It was so different, seeing him asleep. Kou Kijin-sama was so stern and severe when awake, holding himself perfectly upright when he walked and still and unmovable as stone when he sat. Like a statue, Shuurei mused.

Sleeping, he was neither so frightening nor so mysterious. Even the mask had relaxed, slipping slightly to the side, revealing a tantalizing glimpse of smooth pale skin. It would take the merest nudge of a finger to set the thing entirely awry.

Not that Shuurei would ever invade her superior's privacy in such a way.

But that mask was laying on his face so oddly. Perhaps it was constricting his airway! Perhaps it would cause trouble for his breathing! She would be remiss indeed to allow anything to happen to her superior. So removing the mask would be an act of kindness, really. A rescue, almost.

It took barely a moment to twitch the mask aside. Shuurei drew a startled breath. What a beautiful man! She sat on the edge of the couch, studying his face. Beautiful, indeed; by far the most beautiful person, man or woman, she had ever seen. Kou Kijin-sama was like a statue come to life, or a perfect painting made flesh.

His skin was white and unmarred. His hair was black, sleek and gleaming. High cheekbones; a straight, elegant nose; petal-pink lips perfectly formed. Long eyelashes lay against his smooth cheeks like blackbird's wings. Shuurei supposed his eyes would be dark too, like his hair. She was so fascinated that she did not realize she was leaning forward until the edge of her sleeve brushed against his chest.

At the end of her sleeve was her hand, so close to that beautiful face…

Some mad impulse drew her hand forward. She laid it gently against his cheek. Such beauty would always be beyond her, but she ached to touch it, if only for a moment.

The long eyelashes fluttered, and Shuurei began to draw away. Lightning-swift, one of his hands reached up and caught her wrist, and Kou Kijin-sama's eyes flew open.

Suddenly he seemed less like an abstract ideal of beauty and more of a man—a dangerous man. His fierce dark eyes held hers. Shuurei froze, feeling like a rabbit faced with a wolf, helpless to flee and waiting to be devoured. She tried to escape, to twitch her hand away from his face, but he held her fast.

Shuurei could feel her own face burning, and she dropped her eyes, heart pounding, feeling terrified and guilty and something else too, something she could not quite identify. "I thought you were sleeping."

"I was."

Kou Kijin-sama lifted his other hand to her shoulder, sliding it upward to cup the nape of her neck. The feel of his hand on her skin startled her into looking at him again. His eyes were heavy-lidded, and the expression in them was like nothing she had ever seen: focused, heavy, intent.

She cast about for something to say, something that would distract him, and said, "I'm sorry I disturbed you."

"You didn't," he said, and gently pulled her down. His mouth was warm, and softer than she had imagined; the hand at her nape slid gently upward into her hair, tilting her head, fixing her at a convenient position for his searching mouth. It was a long, leisurely kiss; Shuurei was rosy and gasping for breath when Kou Kijin-sama permitted her to pull away.

He kept hold of her hand. "What were you looking for in my face?" he asked. "Did you find it?"

"I don't know," said Shuurei, whose habit of truthfulness was not an asset in court.

Kou Kijin-sama laughed, and the smile that accompanied the laugh was so devastating that Shuurei's heart, already racing, leaped into an even higher speed. "When will you know?"

"I don't know," she repeated, and then greatly daring, added, "Maybe I need to do more research."

Kou Kijin-sama's eyes were tender and mocking at once, and Shuurei felt the blush mount in her cheeks again. "Maybe you do," he said thoughtfully. "Shall we see what we can discover together?"

His mouth was serious now, but his eyes were still laughing. Did he know what she was thinking? She wouldn't put it past him.

Kou Kijin-sama settled the mask back on his face, but now it didn't hide anything from her. "Then tell your father I'm coming to see you this evening."

Shuurei rested cold hands against her hot cheeks, and went to speak with her father.