Chapter 1: Prologue
The city came alive at night. As her blonde hair was tossed by the wind, Emeraude gazed upon the world that she loved, hands clutched tightly as if in prayer. The city came alive at night, with all the venues lighting up, and the warm lights streaming from the windows of homes. The offices, full of workers who stayed late trying to finish their work, lit up the sky like stars. There were no stars here, just the black void of a sky not strong enough to break through. But that was all right, as the neon lights of clubs and bars winked up at her rhythmically, and cars passed lighting up in the streets between buildings, and bulbs flashed from reporters who just wanted to get their perfect shot.
The city came alive at night. No one knew that better than Emeraude, whose voice helped it come alive. Playing from those car radios at this very moment, tuned in to the most popular station in the city, was her voice.
The city came alive at night. It was a pity then, that Emeraude could not. She stared at the city from the highest building she could reach. This was her city. Her home. The people who lived here were her friends and family. She pictured each of their faces, as the wind grew harsher and the metal of the railing on her back grew colder. She took a deep breath, the chilly air slicing through her lungs. And then she let go.
The city came alive the night Emeraude died.
Chapter 2: Aim and Ignite
Ferio still had newspaper clippings at the bottom of his bass case. Yellowed and curling, fraying at the edges with age, some of them felt like they’d disintegrate if he picked them up. It had been a long time since he collected them, some were older than his bass itself. But still they sat, all featuring a young woman with blonde curls tumbling around her shoulders. There wasn’t much of a resemblance--where she had been smooth and soft, he was sharp and tousled--and he was almost grateful for that. Not looking like her meant he could move around much more easily, without any questions. There were three people in the world who knew Emeraude was his older sister, and they were beside him, setting up on the stage.
The clippings fluttered as he unclasped his case and pulled the bass strap over his shoulder, plucking absently at the strings. The sound was in order, he was pretty sure. His amp was working. The show would go off without a hitch, and if it didn’t, it was just a club. They didn’t play in big venues. That was his only stipulation when he started. There was only so much spotlight he could handle. But the others hadn’t argued against it. Lantis was even quieter than Ferio, Ascot was happy so long as he had a safe place for himself and the strays he had a tendency to pick up, and Clef was too busy trying to manage them to argue. To be fair to Clef, it really was a gargantuan task. Lantis mostly stayed in line, but Ascot kept forgetting that Clef was allergic to cats, and Ferio bounced on practice at least twice a week.
At least he always made it to gigs. That would have to count in his favor. He slid backward onto his stool, still picking at the strings. The low thuds from his amp felt like a heartbeat. A heart caught in someone’s throat, heavy and breathless.
“Try a little more upbeat,” Clef suggested, arms folded across his chest. “We’re playing a club, not a horror movie.”
Ferio rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I got it.”
Clubs. The only place where the dissonance in the music between Ferio and his friends was drowned out by the enthusiasm of the crowd. The only place where it didn’t matter that none of them were quite suited to each other. It wasn’t that they sounded bad, but more that they sounded like three guys playing the same song instead of a band . The distinction was one Ferio was well aware of. Musical compatibility was something rare, and it could be dangerous, or he had convinced himself it was. His sister had found it only six months before her death.
He remembered her sweet voice playing over deep, melodic strings. There had been nothing in the world that sounded half as beautiful.
Ascot nudged him, coming around the keyboard to lean on the table holding their water. “I hear this place is packed every night. It might be our biggest show.” His voice teetered between excitement and anxiety, tentatively optimistic.
Lantis, towering over both of them, shrugged. “It’s a gig.”
“We’ll play it the same as we play every other show.” Ferio’s fingers hadn’t stopped moving over the strings. “And then we’ll mingle like always. Except maybe this time, you’ll bring a girl home.” He winked with a cheeky grin.
“Maybe this time, you’ll finally come home alone,” Ascot said, rolling his eyes. “You’ll flirt with anything that moves.”
“Anything interesting that moves,” Ferio responded. The distinction was important to him. His company was always there to help ease the tedium of the nights of fruitless connections and missed opportunities. If none of them could give him more information, they could be at least entertaining.
“Your bar for interest is low.” Clef was always fast with a retort. Honestly, Ferio wasn’t surprised how easily he could fire back. Clef had been friends with his family for a long time, having been one of his sister’s confidants, probably one of her best friends, through most of her life. He may have been the only real friend she’d had after her career started. Clef had known Ferio for longer than Ferio had memories.
But then Clef moved on, taking attention off Ferio as he looked over the setup on the stage. There was a few hours before they’d play, and thankfully it wasn’t going to be all night, but Celf had always been detail-oriented and a planner of sorts. There was a reason he did so well as a manager. Ferio continued to play his bass without fully thinking, watching with half a smile as Clef ushered Ascot off stage to let a roadie finish setting up his keyboard.
“You’re distracted tonight.” Lantis had approached him without making a sound, almost as always. “It’s been ten years.”
“It’s just another day,” Ferio said, his smile vanishing. “It’s not like it’s any worse than yesterday was.”
“After the show, I’m going to visit. Are you coming?”
“Maybe.” Ferio didn’t mean to be cagey to Lantis. He was honestly the only other person in the world who could really understand how he felt about this all. But by the time he got to the site, he’d see that Ferio had already been there, leaving his own remembrances this morning. “I’ll let you know later.”
He set his bass down and rolled his shoulders, heaving himself to stand straight, and grabbing his cigarettes and lighter from his case and heading for the door. “I need a break, tell Clef I’ll be back in time for the show.”
Lantis nodded him off.
Their venue tonight was in a basement. Which was fine, but even better was the rooftop cafe. It was a short building, only five storeys, but it was a nice chance to get some quiet air and not leave the premises. Clef might have his head if he went too far, and he didn’t want to be bothered by someone on the ground.
When he leaned over the balcony, lighting a cigarette, he watched the city. It was a sight, honestly, with all the people going where they needed, barely paying attention to each other. The light pop music piped through the outdoor cafe grated on his nerves. It was a hell of a day for him, and as disaffected as he pretended to be, it always put him on edge.
But less on edge than the gentle cough next to him. “Excuse me, sir? Could you not smoke here?”
Ferio had to stop himself from rolling his eyes, instead slipping with ease into the comfortable persona he got around women. And as he turned to her, putting out his cigarette on the railing, he almost froze. Curly blonde hair. Big, sad green eyes. The most polite smile. All of it threw him a decade backward to a hand tousling his hair and a warm, friendly hug goodbye as his sister walked out the door. He stood in stunned silence, unable to think of the words. This woman might have been Emeraude reincarnated. She was taller, certainly, and a little rounder in the face. Sharper eyes--like she was calculating something in her mind, like he could almost see her process the world. And shorter hair, brushing against her jaw in the gentle breeze. The glasses that she adjusted, in a sense of awkwardness as he just gawked at her didn’t fit, either. But this girl had a sweet voice and a brilliance to her that almost made him forget the differences.
“I don’t mean to be rude, but the cafe doesn’t generally allow it…” she continued on, recognizing that his staring wasn’t ceasing.
“Oh--sorry, I wasn’t thinking.” Ferio scrambled to find the suave personality he could normally pull off. “Hope it wasn’t bothering you.”
“Thank you.” She smiled a polite smile at him again. It made his spine tighten, coiling like a spring. It was so much like hers. Was this girl like Emeraude…? “I only ask as I came out to read and I have some trouble with the smoke.”
“No problem.” He pushed himself further into that persona, winking at her. “It never hurts to help a pretty girl get comfortable.”
A burning red crept up her cheeks, and she cleared her throat. “Well. Thank you again. I just--”
Ferio couldn’t help but describe her departure as scurrying in his mind. It was kind of cute to watch as she sat down at a table with a tea and her book and buried her face back into it. He didn’t necessarily watch her for the rest of his time on the roof, but she was always in the corner of his eye.
Something about her felt… different.
And he was only jolted from this by his phone alerts going off. A frustrated message from Clef, saying they had to get ready now. Of course. Had to stay on schedule.
He caught the girl’s eye when he looked up. He winked and she buried her face back into her book, red to the ears.
As he boarded the elevator to the basement, he regretted not getting her number.
Chapter 3: Sit Next to Me
Fuu Hououji did not want to be here. It wasn’t the music or the setting or anyone in particular, she just wasn’t a very big fan of crowds. But Umi had invited her and she had seemed really excited about the band playing tonight. To hear her tell it, they were a top act. Fuu was pretty sure she was just making eyes at one of the musicians. She had a bad habit of doing that and clearances far to high to stop her from doing whatever she wanted. If Fuu was honest, she was a little jealous of how easily it came to Umi. It was a friendly, playful jealousy born out of Fuu’s own constant need to be polite. It was harder for her to loosen up, harder for her to just find someone and ask them to dance or invite them to dinner.
About as much of that was her personality itself, the same amount was her reputation to handle. Her band was elegant, their music soft, and it left them with an air of unreachability she had to maintain. Her shyness was sometimes mistaken for aloofness, her kindness as acts of charity. It was a frustrating state. She wasn’t nearly as much of a prude as people seemed to think she was--and Umi was one of two people outside of her own band that saw that in her. Umi and Hikaru had been her friends since she was a nervous recruit into the label. They’d gone through their training together, spent their days in each other’s company, been each other’s confidants. They’d even practiced together, hoping that they’d maybe get a chance to play together professionally. But it hadn’t been in the cards. Umi was too loud and energetic, Hikaru was too upbeat, and Fuu was too soft and quiet. They just didn’t match.
Which Fuu was reminded of immediately after Umi dashed off to get drinks. She’d spent most of her afternoon reading in the rooftop cafe, mentally preparing herself for a club scene. But she had not physically prepared herself she realized just too late. Surrounded in the dark by club-goers in party attire, she stuck out like a sore thumb. In her sundress and light cardigan, she pushed herself further and further back into the wall, pink blossoming over her cheeks. She brushed her fingers against her purse, considering just finding a corner in the hall and pulling out her book again. But then Umi bounded over with two glasses in her hands.
“Don’t worry.” Umi nuged Fuu in the side after passing off the second glass, nearly making Fuu spill it all over herself. “I know you don’t do anything hard. It’s just mint iced tea.”
“Thank you, Miss Umi.” It would be cruel of her to admit she was a little worried Umi would bring her back something spiked. “Do you think the show will be starting soon?”
The club was filled with the murmur of conversations in groups of friends who were almost oblivious to the existence of anyone in the room, and the shouts of enthusiastic patrons calling newcomers over to them. And then, above all of it, music filtering in so loud that the bass was barely more than distorted static. It was Umi’s kind of music, fast with a wild edge, but then of course it was. Umi was the guitarist on this particular track.
“Probably. They don’t have a track record of starting on time, really.” Umi shrugged. “But they’re good enough that they can make you wait.”
Just as Fuu was about to check her watch--she did have practice the next afternoon, after all--the band hit the stage. She breathed a sigh of relief as the crowd surged forward, leaving her behind on the back wall, and then she gasped. Umi blinked at her, having already grabbed her hand to urge her forward.
“What is it?”
“That boy. I met him today. On the roof, when I was reading.” She could feel the embarrassment sinking through her body like an anchor dragging a body down into the depths. “The one on the bass--the one--”
The deep heartbeat of the bass rang through the club as Ferio, without so much as a word of welcome, began his song.
“Ferio, you mean? Lucky you.” Umi’s grin stretched from ear to ear, mischief glittering in her eyes. “I never saw you as the kind of girl to go for bad boys, Fuu. He must have made a hell of an impression to make you turn that red.”
Fuu’s face slipped into her hands with a groan. “I asked him to put out his cigarette. No wonder he was so charming… He’s a playboy.”
“Lighten up, Fuu! It’s not going to kill you to flirt once in a while.”
Umi, of course, was wrong. But neither of them realized that just yet.
“Are you coming to the stage or not? C’mon, I invited you so you could relax . You’ve been practicing way too much lately. You’re all tense.”
“Please go ahead. I’ll catch up.” Once she swallowed her mortification at how easily wooed she’d been earlier.
“At least tell me you’ll come with me later to meet them, right? I had to pull a lot of favors to get them to let us meet.”
The song playing over that deep, heart-in-throat bassline was angry and sad and wistful. For a moment, Fuu wanted to get lost in it. It couldn’t hurt to meet them--or see him again. Maybe she could make slightly less of a fool of herself this time.
“Only for a little. Text me if we don’t meet up by then, all right?”
“You got it!”
As Umi vanished into the crowd, the fluttering in Fuu’s chest reminded her that maybe a chance to meet again could be something more.
The set was impressive. There was energy sparking in the air and it seemed like most of the crowd knew this music by heart, shouting where appropriate, and drunkenly trying to match up to the lyrics or the beat. Fuu was having a good time watching them from a table in the back of the club, sipping at another mint tea. While the energy was high, Fuu was trained on the music and lyrics. Trying to find the source of pain. Ferio’s voice was clear enough to understand, but hard enough to carry that passion. The music made her want to laugh, want to sing, want to dance, want to rage, and at one point, want to cry.
He had been singing about a woman. But not in a romantic way, more like telling a story about someone he knew once. Fuu was immediately locked in on it. She was desperate to know more. By the time they were finished and putting away their instruments, she had her mind set on picking up one of their albums. She could listen to it when she was alone, and her reputation would remain intact, she hoped. She was even looking forward to the meeting she’d been so tentative about earlier.
When her text tone went off, Fuu was excited to see where to meet. Turning on her phone, she was anticipating a text, but not the one she got. It was a selfie. Of Umi. Sitting in a taxi with one of the other members from the band. Sorry! , it read. Go meet somebody. ♥ Let’s get coffee tomorrow~
And then Fuu’s face was in her hands all over again. So now she was at a club, where Umi had honestly probably brought her to try to get her to hook up with someone, and her best friend was totally gone. She considered calling Hikaru to get her out of there, but her plan from the start had been to take the bus. It would just be an inconvenience. And she didn’t want to potentially get Umi in trouble for her own version of trying to “help.”
She didn’t enjoy the idea of trying to get through the crowds to the exit, but with the performance over, the crowd was at least beginning to thin. She flipped through a few social media apps, leaving comments and likes on a few book reviews from her non-musician friends. Passing the time until the crowd thinned further. She hoped it would be soon, considering her phone was already at 25% battery and it was 12:30 in the morning.
She didn’t notice him approaching until he was already in the chair across from her, sliding a glass across the table. Raising her eyes, she first noticed the bewildered looks of the girls--and more than a few guys--at the bar. And then she saw him across from her. He wore the same cocky smile from earlier, though his hair was a little messier and damp with sweat from the stage lights. What did it say about her, she wondered, that she was kind of into it?
“I didn’t realize you were here for the show.” Ferio’s grin broadened when he saw her blush, she was sure.
“A friend invited me. She was, ah, called away.” Fuu toyed with the phone in her hands, finally settling on setting it facedown on the table, her fingers still caught on the bell strap Hikaru had given her for her last birthday.
“What a shame. At least it means we get to talk again, right?”
Fuu dropped her eyes to watch his fingers. He was flipping his lighter in them, tapping an end against the table before sliding his fingers back down to repeat the motion. It was rhythmic. A tic, maybe.
“I didn’t realize our conversation left you wanting more.”
“I meet a cute girl in a cafe and find her at my show that night and I’m not supposed to be curious? This doesn’t seem like your typical scene.”
She felt her face growing red again, and she realized he was looking her up and down in the moment. “Like I said, a friend invited me.”
“And you stayed when she left? Did you like the music?”
“Yes.” That, at least, she could answer truthfully and quickly. “It was different from what I normally listen to, but you have a way with the bass, I think.”
“Well, I have been playing it my whole life.”
Fuu took a sip of her tea, still aware of the eyes on them. “Is there a reason you came to sit with me, Mister Ferio?”
“Please, just Ferio.” He almost sounded disgusted with the formality. “I was kind of hoping you might want to get out of here with me.”
“It’s… far past midnight at this point, Ferio.” She made sure to call him by his name that time. “It’s rather late--I’m about ready for bed.”
Ferio winked at her again. “Well, that’s the point, isn’t it?”
Fuu bristled at that, her back straightening and her face so red by this point that she could feel her own heartbeat in her throat and hear it in her ears. “Excuse me?”
“It was worth asking.”
“I’m sorry, I think I misunderstood things. I--” She slipped from the chair. She suddenly understood why mortified founds its roots in the word ‘die.’ She was sure she was about to.
Ferio stood as well, looking defensive now, less confident. “Are you feeling all right?”
“Just fine. My ride is outside. If you’ll excuse me.”
For the second time in a day she found herself rushing to be out of his sight. Something about his eyes, gold and sharp and mischievous, made her feel like she wouldn’t mind doing anything he asked.
She didn’t stop going until she had completely left the venue, falling to sit on the bus stop seat under the street lights, trying to calm her heart down. She tried not to think it but she couldn’t help it, it penetrated every thought.
She didn’t leave the club because he asked her to go home with him.
She left because she nearly said yes.
Chapter 4: At Second Sight
Ferio was not used to being turned down by girls. Not that he didn’t accept the strange almost-doppelganger's rejection, but he was left a little baffled by it. She fled the club like she was repulsed and that? Was super new to him. The moment she left, he was shrugging off another girl who had slid into the now-vacant seat across from him.
This was his normal. Play a gig, find a girl, have a chat, be missing the next morning from practice enough that Clef finally just said screw it and called off morning practices the day after performing. It was the first time he could remember that a girl had turned him down. And he was admittedly pretty stunned. He met a girl on the roof who had stunned him with her appearance, he had the luck to have her at his show, he even saw her eyes light up when she talked about his music, and then she rushed away like he smelled or something. He was left baffled--and he was normally the one doing the baffling.
He propped his chin on his hand, staring briefly at nothing before downing his drink, ignoring taste. Ferio was preoccupied. He was curious. What had her in such a rush. If he had at least gotten her name…
“It’s rare to see you so distracted.”
Lantis had taken up the seat left vacant when he’d ignored its most recent occupant long enough that she realized he just wasn’t into her. Lantis’s frame was just big enough that Ferio always felt incredibly small next to him. It must have run in the family. Lantis’s brother had felt like he was nearly twice the size of--
Ferio didn’t want to think about that right now, trying to down another another drink before the memories caught up with his brain. The more brain cells he killed, the fewer were left to remind him that he’d spent a decade with no more answers than he’d had day one. One of many unhealthy habits he’d picked up growing up surrounded by this line of work. He would’ve gone on silently if Lantis had just let him, but it didn’t seem like that was going to happen.
“You don’t normally stick around a venue, either. You’re normally the first one out.” Lantis took Ferio’s glass, sliding it closer to him on the other side of the table.
“... Normally I don’t get turned down,” Ferio grumbled, leaning back in his chair.
“Bad luck. It was bound to happen one day,” Lantis said. “There’s a lot of girls in this bar, you know.”
“You didn’t see her. I thought…” Ferio trailed off silent for just a moment. “She was different.”
“Don’t dwell on it too long. I’m going to the site soon. Are you sure you won’t come?”
“Going once was enough.” Ferio couldn’t stand to see that place again. The memorial to his sister was still divided to this day, by an eight-foot hedge, from the memorial of her lover. He’d left his regards for Zagato as well. He had to. Lantis was Zagato’s younger brother. No one in the world understood each other like they could. Their siblings had loved each other--the least they could do was respect that love.
But the people weren’t the same. Emeraude and Zagato had been idols. All but gods. And their labels had written their stories. Emeraude the pure, innocent princess, corrupted. Zagato the unstoppable force, whose love tarnished everything he’d touched. In the stories, they had forgotten the two were people. They’d forgotten that those final months and weeks and days an hours had been painful. That their separation had created a suffering so real it was almost tangible--Emeraude’s music had been touched by her heartache, and there could be no turning back from that.
And then they were gone. All that was left was that story. Ferio had to cling to the truth that he knew--his sister had been in love. The last they had spoken, she had told him that love was worth fighting for, that it was worth losing everything if you could just find the right person. She’d given him two gold rings, and told him to find that person who was right.
And the labels wanted him to believe that she would just let that love go. So the pair had to be separated from each other even in death, by that bush. He’d considered setting it on fire, but when confronted with the gentleness of his sister’s face carved into stone, he knew he couldn’t. So every year, he came back for the both of them, cleaned things up, and made sure no one had left nasty comments. In part, he did this for Zagato, too. He always visited earlier than his friend.
His friend who was returning his drink to the bar. Ferio groaned.
“You’ll thank me in the morning.” Zagato returned, buttoning up his coat. “Presuming I see you in the morning, anyway.”
“Tell Clef I left with a girl,” Ferio said, pulling his own jacket on. “I need to clear my head. I don’t know when I’ll be back.”
“Be careful, it’s late.” For being a giant of a man, Lantis was kinder than he looked.
He left out a side exit into the chilly night air. Summer days were warm here, but the nights got cold. Ferio found himself thinking about that girl again, in only a sundress. He hoped she was warm, wherever she was, as he climbed the stairs to the main exit. The cold air cut into his lungs when he opened the door, combating the warmth of the alcohol. This was nothing short of sobering.
He lit a cigarette.
He heard her voice.
It was soft--lower than the voice in the original version of the song she was singing, at least half an octave. A second soprano singing a first soprano’s song. But the voice captured the same resonance of the original. A voice that reflected in the moonlight, that returned to the world the world its own loneliness, its own guilt. A voice that continued when the rest of the world choked trying to get the words out. One that contained the feelings of every person who could possibly listen.
And the song…
“ The golden moonlight bleeding into the night sky, If there comes a day of judgment, judge just me… ”
The song was his sister’s. It was the last song she ever recorded. One she’d recorded a special copy of that she’d sent to him. I can’t be forgiven , the song said, I shouldn’t be .
What world would make loving someone a crime?
His cigarette had gone out.
“ If my love hurts me and only me… ”
Ferio couldn’t stand it anymore. Hearing this song was like being a child again, being told the last member of his family was gone. He stepped forward to confront the woman singing this song. To ask her to please stop, maybe. Or to charm her into a conversation, letting the song play out so he didn’t have to hear it anymore.
It was the girl with the blonde curls and big green eyes. When he stepped around the wall of the bus shelter, into her line of view, she went immediately silent. There was a moment of silent staring as her face lit up red and his cigarette slipped from his fingers.
“... Good evening.” She spoke first, pulling her headphones down around her neck.
“Hey.” Smooth . “I’m not following you--I just wanted to get out of there.”
“It’s been some time. The bus is very late.”
She tucked her hair behind her ear and Ferio had to bite his tongue. It was cute . He didn’t fall for cute, not normally. But she was . As her hair fell into place, he could see her earrings, a cascade of golden wings and feathers. It made sense. She was about as jumpy as a songbird, and the voice of one, too.
“That song... were you singing it?”
Her face turned even more red. Ferio wondered if she might combust from the pure heat in her cheeks.
“Yes. I thought I was alone… She was my favorite singer as a child. Did you recognize it?” Her eyes lit up the same way they did when she was talking to him about music. This girl was a musician. Not a singer with that kind of reaction, but a musician.
Ferio sat on the other end of the bench, giving her space. “Yeah. She meant a lot to me.”
“She meant a lot to me, as well. It’s because of her that I learned to play music.”
“You play? With a voice like that?” Ferio figured some flattery couldn’t hurt.
“I’m a pianist. I don’t have the… stage presence to sing, I think.”
Neither did Emeraude . Ferio almost physically shook his head to rid himself of the thought. This girl was not his sister. She looked similar, but her voice wasn’t as soft--if she was a pianist it suited her voice, clearer than Emeraude’s, more crisp in a way--and the way she carried herself was different. She smiled more. Her eyes were craftier. He’d only looked into those eyes a few times, but there was always something in them. Some kind of plan.
He was slowly realizing how into that he was.
“I’d like to hear you play,” Ferio said. “You got to hear me, I think it’s fair.”
“Oh! You may have heard earlier. When we spoke.” She fiddled through her purse, handing him a small music chip. “That was my group.”
This girl was a part of all of this then. It almost stopped him. “You must be big.”
“Not the biggest, but we do get broadcast sometimes.” The smile she flashed was fake. Ferio recognized it--a camera smile.
“Can I have your name? I’ll look you up later.”
“It’s Fuu Hououji.”
“It’s nice to finally meet you, Fuu.” Ferio gave her a real smile, warm and friendly, welcoming her to finish the conversation. “How long have you been waiting out here for the bus?”
“Nearly an hour, I believe. My friend seems to have accidentally switched our bags. She has my wallet, and I have hers.” Fuu sighed softly. “Even if I wanted to use it, she doesn’t carry cash and I do not have her card’s pin number. Thankfully, she does have a bus pass.”
“For a bus that isn’t coming.”
“It might still… though my phone did say it was supposed to come every ten minutes…”
“... Your phone died, didn’t it?”
“Miss Umi also has my phone charger.”
Ferio laughed at that. A completely real laugh. He shouldn’t have, but her tired expression along with the way she sounded as if this happened regularly pushed him to it. “I’ll call a ride. We can both get out of here, and you won’t be stuck waiting for a ghost bus.”
“I couldn’t…” Fuu bit her lip, looking nervous.
“Come on, Wings,” he tapped his own ear, with a golden hoop, as if to explain why he’d given her this new nickname. “It’s cold, your jacket looks too light, and the bus is never coming. I’ll drop you off first so you know it’s not a trick.”
She looked unconvinced.
“You told me you didn’t want to come home with me. I’m not going to push you after that. I know there’s limits.” He held his hands up, as if showing he didn’t have any tricks up his sleeves.
“I suppose… it couldn’t hurt.”
He already had his phone out, summoning a ride. “I’m curious, too. Tell me about your band?”
“We aren’t very big--” Fuu was open about her band. Excited, eager to share her colleagues’ work and accomplishments while downplaying her own. Ferio did his best to commit everything she said to mind. She was humble, that was the first thing he learned. Her band consisted of four girls, who she cared for but didn’t consider friends. She had close friendships in two other bands in her label.
Her label .
It was the same as Emeraude’s. Pillar Records. Pillar, its headquarters, like its namesake and the fame of its stars, stretching high into the sky. Pillar, the building she had plunged from all those years ago.
He should have been excited to finally have a lead at that elusive company. And he was! He also had a nagging worry in his stomach for this girl, and her winged earrings and planning eyes and camera smiles and the voice that could capture the same feelings of Emeraude’s at the end.
He knew to reciprocate. When she gave her information to him, he returned it. Silly stories about Ascot’s awkwardness, how he and Clef could bicker. Lantis’s habit of almost reading people’s minds. Fuu’s eyes shone and she giggled at him.
“It must be so nice to be that close to your band…”
“We’re friends,” Ferio said, acknowledging her point, “but there’s a difference between friends and the people you sound right with.”
“You sounded wonderful!” Fuu said. It was obvious she was being honest. It was cute.
Ferio raised an eyebrow. “How much of it could you actually hear over the crowd?”
She was quiet at that, not fully wanting to admit to his point. She remained quiet as the car pulled up to the curb in front of them and Ferio opened the door for her with a deep, if slightly joking bow.
He loved watching her blush.
The ride to her apartment was almost too fast as their conversation began to veer from their bands to music in general. Fuu, it turned out, was a very big fan of Emeraude’s. She’d listened to her since she was old enough to know what music was. She was even aware of what had happened a decade ago.
“Her music was best when they were together, I think. Certainly, it was different, but she was in love. You could hear it,” Fuu said. She sounded convinced.
Ferio didn’t want the car ride to end. He considered asking her number, but he didn’t want to scare her off. Maybe he’d find her profile later. Run into her again? He was running scenarios in his head a hundred times over when the car slowed to a stop. He knew he wanted to leave an impression. He wanted her to remember him--because she was a lead or because he really liked her, he didn’t know.
“It was nice meeting you tonight,” she said. It even sounded like she meant it. “Maybe I’ll see you again?”
Ferio took his chance, taking her hand on the seat between them into his, and lifting it to his lips. He placed the gentlest kiss on her hand. Chivalrous, not pushy, safe. And it made that blush spring to her face. Gods, he wanted to find more ways to make her blush.
“I hope so.” He winked at her as he let her hand go.
She slid from the seat, and her hand was on the door, closing it. What a shame. But still there was a hope for the future.
The moment before the door shut, Fuu paused. And then she opened it, again, tilting her head to peer back into the backseat. Ferio watched her, his eyes locked on hers. Had she forgotten something? Or did she have something else to say?
“... Would you like to come in? I could make tea.”
It was two in the morning.
Ferio’s body acted before his brain did, opening the car on his side and standing with a smile. He tapped the top of the car, signaling to the driver to pull away without him. “I thought you’d never ask.”