items by type before Ann had snapped.

“Ann...” Ren spoke first, gently rubbing her back. “Let’s put Mari’s clothes and toys away, okay?”

“I’m not taking them back... I’m not ready...” she restated firmly, jerking away again.

“We don’t have to, Ann. Let’s just place them back into the container and just relax for now. I’ll make us some coffee.”

Ann quieted again. After a gentle pat on her back, Ren stood up, making his way out of her room.

“Do you even care?” she asked, prompting him to stop at the door.

His hand twitched, something stirring in him. Seriously? She was asking this—after all he had done for her the past few weeks? 

He turned back to look at her. “Of course I do, Ann...”

“Then why are you so calm all the damn time!?” she snapped, shooting up from her spot and swiveling around to look him straight in the eye. “Ever since that day, ever since we lost Mari-chan, you not once brought it up. You only speak of her or about it when I do. You don’t react to anything.... You just seem so... indifferent!!!!”

His hands clenched in fists.

“If I didn’t care...” he said, jaw clenching with his fists, “I wouldn’t be here.”

“Then why...?” she asked, tears welling in her confused angry eyes. “Why won’t you say anything!?”

“What do you want me to say, Ann?” he muttered, trying to bite his tongue as his calm exterior began to crumble.

She threw her hands up in the air. “I don’t know! Anything! Anything about Mari-chan! Get sad! Angry!!!! Anything that shows how you feel!!!”

“You honestly think I feel nothing about this!?” he snarled, finally snapping.

“How am I supposed to know when you don’t say or react to anything?” she fired back.

“Fine!!!” Ren yelled, angrily giving into her demands. “You want me to say something? You want me to react? Then here!!!!” He stomped forward, burning in rage. “I don’t know what to say! Anything I do or say doesn’t get to you! All you do is cry and cry—sit around and do nothing for yourself while I try my hardest to support you as your goddamn friend!!!”

Ann quieted.

“You don’t think I’m hurt? You don’t think all of this effects me? Well, it does!!! I hate seeing you like this. I hate not being able to figure out the right things to say or do when you’re crying helplessly. I hate not being able to fix what happened with Mari-chan. I hate not being able to fix your pain—our pain—and not being able to move forward!!! I hate feeling so goddamn powerless!!!” he poured everything out, thunderous sounds of his livid voice shaking the entire place.

She still said nothing, tearing her gaze away from his.

“And here you are, accusing me of not giving a damn,” he went on, pacing around the room in frustration. “After all the things I’ve tried to do for you, but failed? Is your grief clouding your sight so much that you can’t see how much I really do care—that I really am trying here, trying to be the strength you can lean on whenever you’re hurting like this? Of course I’m hurting, dammit!!!! But what will letting out my anger and sorrow do but keep us stuck in this hellhole? Someone has to be the level-headed one here to get us out of this. Otherwise... how will we ever be able move forward!?!?!?”

Silence came right after, nothing spoken for a moment.

Taking a deep breath and breathing it out slowly, he then turned around, back facing her. “It sounds like you just want some time alone... I’ll just leave now.” He took a step forward and then paused for another moment. “There’s curry in the fridge. I made it for you,” he mentioned, hoping this would at least encourage her to eat after all that fiasco earlier.

Ann still had no words to say. Was she mad? Was he too harsh? Were tears running down her face right now?

Regardless, Ren just wanted to walk away; he had nothing else to say but one more thing:

“Let me know if you need anything else...” 

And with that said, he left, slamming the front door on the way out.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Ann still couldn’t get their heated confrontation out of her thoughts as she sat at the dining table, looking at the curry she had just heated up in the microwave sitting on the plate.

 

“I don’t know what to say! Anything I do or say doesn’t get to you! All you do is cry and cry—sit around and do nothing for yourself while I try my hardest to support you as your goddamn friend!!!”

 

She scooped a spoonful and took a bite, the sweet spices instantly overwhelming her tastebuds.

 

“You don’t think I’m hurt? You don’t think all of this effects me?”

 

It was good... the curry he made her yesterday. She took another bite, savoring it in her mouth.

 

“Well, it does!!! I hate seeing you like this. I hate not being able to figure out the right things to say or do when you’re crying helplessly. I hate not being able to fix what happened with Mari-chan. I hate not being able to fix your pain—our pain—and not being able to move forward!!!”

 

To think that he brought something this good for her...

 

“I hate feeling so goddamn powerless!!!”

 

And... she had to go and snap at him like that.

 

“And here you are, accusing me of not giving a damn...”

 

She had been more irritable these past few days, but she didn’t mean to take it out on him. Deep down, she knew he cared. Him coming all the way to her place unannounced with curry for her was one thing that spoke volumes. 

She was just angry—angry at herself for everything that went wrong. The pregnancy, the miscarriage, her rocky relationship with Ren—all of it was her fault. All of it. And now here she was—stuck. The world, even Ren, kept on going, yet Ann was still stuck in this dark space.

She felt so alone... 

 

  “After all the things I’ve tried to do for you, but failed? Is your grief clouding your sight so much that you can’t see how much I really do care—that I really am trying here, trying to be the strength you can lean on whenever you’re hurting like this?”

 

And she deserved to be alone. She’s such a horrible person... pushing away the only person who tried to remain by her side despite how much of a train wreck she was.

 

Of course I’m hurting, dammit!!!! But what will letting out my anger and sorrow do but keep us stuck in this hellhole? Someone has to be the level-headed one here to get us out of this. Otherwise... how will we ever be able move forward!?!?!?”

 

On her last bite, Ann choked back tears, but couldn’t hold them in for long. 

 

“Let me know if you need anything else...” 

 

She lost Mariko.... and now she was going to lose Ren too... What was she to do now?

 


 

After Ren finished work in the evening, he went straight home. He jumped into bed as soon as he arrived, feeling exhausted after a long busy day.

“What a day...” The exhausted barista let out a long sigh, turning onto his back with his hands behind his head. 

“Welcome back,” greeted Morgana as he entered the room, hopping onto Ren’s bed. “Sounds like you had a long day?”

“Yeah...”

“What’s for dinner tonight? I’m starving... There’s no more food in my bowl—it’s been empty since this afternoon.”

“Ah! Sorry!” Ren shot up in bed, realizing he forgot to refill Morgana’s bowl before he had left for work. “I’ll go put some more in there... How about this? I’ll order sushi for us tonight to make up for it. How does that sound?”

Morgana beamed, his tail darting upright in excitement. “Ooooh! Yes! Please! Can you order tuna for me? Please?”

“Of course.” Ren smiled, pulling out his phone from his pocket and looking for the number to the restaurant they usually go to when ordering take-out. He dialed the number and made his orders.

“So...” Morgana said after Ren hung up the phone. “How’s everything?”

“So far so good,” he replied idly, sliding his phone in his pocket.

“How’s Lady Ann?”

Ren quieted for a moment, memories of last night hitting him with a large swipe to the head. “She’s... hanging in there,” he answered quietly, getting out of bed.

“I see...” the cat looked downward, noting the grim change in his owner’s tone. “I can’t imagine how hard it must be for her right now—for the both of you.”

“Yeah...” Ren said, then made his way outside of the room to go refill Morgana’s bowl in the kitchen. “It is hard...” he added, then no more than that.

It was hard... but what could he do? There was nothing he could do. Anything he said or did wouldn’t resolve a thing.

How was he supposed to fix all of this?

 


 

The next day...

 

After cleaning down the counters for a few minutes, Ren took a pause to let out a sigh of relief, wiping his brow with his finger. It was already mid-afternoon. Much like yesterday, Leblanc had been packed in the last few hours, and was now finally dying down for the time being. Now, was a perfect opportunity to finally take a breather, right before business would pick up again around the evening.

“Hey, kid.” Sojiro said, polishing a coffee glass while trying to initiate some small talk. “How’re you holding up?”

“Everything’s good,” Ren replied frankly, going over to the sink to wash his hands.

“You don’t look okay,” the middle aged owner called out as he set the glass down, folding his arms as he leaned on the edge of the counter. “You’ve been distant these past few weeks. And though it’s nice of you to pick up some extra shifts, you’re gonna overwork yourself if you don’t take a break.”

Ren dried his hands, throwing the paper towel in the trash bin. “I know... but... I need the money right now,” he lied. Though Sojiro was practically like a father to him, he was still hesitant in opening up to the middle-aged cafe owner—unable to find words to elucidate his current situation.

Sojiro sighed, shaking his head. Bullshit obviously didn’t get passed him that easily. “Look... I know it’s been hard for you these past few weeks. If you don’t want to talk about it, that’s fine. But, you can’t hold it in forever. I don’t want you having a major breakdown in the middle of work, you know?” he said, subtly expressing his concern for the troubled barista. “Don’t try and force yourself to tough this out, kid.”

Ren stopped for a moment by an empty stool at the coffee bar, letting out a defeated sigh as he turned to Sojiro and conceded. 

“I’m sorry, Boss. I just... don’t know what to say about it...” he admitted, looking down at the ground. “The only thing I can think of doing is working—keeping my mind off of it. That’s really the only way that’s keeping me going.”

He stroked his beard. “I see. And what about Ann? How’s she’s doing?”

“She’s devastated...” he replied, still unable to meet his gaze.

Sojiro nodded. “I could definitely see that... Have you two talked about it at least?”

Ren sat on the stool. “Not really... I don’t know what to say to her. Of course I’m sad about it, but she’s taking it hard the most—and I just... don’t know how to comfort her.” He propped his arms on the countertop, laying his forehead in the palm of his right hand. “It’s already been over a month—almost two months—and it’s frustrating me. I just don’t know what to do anymore. Anything I say or do doesn’t console her at all.”

“Mhm.” Sojiro nodded again, prompting him to continue.

“We... argued last night after her parents left. She snapped at me and made it seem like I don’t give a damn about any of this, and I... just snapped back.” Ren clenched his free hand, feeling himself tremble in frustration. “I’ve done nothing but try to support her through this. I’ve been there for her when she cried. I helped her around the apartment and her errands when she had no energy to do them herself. I’ve attended her follow-up appointments. I’ve been encouraging her to eat more because she has no appetite... What else... could she want from me?”

“Well... I definitely understand your frustrations. But avoiding the topic all together doesn’t make things better,” Sojiro said, pressing his specs. “Not saying anything about the loss or expressing your emotions not only keeps you from moving forward, but also could mislead her into misreading your intentions.”

Ren said nothing, allowing Sojiro to continue.

“That, and her mind’s probably all over the place right now. She just lost her pregnancy—that’s a pretty big loss—especially to her—any woman in general. She carried this baby in her, bonding with her in a way no one else could—not even you,” the cafe owner elaborated further, making Ren think for a bit.

“Yeah...” Ren said, sitting up straight. “That’s true. But... what am I supposed to do? How can I help her?”

“Well, first of all, stop dwelling on trying to fix the situation. You can’t fix a miscarriage, or her feelings toward the matter,” Sojiro pointed out. “You’re not doing anything wrong by helping her out and being there when she cries and breaks down. Just continue being there for her like you’ve been doing, and don’t take things personally when it doesn’t seem to help—she’s grieving a loss, it will take her some time to heal. In the meantime, think about your feelings as well. Don’t rush things and take things one step at a time. It’s your loss too, after all—you need time to heal too.”

“I see...” Ren said, his gaze trailing downward again. “I never... thought of it that way.”

“Also...” the cafe owner added, “Don’t be afraid to open up to her, kid. Tell her how it’s been affecting you, so she doesn’t feel like she’s alone in dealing with all of this.”

Ren’s eyes widened. Alone...? Did Ann really felt alone? 

“I don’t know much about miscarriages or stillbirths...” Sojiro admitted. “...But I do know grief—whether from personal experience or stories customers I’ve encountered over the years shared to me. Everyone grieves differently and at different paces. The most important thing is to give yourselves some time to heal, and not to handle it alone. Take some space if you both need to... but don’t push each other away. Work together to overcome it. Unless someone you know has dealt with a miscarriage before who could understand your pain and hardship, both of you kids have only each other to get through this kind of loss. So communicate. Stop with all this beating around the bush crap—it’s not doing you or her any favors, ya know?”

Sojiro made a valid point. Everyone does grieve differently... and maybe they just needed a little more time. Holding back on his feelings didn’t help much either and, truth be told, Ren was getting tired of this—all this beating around the bush and not saying or doing anything. Rather than moving forward, they were just reverting back to where they were in the first place—that lack of communication that kept leading to this ongoing drift between them.

Neither of them needed that drama anymore, especially after all they’ve been through the last several weeks. 

Ren better get a hold of himself, otherwise nothing would ever change between them.

 


 

The doorbell rang and Ann got up from the sofa in her living room, wondering who it could be coming unannounced this late in the afternoon. Could it have been Ren again—wanting to talk to her about that evening they clashed? 

If it was, what was she supposed to say to him, besides apologizing?

Opening the door revealed someone else though—two people to be exact.

“Makoto? Haru?” Ann’s eyes widened, obviously not expecting their visit.

“Hi, Ann! We just wanted to stop by and spend some time with you for a bit,” explained Haru, holding a bag with a red, decently sized gift box. “Is that okay? We made some cookies for you too.”

A small smile suffused across Ann’s lips. It certainly had been a while since she saw the two ladies. “Of course. Thank you. Come in.”

The ladies walked into the apartment and Ann headed straight to the kitchen.

“I’ll make some tea for us. Give me a second,” said the blonde.

With a nod, Makoto and Haru both moved to the sofa, watching whatever Ann had left on the TV while they waited for her. When Ann came back with a tray of tea cups, crouching down and setting it on the coffee table, Haru volunteered to speak first. 

“How have you been, Ann? We haven’t heard from you in the last few weeks after your announcement. We’ve been so worried about you.”

Oh, right... Ann never did respond to those missed calls. How rude of her to be so inconsiderate.

“I’m...” Ann paused for a bit, her gaze falling, “...hanging in there,” she finally answered, taking a seat between her friends. “Trying to get through this little steps at a time.”

Both Makoto and Haru gave Ann a hug, expressing their condolences once more. 

“We’re here for you if you need anything,” Makoto said as she pulled away, Haru pulling back as well. “So, please let us know if there is anything we can do for you. We don’t want you trying to deal with this on your own.”

“Thank you, girls.” Ann smiled, perking up a bit at their supportive words. “And I’m sorry I haven’t been in touch these last few weeks...”

“It’s okay. We understand. We’re just glad to see that you’re alright.” Haru said, placing a hand on Ann’s shoulder. 

“I’m sure Ren’s been with you quite often too,” Makoto added, something that made Ann’s heart sink as she reached for her tea on the table. “How’s he been? Haven’t heard from him much either. Ryuji hasn’t even seen him in a while.”

Ann quieted for a moment, looking down at her tea with another remorseful look.

“I... sorta snapped at him...”

They all looked at her in shock and concern. “What? What happened?” Makoto was the first to ask.

“Well... you see... I got really upset when my parents were urging me to sell or donate the items I bought for Mari-chan. After they left, I was still mad even though Ren tried to comfort me, and then took it out on him...” she started, setting down her tea and leaning back in her seat. “Ren just... doesn’t say much about anything, nor about the loss unless I mention it. It just... felt like this all didn’t matter to him. That... I’m the only one grieving here.”

“Ann...” Haru said softly, her hand slowly moving up and down on Ann’s back, “You know that isn’t true...” 

“I know...” she replied, looking incredibly ashamed. “I knew that deep down—that maybe he just didn’t know what to say because I’ve been so hard to deal with...” Her hands clenched in fists on her lap as she swallowed. “...but I yelled at him anyways. And it made him so mad that he snapped back at me too.”

Both Makoto and Haru kept silence, letting Ann go on.

“I...I just wanted to understand why—why he won’t say anything—why he doesn’t show anything.” Ann sniffed, tears beginning to fall on her lap. “I just... feel so alone—dealing with all of this by myself. How is it that he’s functioning well, and I’m not? It just feels like I’m the only one stuck... while he and everyone else is moving forward.”

“Just because he’s not saying or showing anything doesn’t mean that he’s not hurting,” Haru pointed out, continuing to rub Ann’s back gently. “Guys grieve differently than women. They tend to keep things to themselves because they want to appear strong to other people,” she explained. “That’s what Ren’s probably doing right now—he doesn’t want to show weakness in front of you.”

Ann wiped her eyes. “Yeah... You’re probably right, Haru. But... he doesn’t need to feel that way... I just... want him here—by my side...”

Her bouffant haired friend smiled. “You two should talk about this together rather than keeping it from each other. This is how misunderstandings happen and how tensions build up.”

“I know... but when is the right time though? He’s probably still mad.”

Makoto sighed. “Honestly, Ann... You shouldn’t wait these things out,” she advised. “Remember what happened when you held off on telling him the pregnancy? The longer you hold these things off, the harder it will be to resolve them. I say let him cool off for a day or two, then see him and tell him how you feel.”

“Tell him everything you told us, Ann.” Haru gave a heartening smile. “And then tell him how much his presence and support means to you.”

Ann nodded, face firming into determination. “You guys are right... I’ll do that. All of this dilly-dallying isn’t going to solve anything.” 

“Exactly,” said both ladies, each one giving a nod of encouragement.

The blonde smiled, pulling a cookie from the gift box on the table and biting into it with a little more spirit. “—Oh.” Her azure eyes widened, looking right at her bitten sweet chewy treat. “These are really good!”

“Thank you.” Haru giggled while Makoto cracked a small smile. “We’re glad you like them.”

Better yet, why not head over to his place tomorrow and talk to him then (since she couldn’t just leave her friends here)? That would probably be the best thing to do now, as she couldn’t keep waiting this out any longer like Makoto said.

Yeah... That’s what she’d do. It was time to settle this ongoing drift between them once and for all.

 


 

The next morning...

 

The rain came unexpectedly as Ren sat on his sofa and read a novel he bought from the bookstore the other day, sheets of precipitation pummeling his window at full force without repose. Strange, considering that the weather man this morning said that it would be clear skies today. Ren shrugged anyways, turning a page and taking a sip of coffee from his mug.

Perhaps I’ll head over to her place a bit later since she’s probably asleep right now, he thought, taking another sip before setting it back on the coffee table. Maybe by then, the rain will ease a bit.

Ren thought over it last night—what to say to her. And, of course, each possible way to express himself wasn’t satisfactory enough to approach her with. But, oh well—he’d just have to wing it then—not like he hadn’t done so before.

The sound of his doorbell interrupted his thoughts, prompting him to set down his book and head over to the front door. Opening it, he came face-to-face with an unexpected visitor—who was all completely drenched in water and wetness.

“Ann?” His eyes widened, skimming her up and down. “What are you doing here?”

“I...” Ann began, wrapping her arms around herself. “...I wanted to talk to you...”

“Why are you—?”

“I-I didn’t expect it to rain suddenly,” she said, droplets puddling under her as her gaze dropped to the side. 

His silver eyes narrowed. “Why didn’t you turn back to grab a jacket or an umbrella?” he asked, his tone slightly scolding.

“I was already halfway here when it began to pour,” the drenched blonde explained, looking at him tentatively. “Is this, um... a bad time?”

He shook his head and let out a sigh. “No. But, even if it were...” He reached out for her hand and pulled her inside, closing the door behind her. “I wouldn’t let you go back like this.”

As she stood in the doorway, Ren went over to his room and grabbed a towel and some spare clothes.

“Here,” he said, handing her the towel first. “Dry yourself and change into these... Would you like some coffee?”

“Thank you... and sure. That would be nice,” she replied, ruffling her hair with the towel for a few seconds before grabbing his spare clothes and heading toward the bathroom to change.

Ren let out another sigh, shaking his head again and palming his face. The things she did sometimes. However, this was probably a good chance to sit down and talk over everything with her.

What perfect timing.

 


 

“Where’s Morgana?” asked Ann, sipping her coffee.

“He’s with Futaba,” answered Ren, taking a seat next to her. There was a pause for a moment, Ren contemplating on what to say first. Perhaps checking on her well-being would be the best start, since there must’ve been something important she wanted to discuss if she came all the way in the rain to visit him. 

Maybe she wanted to talk over everything with him too? 

“So...” he began, rubbing the back of his neck. “Is everything alright? Why did you come here?”

“Y-Yeah... I’m fine.” She set down her mug on the coffee table, straightening the long shirt and sweatpants he had lent her a while ago. “I just... wanted to talk to you.”

So, his suspicions were correct.

“I see...” he said, sipping his coffee before setting it back down onto the table. He leaned over, elbows propped on his knees and hands clasped over his lap. “Is it... about the other day?”

“I...” she paused, clasping her hands over her lap too. “...shouldn’t have lashed out at you the other day. I’m sorry...”

Ren said nothing, gaze aimed toward the distance. Ann took this opportunity to elaborate further—taking in a nervous breath and exhaling it slowly.

“I just...” She lowered her head, looking down at her fumbling hands. “I just haven’t heard you talk about it—our loss. Nor have I seen you react toward it with much feeling...” she paused, trying to recompose herself. “Deep down, I know that you do care despite not being as expressive. But still... sometimes... it just... feels like I’m the only one hurting—like I’m mourning Mari-chan on my own...”

The quiet barista looked back at her, sitting up straight. 

“Ann...” he finally said, soft and sad in tone.  

“It’s... a lonely feeling.” She swallowed, tears welling in her eyes, but not falling out. “It seems like you’re moving forward... and that I’m still stuck. The world just keeps on going... and though I’m trying hard to get through this, it’s just hard. And... I don’t know what to do anymore.”

A moment of silence came between them, Ren letting her go on. 

“I feel like...” Ann went on, clenching her hands on her lap as tears began trickling down her cheeks. “I’m going to lose you too...”

“Ann...” he said again, about to refute that ridiculous claim, “That’s—”

“I lost Mari-chan... I don’t want to lose you too...” She began to sob, tears dripping all over the back of her clenched hands. “Yet... I keep pushing you away—because I’m so angry at myself. Everything... Everything that went wrong—from the miscarriage to the relationship between us—was my fault. I’ve hurt you several times and sometimes... I don’t think I deserve your kindness and care. Yet... I still don’t want you to go. I don’t want to lose my best friend. I don’t want to lose you. I... I just... want you here—with me... especially now.”

He pulled her into his arms without a second thought, holding her close to him as much as he could. 

“I’m not going anywhere, Ann...” he whispered in her ear as he caressed the back of her head, gently running his fingers through her damp cascading strands of blonde hair. “I’m here right now. It’ll be alright...”

“I...” Ann sniffed, her cries now beginning to dwindle as she settled in his warm embrace. “I’m so sorry... for hurting you so many times.” She buried her face in the small area between his neck and shoulder.

“It’s okay, Ann...” He rested his chin on the crown of her head. “I know you’re going through a lot. And... of course our loss makes me sad—especially when I see how much pain you’re in and not knowing what to say or do to make you better,” he told her, words remaining soft. “I... I just... can’t show weakness. I can’t be weak. I have to be strong... for you and me.”

Ann shook her head. “No. You don’t have to know what to say...”

“Ann...”

She pulled away slightly, looking up at him. “You don’t need to put on a strong front.” She reached for his cheek, cupping it gently in her palm. “Expressing yourself doesn’t mean you’re weak. Remember what you told me that night I cried to you over my break-up with my ex? That allowing yourself feel the pain takes a lot of courage and strength?”

He blinked in awe; he had almost forgotten the words exchanged during that crazy night those months ago—that crazy drunken night—the night they slept together for the first time.

 

“I love you, Ren. You really are my best friend.”

 

“You told me that not many people are brave enough to face such painful feelings, and that me facing such feelings were what made me strong,” she paraphrased his words, lightly brushing his cheek. “Do you remember that?”

 

“I love you too, Ann...”

 

He did. And he also remembered those other tender words exchanged. Tender caresses and kisses shared before he had taken her as his that night.

And even after all that had happened between them days following that night, he still loved her—even when he didn’t realize it at the time.

So, what the heck was he doing? Why was he still holding back? 

“Yeah... I remember,” he finally said, eliciting a small smile on her face.

She buried herself in his arms once more, nuzzling against him. “Then... you should follow your own advice, right?” 

He paused for a few seconds, then cracked a small smile himself. “Yeah... you’re right.”

“So...” Her hands grasped his black t-shirt, trembling in his hold. “Just stay here—with me. Don’t leave. Please...”

There was no reason to hold back anymore. 

“I told you...” He pulled back enough to have her look up at him again, gazing in her eyes with intent. “I’m not going anywhere.”

“Ren...” She smiled again with glistening eyes, another tear running down her cheek.

With his thumb, he wiped that tear away, palming her cheek gently in his hand before leaning in closer.

To hell with logic—it was time to settle this once and for all.

“You’ll always have me, Ann... Always.”

Leaning in further, his lips eventually met hers, and they kissed—over and over again. Slow and gentle at first, then full of passion and intensity—making up for lost time.

Chapter Text

Lifting Ann up in his arms, Ren walked over to the bed in his room, lips upon hers again as he gently lowered her on the mattress, moving himself atop of her as their kisses grew deeper in intensity. Heavy breaths mingled in the thickening heat, hearts fluttering like a bird’s flapping wings in the sky. There was something different about the way he kissed her this time around, compared to their previous encounters in the past. It was much more... affectionate than Ann could ever remember. More tenderness in such intense passion—unlike how it used to be when they fooled around those many months ago. 

She really felt his affection. And... it felt wonderful. It felt... right.

But... did she really deserve it—after all she had put him through? After all the mistakes she had made when she was pregnant? She had begged him to stay just a while ago, and he said he would, but... did she really deserve such care and forgiveness? She was foolish. She put him through so much pain and hassle. She failed her unborn daughter...

Yet... he was still holding and caressing her—as if neither of that really mattered.

Her hands clasped the fabric of his t-shirt as he peppered soft kisses down her neck, clinging onto him tight. Despite feeling that she didn’t deserve something as intimate and pleasurable as this, Ann still wanted him close anyways, feeling his warmth spread all over her.

Was she a horrible person...? For wanting him like this—regardless of everything that transpired between them? 

His lips went back to hers, gently prying them apart with his tongue to meet her own. Their hips gyrated in a gradual tantalizing rhythm, making their heads spin a hundred miles a minute.

“Ren...” Ann mewled softly when they merely parted their lips for air, moistening with his growing hardness against her despite her conflicting reservations. It had been so long—so long since he kissed her—so long since he touched her—so long since he was close like this. She felt the smoldering desire for him intensifying—it was almost impossible to hold back.

Even if she were a horrible person, it didn’t stop him coming onto her like this. Holding and caressing her. Kissing her passionately. Treating her with the love she didn’t deserve.

His hand found its way upon her breast—shyly perking through her shirt with no bra to hide in. A soft gasp escaped her as he took the peak of it between his fingers and pinched it with just enough pressure to coil a rush down her lower stomach. After playing with it for a while, he slid that same hand under the shirt, lifting up the cotton fabric as he slowly grazed up her waist. He slipped off her shirt and tossed it to the side, taking his own off and throwing it alongside with hers. 

Ren took a moment to gaze at her as she laid half-naked on his bed, silver eyes surveying her down head to toe as she watched him nervously, uncertain of what he thought of her current appearance. Though she had lost several pounds of her pregnant weight weeks after the miscarriage, she still felt she wasn’t exactly at her ideal figure. Was he disgusted? Was she still up to his standards? What could he possibly be thinking?

All of it didn’t seem like it mattered to him. Removing his glasses and setting it on the nightstand nearby, he then sank down to press his lips on the soft supple mound, taking her nipple into his mouth and giving it soft gentle suckles.

“Ren...” she moaned, trembling fingers digging through his raven tousled locks as her back arched, giving his mouth further access to her breast. “Ren... I...”

He moved to the other breast, working it the same way as he did for the last one as he reached down to her sweatpants, slipping his hand under the waistband and venturing downward through her wetness. Finding her clit, he massaged it with two fingers, electrifying every nerve in her body as she quivered at the blissful sensations he was all too willing to give her. She closed her eyes in response, taking everything in. In a way, it almost felt like all the problems she had began to dissipate—little by little with his gentle touches and kisses.

She didn’t deserve this... Nor did she deserve him.

Giving a soft kiss to the center of her chest, he looked up at her, the look in his eye becoming of worry when he noticed a tear running down her cheek.

“Ann...” he said, immediately stopping and slipping his hand out. He reached for her cheek with his other hand, wiping off another tear. “Are you okay? Should I stop?” 

Ann shook her head, hiding behind her hands. “I-I’m sorry. I’m just... a bit emotional right now.”

“It’s okay, Ann,” he reassured, his tone as soft as the tender way he caressed her cheek. “If you want to stop, just say it. I won’t be mad.”

She shook her head again, sniffing lightly. “No... It’s not that...” 

“Then... what’s wrong?”

“I want to do this with you... I want you... It’s just.... I just...” she choked, sniffing again. “...After everything that happened between us... I just feel... that I don’t deserve any of this...” she wept, tears trickling down her cheeks. “I... don’t deserve someone as wonderful as you.”

“Ann...” he said, lifting her hands from her face to look at her. “Look at me.”

“I’m sorry...” Tears poured out at full force, her eyes screwing shut in attempt to control the flow. “I just—”

Ren pressed a finger upon her lips and hushed her, making her tears come to a pause as she looked at him wide-eyed. “I know we been through a lot. And I know that it wasn’t always great—that it wasn’t always so happy. Neither of us are perfect...” He lifted his finger off her lips, gently cupping her cheek. “But... even so... I don’t care— You’re all I need...”

“Ren...”

He thumbed a tear off her cheek, leaning closer. 

“You’re all I need, Ann...” he told her again in a very soft whisper, gentle smiling lips feather brushing hers. “...I love you. I really do.”

He kissed her again and she went limp beneath him once more, melting into his soft lips as he sank into her once more, pressing the warmth of his body against hers. 

“I...” she uttered out when their lips parted only inches apart, tickling his with her heavy breaths, “...I love you too, Ren....” 

His lips planted behind her ear, eliciting soft pleasing moans from her as they slowly kissed down her neck...

“I...” she breathed, closing her eyes as they fell back. “I love you so...” 

His lips moved back up...

“...so....” 

Then, to the other side of her neck, moving downward...

“...much.”

Then, back up again, lightly nipping at her lower earlobe.

“More...” she tried to finish, grasping his shoulders. “...than you’ll ever know.”

There was a brief pause. He then closed into her ear.

“Then... let me show you how much I love you...” he whispered, sending shivers down her spine.

Their lips met again. Close... Close... Ever so close. Entwined so close in each other’s arms. Warmth spread all over once they were down to nothing but their bare bodies. She wanted him there. His touch. His kisses. She wanted him so much... 

“Ah... Ren...!” she gasped when he finally entered and became one with her, moaning over and over as he slid in and out in a steady rhythm that gradually picked up pace. Her grip on him grew tighter, holding onto him for dear life as her life depended on it. 

...And she never wanted to let him go.

 


 

Moments later after their passionate and tender lovemaking, the pouring rain dwindled down to sprinkles outside Ren’s bedroom window as he laid next to Ann on the bed, the late morning sun peaking through the murky clouds and the slit of his window drapes. He drew her closer in his arms, wanting nothing else but the warmth of her body under the covers.

“I... wonder if my clothes are dry yet,” she wondered out loud, tracing small circles on his chest.

“Hmm... probably,” he mused, brushing her hair strands between his fingers. “They been in the drier for quite some time now.”

“I see...” she said.

“Do you want to check?” he asked.

She shook her head, nuzzling up against him. “No... I’d rather stay like this... for a little longer.”

He smiled, reaching over to sweep a lock of hair from her cheek. “Too comfortable, huh?”

She chuckled, snuggling closer. “Just a little.”

He planted a soft kiss on her forehead. “You’re lucky I’m off today.”

“Good,” she said. “I was hoping to spend a little more time with you, now that we’re together like this.”

“Haha. Same. Anything you have in mind?”

“Well...” she thought for a second. “I haven’t had a crepe in a while. Maybe we can go out for a bit and grab some?”

Hearing her suggest that couldn’t have made him any happier—a hopeful sign that she was beginning to crave the things she loved on her own again.

His smile widened. “Of course. Let’s go after lunch. I think the sprinkling should stop by then.”

“Mhm,” she hummed and then silence followed for a bit. She looked up at him. “Hey, Ren?”

“Hm?”

“Let’s make the most out of our time together from now on...” she said, leaning back down against his chest. “...As much as we can.”

“Of course...” he responded in a soft murmur, caressing the back of her head. “And no more secrets from now on, alright?”

She nodded. “Of course.”

“Good.” He smiled again, holding her closer. “I’m... glad to hear that.”

Both of them yawned, slowly closing their eyes. Sleep beckoned for now, but that was fine. The day was still young, and what could be better than being snuggled up all content in each other’s arms for another moment longer?

Two birds were heard singing cheerfully outside the window before they soared away to the distant sky. After everything Ren and Ann had been through, they were finally together—nothing could bring them down now.

 


 

Sometime way into the future....

 

The waft of coffee and scrambled eggs was what hit Ann as she woke up from sleep, immediately rousing a grumbling stir in her stomach. Letting out a long yawn, she sat up and stretched before getting out of bed and walking over to the window.

Drawing the long curtains back, the morning sunlight immediately beamed upon Ann, lighting up the darkened bedroom. Her eyes winced in response, and she raised a hand to shade them as she looked outside the window. Little baby birds were heard chirping on the nest settled on the nearby tree branch outside, perhaps waiting for their mother’s return. 

Speaking of little baby...

A small little cry vocalized from the side of her. Ann turned and walked across the room to the crib up against the wall, gazing lovingly at her new bundle of joy fussing in his swaddle.

“Hehe. Good morning, sweetie.”

She picked him up from the crib and cradled him into her arms. Based on how squirmy he was, and his bouts of whimpering cries, it was more in likely time for his feeding. She sat back in bed and settled herself before lifting her shirt up for him to latch on and feed. This whole breastfeeding thing was still new to her, but she was slowly getting the hang with it; as was he, perfectly latched and eagerly suckling for his milk.

After a while of feeding and bonding, Ren came into the room right when the baby finished, walking over to the bed and leaning over to plant a kiss on Ann’s forehead before sitting himself next to her on the mattress.

“Good morning, Ann,” he greeted her with a warm smile. “Breakfast is ready.”

She smiled back at her husband, pulling her shirt back down. “Mm... It smells good. I’ll be there in a moment. Miki-kun just finished feeding.”

“I see.”

Ren drew his wife closer to him with one arm around her, lightly tapping his son’s button nose as he contentedly napped in her arms. “Hey, there little guy...” he cooed lightly, leaning over to kiss his soft little forehead. “Having a good little nap in Mama’s arms?”

Ann chuckled. “Of course! He’s full and content from Mama’s milk.”

The corner of Ren’s mouth curled. “Living the good life, I see.”

As Ann gently rocked her swaddled newborn in her arms, she hummed a soft lullaby her mother used to sing to her when she was younger, keeping him in a very calm, satisfied state. Miki was probably the most mellow newborn she had ever met in her life. The only times he really cried was when he was hungry or needed a diaper change. She wondered who he got this easy temperament from— His father, perhaps?

She wondered what Mariko’s temperament would’ve been like, had it not been for that unfortunate tragedy those years ago. Her pregnancy might have fortunately been a success this time, but she never forgot about the last one—the last one that ended in failure. And though Mari-chan never had the chance to live and experience the world, she was still just as real to Ann, and Ann still loved her with all her heart despite never having the chance to see what she could’ve been as a healthy full-term baby.

“I wish... we could’ve seen what Mari-chan would be like...” she said after a long moment of quiet between them all, Miki still sleeping peacefully in her arms.

“Yeah...” Ren replied, resting his cheek on the crown of Ann’s head. “She’d be four by now—maybe even excited to meet her baby brother.”

She looked up at him. “You think so?”

“Yeah.” He nodded, lightly kissing her forehead. “Just as happy as you are right now.” 

She smiled, leaning against his chest. “She would’ve been wonderful.”

“Definitely...” he said, and then nothing after that. A moment of silence came between them as they looked at the baby boy lovingly, entirely grateful to have such a healthy newborn living in front of their eyes.

Neither of them ever forgot about Mari-chan and what she could’ve been—neither of them ever would. Though it still hurt to remember what had happened those years ago, the grief eased as time went on—less painful than when it was fresh.

“Do you think... someone is caring for Mari-chan in the afterlife?” asked Ann, looking up at him again.

“I’m sure.” He gave her an assuring smile. “I’m sure someone is watching her for us.”

Her eyes fell in worry. “I hope so...”

“Of course.” His hand stroked her cheek, trying to reassure her. “She’ll even become a fine lady in the spirit world—someone as beautiful and tough as her mother.”

Ann giggled. “You’re such a dork sometimes. But you’re right. I shouldn’t worry too much. She’s probably in good hands.”

He gave her an assured smile. “She is.”

Nothing was said again as they locked eyes, remaining like this for another while before sharing a sweet tender kiss.

“I love you,” she told him as soon as they parted, her affectionate words always earnest in that soft, tender tone.

“I love you too, Ann,” he said back, sincere and affectionate as her. She then snuggled back in his arms, feeling ever so content and secure.

No one knew what their future entailed. All they could do was hope for the best and move forward together—being there for each other through better or worse.