A/N: This is generally set before the events in the manga, but you can take it wherever you think it fits. :D

The Nightingale

Reira hates the pen, and the pen hates Reira, and the papers with the half-scribbled words are the worst spectators in the world, so much so that she just wants to toss the whole lot in the trash can and roll up on her bed and forget about being a singer, forever, because it shouldn't have to be this hard. Because this song should have been written days ago, if she wants them to have enough material for their CD, anyway; and because Takumi will have her head tomorrow if they still don't have at least the first verse and the chorus. They've got things like deadlines and concerts and single sales to worry about, and they don't have time to wait for fickle things like inspiration.

But Reira hates the business side of singing almost as much as she hates the pen, so she closes her eyes and tries not think about it. That's not what she should be thinking of. She should think about the melody. Think about the song. Think about the strings on the guitar being pulled by Ren's fingers, and it's such a beautiful composition again, and she's not worth it. Is any of this worth it? But Trapnest is her only home and her heart and the rest of the world is a cavern full of shadows and if she takes one step outside – surely – surely she'll be eaten by wolves.

Not that they would ever let her venture so far. Even Naoki, with his silly smile and his bottles of blonde dye on their communal bathroom sink, is always sure to ask her where she plans to go out, and for how long, and would she like him to call a cab?

"I've got legs too, you know," is what she wants to say sometimes, but she just smiles and answers "No, thank you," 'cause he does those things out of concern and she knows it, too. They all care about her. They all care for her. And she knows she's not worth any of it – not Reira, gosh no! – only her voice has any value, and that's good enough, if it means her existence is worth something. Anything.

If only she could put her voice in a little box, keep it under lock and key, let it stay this beautiful forever; if only she were made of wood and metal, like the clockwork nightingale on the emperor's bedside (and what's the point of fairytales, anyway? they're only dreams and illusions and lies that will someday surface when you've outgrown pigtails and had your first kiss and your first broken heart). If only she were content to stay in her cage.

But there is no room for artistry in a space so small, and even the paper has been looking like iron bars to her these days. The ride that morning had been tinged with friction yet again, because Takumi couldn't begin his arrangements if she didn't have the lyrics yet, and the recording was already set for the end of the week. "Ren, can't you write the lyrics?" She was wheedling, but there was also a hint of seriousness in her voice, and she sincerely hoped that he would notice. To her distress, the guitarist just looked at her as if she'd sprouted flowers from her head.

"Uh. No." He lit his cigarette and laughed. "I'm awful with words."

"Don't be insane, Reira," Takumi sighed. "If you can't write them, at least ask me."

"Yes, master," she responded, in her best imitation of a robot. Then she realized what she was saying and panicked. "Wait! No! You can't write them, Takumi! Your cold words would just make all the girls cry!" They all stared at her blankly, and she gazed back at them, distraught. "At least give me one more night?"

Ren and Naoki burst out laughing, and even Mari had to stifle a giggle. Takumi raised an eyebrow in irritation, but merely lit his own cigarette and turned his head out the window. "You're all crazy. Go ahead, have one more night. But you know, Reira -" from his reflection in the window, she could see his fingers resting on his lips in contemplation, muffling his tone a little. "Even if you sang only nonsense, or lalala's, it would still be the most beautiful sound in the world."

Reira hates the tears that fall on the paper and blot the meager lyrics that have started to creep out, shy and uneasy, like four-year-olds at their first day in Kindergarten. Her own first day was awful; she couldn't answer any of the teacher's questions, and the boys called her stupid and picked on her, while the girls merely turned their heads away and ignored her. She hated that look in their eyes, of not understanding, of happiness at her misery. Why are people so happy when others suffer?

And if he hadn't been there –

- but she hates that image of him, kicking that boy away from her, she hates the fury in his eyes (still so huge then!); she hates that him who made her fall in love, who makes her in love, every day, enough to burn up her heart until it explodes from misuse. She hates love. Period.

Love hates her almost as much as the pen does. But she has to work, now, or else he will be writing their next single, and when it comes out on the radio girls all over Japan will be having their hearts broken, and doesn't she know it. What sort of words would he put to this tune, this humble concoction of chords and scales that Ren offers up to be butchered into their next saleable "gorgeous song?" What does that man know of, besides work? Does he know about all the tender hearts he holds in his unforgiving hands, his dirty hands, his cold hands? Does he ever think about Sumika-chan or his poor girls in London, just clinging on to the promise of a next time?

Maybe all he thinks about is her voice.

That should make her happy, but for some reason, it doesn't.

She asked him, once. There was a storm raging outside the studio, and all of them were in a gloomy mood. "What if I stopped singing?" She was angry, tired of being pushed and pushed like a machine with too little grease, tired of being tired, tired of knowing that she was only as good as her throat could make her. What worth would I be? The question echoed off the soundproof walls long after it had been asked. Takumi didn't even look at her - he ignored her completely, and just sat down on the couch, fiddling with the sheet music in front of him.

There was a silence that seemed to drone on for an eternity, even when Naoki started to snore, somewhere in the background, and Ren discreetly turned a page in his latest issue of Jump. Eventually Takumi stood and started to leave the room. She grabbed at his sleeve. "Takumi!" He shook her off, but not roughly; the motion was oddly gentle. He stalked outside, and she went to sit beside Ren, lacing her arms around her knees, so that her hands would stop trembling.

He didn't come back. Mari nervously suggested that they just finish recording the following day. When Reira looked out the window later that afternoon, she saw him on the steps beside the parking lot, an unlit cigarette in his mouth, the rain running like tears down his face.

She has never brought up the subject again.

Do you know why I named it Trapnest? Because your song is a place where people can't escape from; a place where they will be trapped by your voice. Forever.

She does not want to write about this heartache, but that's the only source she seems to have, the one wellspring that has not emptied out inside her, emptied out like all the other things, like the money in her wallet and the joy in her smile and the hope that she wants so badly to give to others (since she can't have any herself). She does not want to write about this man – this demon – this cage of dark hair and cool eyes and the hardest heart in the world. She does not want to write about how she has been trapped by her own voice, in her own nest, in a fortress of loneliness and muted feelings and painful thoughts.

Why do you sing?

Because it's the only way I know how to live.

Sometimes Reira hates life.

But tonight her only enemy is the pen, or rather the paper (so it was the paper all along!), which she attacks with a newfound fury. She puts Ren's beautiful melody on loop and tries, tries, tries. She sings with desperation, she sings with loneliness, she sings the only way she knows how, as if her heartbeat depends on it, as if her existence depends on it, and it does, oh how it does, and there is not enough ink and not enough paper for all of this – not enough – never enough. The sun is coming up from the hotel windows, and the sun is like rainbows cutting through the prisms (that are really tears) in her eyes and it's finally done.

There's a reason why all their singles have been love songs. (And not just because it sells.)

She presents the song to Takumi in the van that day, a big smile accompanying the biggest pair of shades in her dresser (because she doesn't want anyone to notice her puffy eyes). He scans the page with an indifferent expression, but when he hands it back to her he has that gentle smile on (oh yes, she hates that, too), and he says, "I like it. It's great."

Her chest is a complicated swamp of knots, and it all tightens up inside her, all that hard work and hurt for just a short phrase of gratitude and it's worth it, it's all worth it. Never mind all the years that she's wasted nursing this little ache; never mind all the years she knows she'll still waste. At least it's easier to write when one's heart is broken (which, in her case, could be forever). That seems to be the only time the gods of music have any sympathy. And that's fine. After all, when Reira is not busy hating those faceless idols, she passes time by hating herself.

A/N: Reira isn't one of my favorite characters in the NANA series, but I feel really sorry for her. XD Her love story is so heart-wrenchingly dramatic. Haha. Thank you for reading. Comments would be greatly appreciated.