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Sometimes life was really unfair. And other times it was downright cruel. Mizuki stared at his reflection in the mirror, sniffling a little. Well, he certainly looked terrible now, didn't he? Eyes puffy and mascara streaked down his cheeks, he really looked a hopeless mess. He couldn't go back out there looking like this, sniffling again before turning on the cold water tap on the sink. He didn't have much with him, but maybe a few quick splashes of cold water would be enough to reduce the swelling? At the least, he needed to clean up his smeared makeup.

Mizuki had picked this restroom on the thinking that it was more remote than most and no one would find him here. He was quite unprepared for the door to swing open ahead of an alpha. While he was bent over a sink, his ass pointed practically straight at the door.

“... I'm gonna need to call you back, Yuh-kun,” the alpha said. Mizuki couldn't move at all, his heart pounding against his ribs, knuckles going white as he gripped the sink. He was trapped, the alpha was between him and the door and there was nothing he could do.

“Hey, whoa, whoa, easy there, pretty,” the alpha said, letting the door close behind him. But he was still blocking it and Mizuki's omega instincts couldn't decide what they wanted to do, so it seemed all he could do was whimper and pant. At this rate, the alpha was going to think there was something wrong with him. Or that he was going into heat.

“Okay, first, take a breath, yeah? I'm not going to hurt you.”

“Easy for you to say,” Mizuki muttered. He was so shocked at hearing those words coming out of his mouth that at first he couldn't even manage another breath. Well, living had been nice while it had lasted, but he was definitely done for now.

He was completely unprepared for the warm laughter that followed, or the brush of a hand to his shoulder – his shoulder, not his ass, not his hips, his shoulder, like he was an equal – that brought with it this alpha's scent, dark and heavy with strange spices. What ... what was going on?

“Would it help ... I'm going to step out for a minute or two, okay?” the alpha said. Mizuki was still too busy panicking at first, it took him at least a minute to figure out that the alpha had done exactly that. And then it was a mad scramble to pull himself upright and try to wipe off his face.

The knock on the door, a rather perfunctory rapping, wasn't much of a warning as the door opened right after but at least this time Mizuki wasn't bent over the sink, unable to see anything. When he looked up at the alpha in the mirror, though, he was pretty sure his heart stopped.

“Umi-sama....”

The alpha stopped a moment, as if surprised at being recognized. Which was ridiculous, since this building had the main offices of at least three different porn companies, from what Mizuki knew, including his own former company, Doll's House, and the much bigger Xtasy Video, for which Umi was a rising star. It felt a little weird to see him in a casual cardigan and thick-rimmed glasses, his unstyled hair hanging flat and long around his face and virtually no makeup. Even more surprising, with the boots Mizuki was currently wearing, he was actually slightly taller than the alpha, though they were probably the same height barefoot.

“Ah, guilty,” the alpha said with a bashful little boy smile. “Fan or press?”

“Ah, um, fan, I guess,” he mumbled, breaking eye contact to glance down at his hands.

“You guess?” the alpha asked, amusement in his scent. Mizuki huffed, pulling his bag around to see if he had remembered his makeup repair kit. And yet he still wasn't prepared for the gentle brush of fingers against his arm.

“Hey, sorry for walking in on you earlier.”

“It's a public restroom,” Mizuki said, forcing himself to shrug like it was no big deal. After all, he was the idiot who had decided to have a total meltdown in a public place instead of just going home like a good boy. Sure, after the things Kitazaki had said to him, there was every chance he would have had his breakdown before he even got back to his tiny flat, but still....

“Still ... are you sure you're okay? You seemed pretty upset.”

“It's nothing. Sorry for disrupting your phone call.”

“Yuh-kun's practically my brother, he's pretty used to it,” the alpha said, still standing closer than Mizuki liked. Even without all the styling, there was something heavy, dark about Umi's aura that made Mizuki uneasy. Why did this guy even care? He was nothing, an omega who hadn't even been able to make it as a porn star, how utterly pathetic was that?

“... Doll's House? Oh don't tell me you work for them,” Umi said with something like a groan.

“Um, uh, wh-what?”

“I can smell that ape Kitazaki's cologne on you,” Umi said. Mizuki glanced back at him, surprised to see the man's clenched fists. “Did he force you to 'audition' for him?”

Mizuki swallowed thickly, caught off guard by an alpha being so offended on his behalf for something that, from what he knew, was a standard industry practice. Hell, casting couch was its own entire genre of porn videos, so why this sort of reaction?

“N-no, not ... he ... he fired me, actually,” Mizuki mumbled. “Too old to still be in his productions.”

Mizuki wasn't sure what, exactly, he had been expecting the alpha's reaction to that to be. Dumbfounded silence certainly wasn't it.

“Too old ... how old are you?”

“Twenty-three,” he said, finally finding his kit. The cold water had helped some, but not much, and the omega couldn't help a heavy sigh. Maybe it wasn't worth it? It wasn't like he was planning to do anything other than stop at a combini and then go home.

“Are you fucking kidding me?! How the fuck is that ... sorry, sorry, I shouldn't be yelling at you,” Umi said, shaking his head. In spite of everything, it made Mizuki smile a little.

“Um, not to be creepy, but ... I mean, you were pretty upset, if you, um ... have you even been on a box cover?”

“Only alphas and senior neko get covers,” he said, shaking his head.

“... would you want a cover?”

Mizuki's head jerked up as he gaped at the alpha's reflection. Was he really saying...?

“I'm not...! That is, if you're fine leaving porn behind, then, you know, just forget I said anything....”

Mizuki rolled his lip ring as he mulled it over. His mother would be happy to hear he was leaving porn ... but how else was he going to support himself? It wasn't like he had any skills or education. It was this or hosting. At least porn was honest.

“Could you really...?”

“Only way to know is to ask,” Umi said with a small smile. “Ga-sama should still be in the office. I don't think he's cast my next video yet, but even if he has, doesn't hurt to ask, right?”

“... but I look horrible!” Mizuki protested, gesturing at his reflection. A beat and Umi pulled his phone out of his pocket.

“If I call him,” he said, waggling the phone, “you'll definitely have to meet him, but that's a few minutes to get your game face on, yeah?”

Mizuki swallowed thickly, then nodded, turning the sink on again. It hadn't helped much the first time, but he couldn't meet a new director looking like death warmed over, either, so....

~*~*~

Ignoring his instinct to wrap this unnamed cutie in a possessive hug and protect him from everything, Umi stepped back out into the hall to make his call. And then offered a silent prayer of gratitude that the director was still in his office.

“Hey Boss, have you finished casting for my next video?”

“Tanaka-san just turned in the final script and he made a casting suggestion for your main love interest, but if you have someone else in mind, I'm open to suggestions, as always.”

“I don't know about lead, but ... that Kitazaki jackhole just cut another omega actor loose for nonsense reasons and I thought maybe....”

“... Doll's House isn't exactly known for cultivating actors, you know.”

“Aa, I know, Boss, but ... doesn't hurt to bring him to the office, right?”

“Let me guess, you have a feeling about him?” the director asked, chuckling.

“He's not an airhead. At least let him try?”

Gackt huffed and Umi wondered if he shouldn't have called Hyde first. His senpai had a certain knack for getting the senior director to do whatever he wanted, regardless of what it was.

“All right, but quickly. I have a shoot to get to tonight.”

“Just need a couple minutes,” Umi said, thanking the man again before hanging up. Poking his head into the restroom again, he was immediately hit with a face-full of the omega's scent, nerves and all. Poor kid.

“Hey beautiful,” he said, offering him a small smile. “Ready?”

“Not really,” the omega admitted, fussing with soft brown hair a moment to get it to hang around his face just so. “But I guess it's now or never?”

“I'm sure you'll do fine,” Umi said with a little nod, offering what he hoped was an encouraging smile. “But it might help if you at least told me your name?”

“Wh-what? I ... oh gods ... Kurokawa Hiroyuki, but everyone calls me Mizuki. The boss said I needed a more appropriate name for a neko, so....”

“Which do you prefer?” he asked, holding the door open.

“I ... I don't know. I'm ... used to Mizuki now, I guess, especially for work. That, um, is what you meant, yeah?”

“Pleasure to meet you, Mizuki-san. Our offices are just up this way.”

Now that his instincts weren't being overwhelmed by the scent of an omega in deep distress, Umi was able to take a slightly more objective look at the younger man. Mizuki had a slender gracefulness that was almost cliche in the sort of product Doll's House put out, especially for their omegas. On the other hand, that softness would play well with their company's female fans ... assuming the boss was willing to go along with this. Umi was tempted to ask about Mizuki's experience, but he knew Gackt would be asking the same questions as soon as they were in his office. He could wait.

~*~*~

Mizuki tried not to gawk as he was lead to the Xtasy Video office suite. One entire wall of the reception area was covered in awards, another boasting glamour shots of their most high-profile actors and actresses. Right, Xtasy did a little of everything, though they were gaining more of a reputation for producing “erotic cinema” verses simple hardcore porn. Mizuki had the sudden feeling he was in completely over his head.

Umi lead him down a hall to a corner office, knocking on the door twice before opening it and gesturing for Mizuki to precede him. More nervous than he had been in years, Mizuki took a deep breath and then stepped into the office.

The first thing he noticed was that the view was actually pretty terrible, taller buildings blocking any vista that might have been available before they were built. The second thing he noticed was the alpha standing in front of that non-view. Even though he had to be in his forties, at least, the man had the face of a runway model, severe and yet beautiful, untouchable. His suit jacket was tossed over the back of his desk chair, sleeves rolled up to reveal muscular arms. Nor was there any sign of middle-aged paunch. Mizuki swallowed convulsively, watching as the man pushed a pair of glasses up from the end of his nose. There was just no way he was going to pass muster like this. No way.

“I'm Mizuki, formerly of Doll's House, please forgive the intrusion,” he said as he bowed himself nearly in half. And yet instead of annoyance, there was ... amusement?

“Oh let's not get so carried away,” the alpha said as he came around his desk, urging Mizuki upright with a touch. “I don't suppose you happen to have a current CV on you?”

“Ah, um, no,” Mizuki confessed, heat flaring in his cheeks.

“It's fine,” the alpha that had to be the famous director Gackt-sama said with a surprisingly gentle smile. “I can always look up your work with Doll's House later. So what brings you to Xtasy?”

Mizuki couldn't help it, eyes sliding to Umi before he could think better of it.

“Let me rephrase that,” Gackt said, still smiling as he moved to perch on the corner of his desk. “Why do you want to stay in porn?”

“It's familiar,” Mizuki replied with a shrug. “I'm not ... I mean, I can't pay rent on promises, so right now it's either this or hosting. At least this is honest.”

“How long were you with Doll's House?”

“Two and a half years.”

“And before that?” the director asked, open curiosity in his scent.

“Before that?” Mizuki echoed, feeling completely stupid.

“Were you with another video company before that or...?”

“Oh, no, I was, uh, waiting tables and trying to figure out what I was doing with my life.”

“Okay, well, the bad news is I can't cast you as Umi-kun's next co-lead without proof you can handle the acting. The good news is I can give you a smaller role and then ... do you work with alpha males only or are you willing to work with others as well?”

“I, um, I mean I've mostly worked with alphas up to now? I just did whatever Kitazaki-san said....”

“In that case,” Gackt said, standing to circle back around his desk, rapidly jotting down something. “I have a shoot to direct right now, but Umi-kun can take you to Legal and they'll get you a supporting player contract. Now, that doesn't mean you can only do supporting roles, it just means you aren't expected to do a full lead yet. And after you're done with Legal, Umi-kun, introduce him to Aki-kun, won't you? I'll e-mail you both the script and shooting schedule in the morning.”

“But I don't –,” Mizuki started, but Gackt was already rushing out of the office.

“Contract includes a work e-mail, we'll stop by IT to get your phone set up with it.”

“There's an IT department?”

“Xtasy is a big company,” Umi said, gently taking his arm to guide him out of the office. Mizuki knew that, but it still felt a bit surreal. Being handed a copy of his signed contract made it feel a little more real ... right up until Umi introduced him to a Nishida-san who took one look at his flip phone and snorted in disgust.

“Here,” the woman said after a moment of surveying the shelves at the very back of her domain (that looked less like an office and more like a small warehouse of equipment), handing him an iPhone. “Buy a wallet-style cover and keep it on you at all times. I've already added your e-mail to it and the number's in your file now.”

“Um....”

“It's a work phone, but as long as you aren't racking up huge data charges, use it as you like,” she said with a warm smile. “Welcome to Xtasy video, Kurokawa-san.”

He was a contracted employee of a major porn production company. It still felt completely surreal.

~*~*~

After the phone, Umi took him to another office that turned out to be a video editing suite. But more surprising than that was the discovery that one of Xtasy's star omegas, AKi, was a post-production chief.

“Well, I'm not going to be young and beautiful forever,” the omega said, laughing easily. “So are you interested in learning behind the camera work, too?”

“I, um, hadn't thought about it, but ... maybe? I don't ... really know much about the process,” he admitted, embarrassment flushing his cheeks.

“Precious,” Aki said with a grin. “Well, I've got a deadline tonight, but tomorrow? Umi-kun, has he been cast in anything major yet?”

“Yeah, but Ga-sama isn't sending us scripts until tomorrow,” his escort said with a casual shrug.

“All right. Do you know your own phone number yet, Mizuki-kun?”

“Um....”

“Don't worry about it, I'll get it from your personnel file later,” Aki said with a little dismissive wave. “And then text it to you so you'll know it's me.”

Mizuki bowed as he thanked the man for taking time to see him, startled by the hug he got in return. And then Umi was walking him down to the building lobby. It was probably time for him to go home, but some part of him didn't want to lose the alpha's company just yet. At the same time, he couldn't think of a single excuse to keep the alpha close.

“I'm sorry I couldn't get you a leading role,” Umi said quietly as they stood paused in the lobby.

“Wh-what?”

“I know I dangled that as a way to get you into Ga-sama's office. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have promised you something like that, it wasn't my place,” the alpha explained.

“Oh,” he said softly, glancing away from him. He had almost forgotten that part in all the surrealness of being contracted to Xtasy Video and having an actual career path put in front of him. One that sounded a lot like it included training in whatever sorts of behind-the-scenes work caught his interest and could lead to continuing work with the company if and when he decided he was done being in front of the camera.

“He ... he wasn't thinking wrongly, really,” he said at last, almost a sigh. “I've done a couple longer vignettes, but most of my videos, the bulk of the runtime was me, well ... yeah. Not acting. My job was just to look pretty, really, make the alpha look good.”

“... if you want ... I've still got my old scripts, if you wanted to get in some acting practice?”

“... seriously? You ... you don't have to put yourself out like that for someone like me....”

“I got you into this,” Umi replied with a casual shrug. Mizuki bit his lip, glancing back at Umi from under his lashes. He couldn't tell if the offer was meant to just help him get used to the whole concept of acting or a thinly veiled attempt to get him into bed. Umi wasn't as overbuilt as the alphas Mizuki had been doing videos under with Doll's House and in a way, that made him better. More real, more like the sort of alpha Mizuki might have wanted for himself. He wasn't sure if his supporting role was even going to have a sex scene, let alone if it would be with Umi. Come to think of it, he didn't think he had ever watched even one of Xtasy's epic cinema-style productions or if that was even what Umi's next script was going to be. There was a lot about his new company he didn't yet know.

“Maybe ... we can start with dinner and you can tell me how Ga-sama does things? Cuz it, uh, kinda sounds like I have no idea how an Xtasy production is done. At all.”

“Yeah, I can do that,” Umi said, his boyish smile making something wiggle inside Mizuki's chest. “I can definitely do that.”

~*~*~

Umi was so busy watching Mizuki pacing his small living room that he completely forgot they were supposed to be rehearsing a scene.

“Umi-san!”

“Hmm?”

“That's not ... if you're tired, I can go home....”

“Sorry, sorry, I was just thinking ... you're a natural, you know that? Rui-kun had to do so many takes when we were filming this, Ga-sama threatened to fire him on the spot if he couldn't get his act together,” Umi explained, chuckling a little. To his credit, that was the last time Rui gave a director so much trouble.

“I suppose that's one ... benefit of not having much or any dialogue or story – I don't think I've ever had to do multiple takes for anything.”

“Kitamura-sama's unit does those kinds of videos. Quick setup and right into the sex,” Umi said with a nod. “You'll probably be working with him for a day or two before we start shooting with Ga-sama, as a way of getting you used to how we do things.”

“Does, um, how does that work?”

“You should get an e-mail from him in the morning, after Ga-sama sets his shooting schedule,” he explained, watching the younger man with a smile. “Kitamura-san will want to meet with you, probably early in the day, to discuss experience and comfort levels. I'm not sure what all he has on his plate right now, but if he wants you to do scenes this weekend ... you could ask to do one with me? If you wanted. You know, so you can feel more comfortable, not surrounded by only complete strangers.”

“I, um...”

Umi watched, biting back a grin when Mizuki blushed and looked down at his hands. It really was adorable, not something most people would expect of a porn actor. Getting up from the couch, Umi walked over to the omega, catching his chin and brushing a kiss to Mizuki's lips. The omega instantly froze, though there was no panic in his scent, which was something of a relief. Even so....

“Sorry, I should have asked first,” he said, stepping back and letting his hand fall back to his side. To his surprise, Mizuki stepped forward, grabbing his head and pressing a needy kiss to his lips. Want flared through the omega's scent and Umi groaned, pulling him closer. So why was there a little voice in the back of his head trying to tell him to stop?

“Mizuki-kun?”

“You ... you've worked with Kitamura-sama before, right?”

“Yeah, we all do.”

“... teach me what he likes to see?”

“What he likes, what all the directors like,” he said, tucking a loose strand of hair behind Mizuki's ear, “is a sense of natural chemistry. Everybody agrees to a scene or it doesn't happen. That's why he'll want to talk to you, so he can match you with scenes and partners suited to you.”

Mizuki bit his lip as he seemed to be thinking this over, then nodded decisively, reaching out to start unbuttoning Umi's shirt.

“Mizuki-kun?”

“Best way to know if we have chemistry is to sleep together, right?” the omega said with a little smirk. “I'm too old to still be doing the whole awkward virgin thing, so we really should sleep together at least once before we have to do it on camera.”

Umi wasn't really prepared to argue with that, chuckling as he started tugging on Mizuki's shirt. Although that quickly revealed a different issue.

“This might be easier if we just undressed ourselves. Bed's in there, by the way.”

Mizuki stepped back again and there really was something almost devilish about his smile.

“You first?”

“... I don't think you have to worry about reading as an awkward virgin on camera, Mizuki-kun,” he said, heading for his bedroom. It wasn't far and Umi stripped off everything as he went so he could sit on the foot of the bed, completely naked. It was almost disappointing and yet a little exciting to see Mizuki was still fully clothed, the omega stopped just beyond his reach to start a little strip tease that had Umi quite hard by the time the naked omega finally climbed into his lip. Groaning, he pulled the omega closer, pressing his nose into brown hair and drinking in his scent. Cherry wood and crisp spring sunlight, and under that the deep, heady musk of an omega eager to be knotted. Umi pressed a hungry kiss to Mizuki's lips, welcoming his tongue with his own even as he pulled the omega close. And yet he wasn't prepared for how quickly Mizuki moved, rising up on his knees to suddenly sink down on his cock, hot and so, so wet.

“Jesus fucking....”

A throaty laugh and Mizuki started riding him with an eagerness that might have looked real on camera, but smelled entirely fake to Umi's nose. He doubted the low growl was adequate warning for the way he picked Mizuki up, only to toss him down on the bed, pinning him to the mattress.

“We're not on camera, Mizuki-kun. No faking,” he growled, leaning in to nip at his throat. “Kitamura-sama and Taizo-san are betas, you might get away with faking things with them, but I wouldn't count on it. You certainly won't with Ga-sama.”

Mizuki seemed to shrink away from him, collapsing in on himself. Umi wanted to kick himself, but.... Stifling a sigh, he leaned back and brushed the fringe from the omega's eyes.

“... is that ... you don't have to do this, Hi-kun,” he murmured, brushing a kiss to his forehead. Mizuki went completely still for a long moment, not even breathing. A heavy shudder and he tried to pull away from him. Umi let him without protest, watching as Mizuki pulled himself up against the headboard, wrapping arms around his knees and trying to make himself as small as possible.

“Don't ... please don't call me that,” the omega mumbled into his knees. Sliding down off the foot of the bed, Umi pulled on a pair of boxers before sitting back down at the foot of the bed, offering Mizuki his shirt. The blush that raced into his cheeks as he pulled the shirt on really was too cute.

“Let's talk, yeah? Hi, my name's Takeshita Youhei and I do porn to pay my bills. And because I genuinely enjoy working for Xtasy. How about you?”

“Kurokawa Mizuki and I do porn because it's better than being a host club whore and there's nothing else I'm qualified to do.”

Umi forced himself not to scowl, not to let out any of the anger he felt at those words. Was this the real reason Gackt had wanted Mizuki to meet Aki so urgently? Yet how had the alpha known this was how Mizuki viewed himself? For a certainty, if he ever ran into that jackass Kitazaki in a dark alley, it might well take more self-control than he actually had not to beat the man to a pulp.

“We went about this all wrong, yeah? I'm going to put on some coffee and we'll ... watch a movie or something, okay? Anything you want.”

“ ... I ...would it be too weird if I asked if we could watch one of your videos?”

“Maybe a little weird, but ... we can, yeah, if that's what you want.”

“The one with Rui-san?”

“It's on the shelf,” Umi said with a nod, getting up from the bed. “How about you get that set up while I get the coffee? Are you hungry?”

Mizuki shook his head as he shuffled off the bed. That was fine, though he might microwave a couple sweet buns anyway. Faced with an actual snack, the omega might change his mind.

Umi knew several of his coworkers couldn't stand watching their own videos. He wasn't as against it as some, though it certainly wasn't something he did regularly. Watching with Mizuki, someone who was familiar with Umi only by reputation and blog rumor rather than any of his actual work.... Seeing his reactions was almost like seeing the work with fresh eyes himself. And all right, it did his ego good to see how much the omega was getting turned on by his work.

“That ... that was a lot of work. Like real acting work, not just sex.”

“Are you saying sex isn't work?” Umi teased, loving the way pink raced into Mizuki's cheeks.

“Well ... it's different. It's all different. Almost ... natural.”

“That's kinda Tanaka-sama's signature style,” Umi said, nodding and smiling. “With his scripts, he really tries for an organic feel to the sex scenes instead of just 'well, it's a porno, of course there's sex everywhere, who cares why they're doing it,' you know? Not everything we do is like that, Tanaka-sama's only one of the staff writers, but his scripts tend to be among my favorites.”

“... I ... I'm sorry about ... about before,” Mizuki said after a moment, squirming a little at the far end of the couch. “That ... I guess working with Doll's House warped my perceptions. None of the alphas I'd worked with ever stopped me before.”

Umi had to choke down another spike of rage at Mizuki's previous company. He had heard a few times from other coworkers that Xtasy was pretty different, as a company, but he hadn't realized just how different.

“Xtasy's corporate bosses have a pretty set ethic and company culture. All actors are treated equally, as real people first, regardless of designation or role. No faking, okay? Especially off camera.”

A beat and, still blushing, Mizuki climbed into Umi's lap, curling fingers into the hair at the back of his neck.

“Remind me how it's supposed to be?” the omega asked softly. Umi couldn't help but smile.

“Gladly.”