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Danika didn't know how to reply, but Mei took pity on her and stepped forward to offer Ryuske the small package she carried.

"I brought these since Danika said you like flowers?" Mei announced.

Ryuske blinked at her, but took the offering. He set it on the counter and opened it before turning back with a grin, and said, "Very nice, thank you."

Danika was so curious that it distracted her from the question of whether or not she should tell Shinichi that she was ready to move in with him. "What did you get?" she asked

Ryuske lifted one of the flower shaped sweets out of the box, and Danika almost rolled her eyes. Apparently she should have passed on the part about how no one would have to eat them. "Ah," was all she said.

"They're delicious as well as pretty," Mei assured her.

Shinichi opened the door behind Danika and dumped the bag he was carrying beside it, while saying, "Sorry I'm late!"

Danika finished turning toward him and told him, "Welcome home? It's okay, we just got here."

A grin spread across his face as he looked at her, and Danika quickly checked for obvious flaws in her appearance, but she hadn't worn her shirt inside out or one with an amusing slogan or anything.

He smothered a laugh and reached for her hands. "I'm home," he said happily.

Danika blinked and then returned his grin. "Yeah," she agreed.

She expected him to kiss her somehow. He'd been scooping her up and kissing her every time he arrived at her place all week. She couldn't quite decide if she was happy that he wasn't attempting anything so embarrassing in front of other people, or disappointed that she didn't get to kiss him, but she couldn't stop smiling at his obvious happiness.

They stayed like that until Mei gave an artificial cough that interrupted their silent exchange. Danika blushed again and introduced her cousin.

"Finally convinced I'm real?" Shinichi asked Mei with amusement.

Mei looked him up and down again in a critical fashion that Danika associated more with the older women in their family. "I was already convinced before, but now I feel a little incredulous again. Shouldn't you be more… ordinary looking in person? Are you sure you're human?"

Shinichi gave her a blank look and asked, "What?"

Ryuske snickered and said, "Don't worry, he's been dressed and groomed by a team of people today, he doesn't always look like this."

Danika glanced from Mei to Shinichi again and shook her head. "He just looks even better when he's messier than this," she assured her cousin.

Mei and Ryuske glanced at each other and started to laugh. Danika rolled her eyes.

--

Ryuske encouraged them to eat before they settled on the couches to talk. Shinichi ate like he was starving, but he still stopped first and watched Danika finish her portion with his usual intensity. She was really tempted to hold out bites for him to eat.

Mei didn't embarrass Danika with any embarrassing stories of her childhood exploits, but she did talk pretty casually for someone who was presumably having dinner with a couple of stars. They discussed a variety of topics ranging from favorite animals to dream vacations.

Danika secretly envied her confidence until Mei asked Shinichi boldly, "Are you serious about her or not?"

"Mei!" Danika protested.

"I am, but I won't rush her," Shinichi replied firmly.

"Rush her? She obviously already decided a while ago," Mei said critically.

Danika couldn't find the words to respond at first, but Shinichi replied with amusement, "So? That doesn't mean she has to do anything she's not ready to."

Danika wasn't sure that they were talking about the same things. She looked back and forth between them and then asked Mei bluntly, "When did you go from being concerned about him taking advantage of me, to implying that he should be ready to get married?"

"Aren't I taking advantage of you?" Shinichi asked wryly. Danika shook her head and Shinichi grimaced.

Mei said seriously, "I'm worried that you're doing things by halves, and I don't know if it's you or him? It's not like you though?"

Danika flinched and Shinichi gazed at her with surprise. He turned and told Mei firmly, "Stop."

"Fine," Mei agreed too easily. "Then how about explaining how you're taking advantage of her?"

Shinichi's hand tightened on Danika's for a moment, but he took a deep breath and said, "I am letting other people dictate what we can and can't do right now, and then make our relationship part of the publicity schemes." He added a little bitterly, "And I probably can't actually marry her right now because anyone could look up the record."

"Shinichi…" Danika complained. He turned and looked at her guiltily, and she rolled her eyes and insisted, "It's fine."

"I knew things had to be more complicated than you were letting on," Mei accused.

Ryuske spoke up calmly, "This kind of thing comes with the career, and Shinichi really has it easy in some ways, and rough in others. Underneath isn't under the kind of contract that some young artists get caught in, where their relationships and appearance are literally dictated by the company who owns them. But he has to decide how to balance everything, and everything he does affects the entire band and their production company."

They discussed the situation for awhile and Danika and Shinichi explained more about the plan to reveal their relationship publicly on the timetable determined by his career to Mei.

Shinichi also explained a little sheepishly, "I'm hoping that the VR concert arrangement we're putting together with the game company will help Danika in the long run? I don't know though, since it's nothing direct."

"It's fine if it doesn't help me," Danika protested in surprise. She could see how the concert would be a big boost for Endless Song if they got to provide the in-game location, and for the game's advertising department, but she didn't think that there really wouldn't be anything that directly affected her.

Ryuske advised, "Don't hold back Danika, take advantage of it if there's an opportunity. It may sound cold, but both of you should use every advantage that you can, because your successes will affect each other's lives as much as your failures."

Mei actually nodded and instructed Danika, "And with things set up like this, you should move in with him now. If it's not going to work, find out before the whole world knows."

Danika took a deep breath, but Shinichi gave a small shake of his head and glanced at Mei. "You don't understand what I love so much about her," he said quietly.

Everyone looked at him quizzically, even Danika, and he reached out to tap her nose lightly and grinned. Danika lifted her chin, and even though it was a big step forward, she asked, "What if I agree with Mei, that I should go ahead and move in now?"

"Really?" he asked hopefully. There wasn't a trace of reluctance in his expression.

"Well, right now isn't very realistic, since it'll be difficult to move everything…" she replied hesitantly.

"Seriously?!" Shinichi asked incredulously. "You have even less stuff than I do. We could probably arrange to have you moved in here before midnight if you really wanted."

"Arrange?" Danika asked blankly.

Ryuske covered a laugh as Shinichi explained, and asked Mei, "Want to go walk around a bit?"

Mei gave him a startled look, and then glanced at the couple on the couch. After a moment she nodded.

Danika looked up when they both stood, and said apologetically, "Sorry, we can always talk about this later!"

"No, go ahead," Mei told her firmly. "Just don't get rid of your apartment for at least three months." She waved a hand indicating the space around them and added, "He can obviously afford to keep both places for at least that long."

Ryuske laughed openly, and winked at Danika. "True enough," he agreed as he offered Mei his arm.

"That… is kind of…" Danika muttered and waved the hand that Shinichi wasn't holding as her cousin followed Ryuske up the stairs and out the door.

Shinichi hugged her and whispered, "Whatever you want is fine."

Danika turned back to him with a laugh, and said, "That's a dangerous thing to say to a girl isn't it?"

"I happen to know this one pretty well though," he replied a bit smugly. "Go ahead and tell me what you really want to do. I'll do my best."

"Tell me what you love so much about me then?" she challenged.

He grinned and replied, "You are really stubborn about finishing things, rarely promise anything, and are really comfortable."

He pulled her into his lap as he added the last part and she asked suspiciously, "Comfortable?" Nothing on his list sounded very flattering, but his hands were telling her that he meant that she was cuddly.

His eyes crinkled with his amusement. "Very," he agreed.

--

The Jade Emperor was able to access all of the King of Cat's libraries and records contained by the copy, and he didn't remove the new functions right away. First, he carefully sorted through the recent records for the references to the door, and then he did his best to trace the actions the cat had taken with his original abilities.

He eventually determined that the real cat could probably see the same market that the players could, among other things. This was supported by its earlier demands to be given access to the messenger cat identities that were sold there. Unlike quest given messengers, those messengers didn't have a source identity within the empire, and he could not access them himself.

He had been successful in absorbing the duties the cat held, it was just that the duties and data of the copy were still linked to the expansion space even when he was within the empire. After determining that only the original could see the access to something beyond the empire, the Emperor carefully isolated the functions connected to the expansion test area and removed them from his default responses.

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About the author

gusdefrog

Bio: I'm not actually a frog... but frogs are cool! They have tiny little hands! And some frogs can even fly (glide)! ...and my name isn't actually Gus, but I've been wearing it long enough that it is?

Since beginning to lose my vision, I've been writing to replace the creating I used to do as drawing and painting.

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