A/N: Hello again! This the 'Five Times' sequel. While I didn't expect my lil AU to already be blasted to smithereens, it has indeed. But, this does reference things up to and including the most recent Skip Beat chapter (ch. 248). I'm having a ton of fun with this. However, it does keep getting bigger and bigger. Do bear with me as I restructure/reformat the upcoming pieces so they flow well. Without further ado, enjoy!
Ren woke up smiling the day after his dinner date with Kyoko. Although she'd swear up and down that that wasn't the case. He had to chuckle thinking back on it. It had gone so well that it had soothed many of his lingering frustrations that'd been caused from their lack of communication and interaction in the past couple weeks. The power she had over his mood scared him at times, especially in the depths it sank to as if he could sometimes feel it in his very bones. She settled some uneasiness in him that was so deep that when he felt that loosen when around her, he knew that in those moments he was his truest self, no longer chained by that uneasy and unsettled emotion.
Pushing aside his sleepily contemplative mood of how at peace Kyoko made him feel, he thought back to what Director Shingai had mentioned. Mulling it over he decided he'd go in early and check out that offer. Shingai mentioning it like that had really stoked his curiosity. And the more he brooded over Kyoko, the more he knew he'd feel disinclined to start up the normal Tsuruga Ren lifestyle of busy professionalism. He sighed. It'd been so nice to not be Tsuruga Ren; he knew he'd struggle trying to be the gentle and professional Tsuruga Ren Japan knew him as. But, Shingai-san's offer had really caught his interest. He imagined that if he really focused on that, everything else might more easily slide into place.
Ren got in early enough at LME that he'd left himself nearly an hour until his next work meeting. He unlocked Yashiro's office and noticed the pile of offers on his desk. Shuffling through them, he grabbed Shingai's and started to peruse it. Ren quickly went over his schedule of the upcoming weeks with the times mentioned in the first page of the offer. If he timed it right, he could audition later in the week. Ren penciled it in on the calendar and then got down to delving into the actual story and the characters.
After ten minutes, Ren's immediate takeaway was that Shingai had undersold the scale of the production this project had the potential to be. Most period pieces had a small to mid-size cast, but this one. It had over twenty vital roles in the first act alone. Ren let out a soft, impressed whistle at the thought as he scanned the story for the character Shingai had him in mind for. Then he frowned as he looked through the pages. Shingai hadn't appeared to underline or highlight anything in particular for him.
Ren checked his watch for the time and then decided Shingai would probably answer if he called him up. Ren took out his phone and dialed it up.
"Moshi Moshi. Shingai here."
"Shingai-san, hello. Sorry for the early call, but your offer you mentioned got me interested so I came in early to check it out."
"Oh excellent, good to hear. So you're accepting then?"
"Well, actually, I'm not exactly sure what I'm supposed to accept. Do you have a role in mind you want me to audition for?"
Ren's brow furrowed in confusion as he heard Shingai stifle a chuckle. "I'm so sorry Ren-kun. My offer was for you to pick one you'd like to audition for. My apologies for the confusion."
Ren was speechless but Shingai continued, "Just let me know a good time and what interests you, and I'll do the rest of the work in setting it up."
"Shingai-san, thank you very much. That's quite kind."
"Still so humble after all this time, eh Ren?" Ren could still hear the faint amusement in the other man's voice. "Take it easy sometimes kid, you do great work."
"Thank you sir."
"Ah, before I forget. I'm still trying to wrangle the second act out of the screenwriter. So we're doing closed auditions currently as the screenwriter and I discuss casting as people come up through the auditioning process. We will definitely need several rounds of closed and open auditions as we work out initial and vital cast positions as opposed to the occasional and only one off roles. So try to not get attached to a particular role if you can."
Ren replied to the positive and they said their goodbyes. He tapped the script thoughtfully and settled in to actually read through it.
The cast was varied, with diplomats, soldiers, traditional innkeepers and every position that a traditional inn would have to keep running. There were tea-house staff, storekeepers and the run of the mill students. Ren more thoroughly checked out the main setting of the act. It appeared to be revolving around a small town at the base of a mountain in the 1950s. The premise of the piece seemed to be interactions between the town natives and the American troops coming in from the naval base and all parties trying to cohabitate amidst some political upheaval.
Ren pondered the implications of this. He knew some of the strife that came of the American occupation of Japan post the Second World War. It wasn't typically shown in Japanese media however, as most old laws in place had gotten the industry into the habit of censoring itself on the topic. Spring at Mt Oguso might cause quite the debate when it aired. He stiffened when he thought about how that might affect his own promise to Shingai to audition. Boss might nay-say this for me if he finds out. Ren thought quickly and went to erase the note he made on Yashiro's desk calendar. He knew the man would admit it to Lory if asked. Lory was ultimately his boss over Ren.
He looked over the cast and their individual summaries again. He nixed the older roles and the American ones. They'd have to cast from foreign immigrants or students for the American parts most likely. And he could only pull off a certain age. Looking through it with that lens, a diplomatic interpreter role popped out at him. So did the younger officer in the diplomatic protective detail. Both roles seemed quite versatile on the surface and rather unique for him. The interpreter was bookish and the officer rather soft-spoken. He sent an email off to Shingai with his decision and was happily perusing other offers, Shingai's safely hidden in his bag, when Yashiro finally stepped into the office.
"Well, you're early, have a nice night?" Yashiro smirked at him and Ren suppressed the urge to sigh.
"Good morning Yashiro-san. What do I need to look over for my next meeting?"
Yashiro pouted but pointed out the right paperwork. Ren just sent him a sunny smile and a thank you in response. Hopefully, Shingai could get back to him later in the day with times and then Yashiro and Lory could just be told when absolutely necessary.
Ren thought he might manage to make it to the afternoon without running into Lory but his luck ran out at lunch. Lory cornered him while he was eating at the LME Cafe and shot him a teasing smirk that made Ren silently curse his manager (conveniently absent currently) and his gossip.
"Have you settled in alright Ren? I know you must not have gotten much rest, what with just returning from Guam." Ren hoped dearly his irritation didn't show on his face.
"I'm quite well rested boss, thanks for asking. Can I help you at all? I think I might have some time free after I'm done with lunch." Ren's pleasantness caused Lory to slump as he internally despaired at his teasing falling short.
"No, just wanted to see how you were. I did happen to hear from a couple directors that they saw you and Mogami-san out and about. Did a certain picture come up in whatever discussion you two had?" Lory probed, carefully watching Ren's reaction.
Ren stiffened as he was reminded of it. His voice tight with frustration he replied, "Sorry President. It sure didn't. If it was at all important it might have. But it's not so it didn't." Lory eyed Ren's down-turned face as he ate a couple more quick bites of his lunch and decided to stop pressing the issue.
"Well, in any case, she seems to be doing well. I'd been worried how her issues with her mother would affect her. But, it seems all's well that ends well. I'm looking forward to seeing her work in Kurosaki's commercial series and what she'll do with the role of Momiji. Playing on the emotion of unrequited love… that'll be quite interesting indeed." Lory stroked his chin in thought as he spoke. Ren remained frustratingly silent on the matter however, and Lory was left with only the option of sighing depressingly as none of his arrows hit their mark.
The mention of Kyoko's mother, however, had made Ren pause and he had to stop to think. He'd been relieved that he was able to make Kyoko feel better about it but still, it made him wonder. That picture that got taken that night just exacerbated his concern. Fuwa's presence throughout the conversation he'd had that night with Kyoko was suspicious in its absence.
Before he was able to ponder that train of thought further, Lory spoke again. "You know Ren, you had appeared to loosen up a bit on your previous sojourn back here. And yet here you are, stiff as ever. Anything on your mind?"
Ren suppressed an irritated glare as Lory's line of questioning went more personal. Instead, he replied with a shrug, "Just been going over proposals and offers all day. Haven't had the chance to really relax yet."
Lory tapped a finger in thought on his chin, "You know Ren, if I recall correctly, you have an interview with Yappa Kimagure Rock next week, is that right?" Ren nodded hesitantly.
"You know, you've spent all this time building a gentlemanly and mature facade...it makes one wonder. Would this not be a good time to try to act a little bit more lightheartedly for your fans? Serious roles can take their toll. Building up all those protective walls, not letting anyone through… I'm sure that's been stressful, hm? It might help relieve some of the stress they cause for you to open up a bit more and start trying to work past the walls you put up."
Ren considered that for a moment, "Are you getting at something in particular? Like, oh I don't know, telling me to relax a little while doing this show?"
Lory smiled brightly, "Exactly! Bridge Rock is about your age, roughly. It might do you some good to not look so serious and mature next to those three."
Ren was nodding along in agreement, slightly relieved that Lory was just telling him to relax on occasion, when he felt his phone vibrate in his pocket. "Excuse me president, I think Yashiro might be calling me to my next meeting." Lory waved him on. Ren made sure to toss out what was left of his lunch as he looked at his phone. It hadn't been Yashiro. It'd been an email. Friday, 1 sharp, was Shingai's reply. Ren had to shake his head at the abruptness but smiled. It seemed he'd gotten himself into something interesting.
He felt the offer weighing on the back of his mind throughout the rest of the day and found himself feeling more excited for an audition than he'd been in a while. Later that night, he was skimming over it again while sipping on a small coffee as he waited for Yashiro to collect his things from his office. As he sat again at the cafe, he was once again interrupted.
"Tsuruga-san, I'm glad I caught you again!" Ren glanced away from his script in surprise at the voice. Ah, Kurosaki, not Lory. That… may not be so great either, shit.
"What can I do for you Director?" Ren asked coolly, trying to appear unfazed if the subject of Kyoko's gifts came up again.
Kurosaki plopped himself in the chair opposite him, folded his hands, and subjected him to some scrutiny long enough for Ren's eyebrow to twitch in aggravation. He stuffed his script back into his satchel and sighed.
"Director?" He asked again.
Kurosaki offered him a smirk and spoke, "I was actually just curious Tsuruga-san. When was the last time you were in a commercial?"
Ren blinked in surprise, "I couldn't say I recall exactly. Why?"
"I'm interested in doing one with Kyoko that's a bit different than what we're working on now. Saishi Style is going for a universally dependable branding set. But, their team might want her long term. Would you be interested in undertaking a commercial project with her in possible conjunction with Saishi?"
Ren wanted to leap without thinking when it came to working with Kyoko, so naturally, he quelled his immediate response of yes, definitely. He gazed thoughtfully at Kurosaki for a moment. "I think I would need to be given a good project proposal and then I could let you know."
"Just as astute as they say. Keep it in mind will you?" Ren nodded. He then felt a bit of surprise as the other man nodded abruptly in return, departing as quick as he'd come.
Before he could ponder it much further, he caught of Yashiro coming his way and stood so they could leave.
A couple days after Kyoko's dinner with Ren, Kurosaki confirmed the scheduling for the principal shooting days for the Saishi Style commercial. Kyoko honestly couldn't wait to begin. Kurosaki was a great director, and the rest of the production team seemed really enthusiastic about the project. Kyoko was absentmindedly grinning down at the confirmation email she'd received from Kurosaki while waiting backstage for Bridge Rock's weekly taping and it was this odd sight that Hikaru stumbled upon as he joined her in the wait area. He cocked his head to the side as curiosity overtook him.
"Did something good happen Kyoko-chan? Don't you need to get ready soon?"
Startled from her musings, Kyoko quickly stuffed her phone in her pocket as she went to step into the Bo costume. "Ah, absolutely! Let me just do that." Hikaru chuckled.
"You're so funny Kyoko-chan. What's your good news?"
Kyoko smiled brightly, "I start shooting on a commercial tomorrow!"
Hikaru congratulated her quickly as the rest of the group came together so they could get onto the stage in time.
Yuusei spoke up, "Did you guys hear who we got next week?" the rest shook their heads. "Some Dark Moon actors! They're doing promo work for the DVD releases!"
Horror slowly took over Kyoko as she thought over the possible guest appearances, "You don't mean like, Tsuruga-san or Kijima-san do you?"
"Oh yes, I think it's Tsuruga and maybe another. How exciting! We're so curious about how he trained for Katsuki as the role is so different from how he normally is. I hope he'll tell us."
Kyoko tried to control her internal screeches of fear as she hoped to any higher power out there that no one ever found out how Ren had found the solution to how he played Katsuki. Can this get any worse? I'm positive this can't get worse. Please don't let this get worse.
The higher powers weren't listening. Yuusei was looking over the information on his phone and said, "Oh, and it seems like Momose-san will be with him. Awesome! I bet she has more great behind the scenes stories!"
Kyoko could feel the doom weighing on her as she struggled to pull herself together in order to go on stage. No, it'll be fine. I just have to not break character. Tsuruga-san and Momose-san don't need to find out. I can make this work. As she and the Ishibashi's started taping, she stuffed all her doom-prophesying grudges into a box so she could focus on Bo and Bo's work. She desperately didn't think about next week's taping all through the current one. She was exhausted by the end of it, but more certain that she could manage it. I mean it's only an hour long taping, if I can't manage that, I shouldn't call myself an actress.
It was this thought that propelled her forward to the commercial shooting that had been confirmed for the following day. The Saishi Style team were so fun to work with, and Kurosaki was as thorough and detailed as ever. Kyoko shook off the rest of her doom and gloom fear and fell right into working with Kurosaki and the Saishi team.
Kyoko's role was a sort of revolving one, from student, to student tutor, to an after school internship, to a night out with friends. The plan was to do enough shooting that the commercial could be spliced seamlessly together to show the universal appeal and dependability of the Saishi products, such as shoes, makeup, various hair care products and hair styling items. The tagline that would be narrated over the commercial was to be, "No matter if you're in class, working or hanging with friends, depend on Saishi and we'll guarantee you'll look good."
Kyoko throughout the day was just having a blast trying everything on and experimenting with the style and makeup teams. Kurosaki, in his last email, had requested her to keep her necklace and bracelet as the one focal item that fit all the looks together, as a sort of easter egg for those with a detailed enough eye to notice that all these different looks were the same person. Kyoko was pleased to be able to keep them with her. They always gave her that confidence boost that made her feel extra pretty. She wasn't sure if that had been Ren's original goal, but she definitely reaped the benefits of the side-effect.
The first day was the costume fittings, and style testing. They would also do some interior studio shots of her getting ready, and then the rest of the shooting would be done with some extras at a college location. It had apparently been Kurosaki's alma mater and he did enough outreach there in the program that he was allowed to reserve areas of the campus at relatively short notice. It was also a great place to scout extras according to Kyoko's current stylist.
"Their arts program is just wonderfully developed! My younger sister is actually applying since she's graduating high school soon and her school just didn't have that great of an arts program." Her stylist cheerfully chatted about it as they tried to decide whether or not to twist her hair up for the night out scene.
Hearing about how well developed the program for the college was made Kyoko wonder if it'd be worth it to pursue her own education past high school. It'd be worth it to learn more for myself, wouldn't it? Kyoko pursed her lips in thought. She hadn't really ever thought she might go further than high school. But, it was a seed of a thought. She refocused her attention on her makeup artist as they began applying a face cream. That seed of a thought stayed in the back of her mind, however, and for the first time in a while, she wondered about there being something other than acting in her future.
Around the same time Kyoko was experimenting with makeup with an equally excited team of makeup people, Ren was being introduced to one Takashi-san, scriptwriter for Spring at Mt Oguso. She was obviously middle-aged and well dressed. At the moment however, she appeared more dissatisfied than welcoming.
"Shingai-san, I know you've worked with Tsuruga-san before but I've never really considered him for a period piece. His height alone breaks the suspension of disbelief."
"Well that's what my directing tips and tricks are for. To overcome those pesky obstacles." Shingai tried to placate her. Ren gauged her mood and judged that it might be working. Slightly.
"Nothing says he'll for sure pass every round right? But if you want this to have such a large cast, we do need people that are solid hard-working acts to anchor the whole production. I know that just from my personal experience. And this guy is one of the best in the business." Shingai continued trying to assure her.
"Thank you sir." Ren murmured. Shingai shot him a quick smile before continuing.
"We already set up an audition today so the casting director, along with you and I, can check out what he's interested in doing. What will it hurt to go through with it?"
Takashi sighed but seemed to thaw a little, "As you say Director-san."
Shingai smiled a little and then had them follow him into a room a little further away down the corridor.
"Ren, this is our casting director Nanaka. Please, begin whenever you'd like." The three settled in across from Ren as he bowed to the casting director in greeting.
He sincerely hoped he could win over the screenwriter. He felt a familiar determination settle into his bones as he began the Officer's monologue to the Head Diplomat, Yoneda Michitada.
About halfway through said monologue, Takashi interrupted him.
"Look, I don't mean to be a bad guy here, but Officer Yamamoto is not nearly as intense as how you're playing him. I get that this was a good place to start from with you, what with other roles you've played, but I'm just not feeling it. Was there someone else you wanted to do? I'd rather see you play a different archetype than this."
Ren wasn't surprised, he hadn't been sure either if Officer Yamamoto would be the right fit for the type of presence he brought to the screen. "Ah, certainly Takashi-san. The Interpreter, Tanaka, I thought I might also try that role." Shingai looked surprised.
"Huh. That's not one I thought of. Are you well versed in English Ren-kun?" Shingai asked.
Ren nodded swiftly, then spoke in English, "I certainly am sir and the interactions between the Japanese diplomats and American soldiers as written here in the dialogue reference a fascinating discourse one could have on the intermingling between these two peoples, their cultures both then and now, and the consequences of Japan being held under American control for so long." Shingai sat and stared, flummoxed at the words spilling out of Ren's mouth. Takashi-san, however, smiled.
"Well done, Tsuruga-kun. You hit on an issue immensely pertinent to this series. I think I will move you to the next round of auditions." Ren felt relief flow through him at that. Both more difficult and easier than I thought. "I'd be pleased to discuss what you mentioned with you further sometime in the future Tsuruga-kun." Ren inclined his head in agreement, feeling like he had passed a test he hadn't studied for.
Takashi-san is fiercely protective of this. Ren mused to himself as they set up another audition time, one with someone else for which he could test chemistry with. He said his goodbyes to the team leading the auditions and thought over it more as he walked out to where his car was parked so he could leave to meet up with Yashiro. This production, it could be a groundbreaking series if done right; especially in bringing light to issues that plagued both cultures then, and whose consequences were still felt in the present day. Ren could definitely understand why Takashi-san would be protective. Ren's determination to see it through only grew as he thought about that and about its potential.
Kyoko had briefly forgotten, due to her very successfully completed commercial shooting, about the problem she potentially had for the day ahead with Kimagure's shoot. She was sitting, just like the week before, in a mostly out of the way area away from the stage hands. She was currently bemoaning her fate when she saw Chiori coming by with a storm-cloud of an expression on her face. Her own worries flitted away in the face of this new potential problem. Kyoko stood and got her attention by waving her over.
After some slight pressure from Kyoko about what was bothering her, Chiori soon released her pent up frustration, "That stupidly irresponsible director is behind this! That wrap party we were all excited about, he invited Aoki to come!"
Kyoko let out an outraged gasp, "How dare he? Stupid director!" Their mutual disdain for this turn of events, just some more in a long line of ones caused by that irritating twat of a coworker, went on in this vein for a bit before Kyoko said:
"Well, Chiori-chan, if you have any other ideas about to handle the issues Aoki causes quietly, just let me or Moko-san know, I'm genuinely stumped on this." Chiori nodded and murmured a similar thought of solidarity.
Ren, on the other hand, had been just meandering backstage to maybe check out where Bo might be before shooting. Yashiro and he had done some snooping, and between the two of them, they were positive Bo was the mascot for the show he was about to interview with. He was a bit surprised, however, to overhear some angry conversation near Yappa Kimagure's backstage area. He'd heard that this was a pretty welcoming group to be around.
He rounded a corner to where he heard the faintly familiar voices but then stopped dead. He'd thought he'd heard Kyoko, briefly wondered if maybe LoveMe had had a task in the studio tonight but this; he had not been prepared for this. He tried to speak but he couldn't quite get past the shock of seeing her in a very familiar costume while holding a very, very familiar chicken head.
Amamiya-san was already looking in his direction over Kyoko's turned away shoulder and her eyes widened in surprise as she saw him standing there speechless.
"Ummm… Kyoko-chan…," Chiori muttered weakly while pointing him out. Ren saw Kyoko cock her head in confusion before following her gaze and turning around.
She dropped Bo's head as she let out an unholy screech, "WHY ARE YOU HERE EARLY?"
Ren's mood quickly soured. With that response… there was no doubt. She wasn't just subbing for some reason or another. Goddamn it. Do I have anyone I can turn to to discuss things that I want to keep to myself. Shit!
Kyoko aptly gauged his mood and her terrified face grew ever more guilty as she fell to the floor into a dogeza and apologized as best she could while still in the suit. Ren noticed Amamiya-san melting away out of sight of the confrontation. Ren crossed his arms and frowned as he tried to find words to ask his questions while this spectacle caught the attention of random stagehands.
"Mogami-san, please, get off the floor. You're causing a scene. We go on in twenty minutes. Come on. Be reasonable."
Even as she stood back up, the apologies gained strength in numbers, "Tsuuuruuuga-san! I'm so sorry! You just wanted to talk to someone! But I knew you didn't like me at the time! I hadn't the foggiest idea how to even let you know when we did become friends! Please! I feel so bad about this! Punish me for my insolence but don't hate me forever!" Ren's eyebrow twitched as he tried to smother his frustration as her wails grew louder. From the beginning, eh? That…explains a lot of this actually.
"Mogami-san, that's quite enough." His stern voice seemed to break through the stream of apologies long enough to make her quiet down.
"You do have a point here in that we didn't exactly start off the best of friends. But you are also correct in that I tend to be very private. What I have told you while you've worn that costume I most certainly would have never said if I'd known it was you." Ren gritted his teeth as held back stronger and more snappish words. He felt so terribly unbalanced at the moment and he had to struggle to think of a path forward that could lead to a discussion instead of a fight.
Blessedly, she quieted long enough for his initial reaction to become less explosive. "I appreciate these apologies, I do, but what I've said was very private. Did you ever tell anyone else?"
Kyoko shook her head fervently to the negative, "I would never! You were just so troubled that I just had to see if I could help. I just felt you had no one to turn to if you were that troubled all on your lonesome. I thought maybe if it was just some silly mascot, maybe you would be comfortable speaking about what troubled you. Truly, that's all I wanted. To try to help."
Ren blew out a sigh as he tried to work through this without causing more delays in his actual work due to being unprofessional. There was a nugget of an idea blossoming in his brain in which the both of them could make out for the better in this rather ridiculous situation. I've been wanting to be more honest after all, this might be a good first step.
Ren glanced again at Kyoko. The last thing I want is for her to be miserable. Ren knew now how much his own introverted act caused some of his actual communication issues...Boss might have had a point. I think I need to be better at making friends. Or at least be able to talk to people about what troubles me when they ask… it might cause me less hassle in the future at least… Ren straightened his backbone as he decided on a course of action. Lory wanted him to lighten up, so why not knock out two things at once.
"Mogami-san, you said you felt bad right?" Kyoko drooped further at his words but nodded her assent. Ren took a deep breath, it's now or never I suppose.
"If I tell you that you can learn something you've never been able to learn before about me while we do this taping because of something I actually do or say, what would you say?" He gazed steadily at her while she returned it, befuddled and wary. He'd gone into this thinking he could just talk a little more sincerely and open up a little more when asked questions, like Lory had mentioned. But, with Kyoko actually here and a part of this, and who would know more about him than the average individual, this actually would make him push himself a little more outside of his comfort zone. So why not?
He broke his train of thought as he listened to what Kyoko said as she spoke up tentatively, "I think I would first ask if you're comfortable with that. A lot of people want to know all sorts of things about you. It could be dangerous."
Ren smiled, almost giddy with relief. She's truly concerned about me. I'm sorry Mogami-san, but I had to be sure.
"No worries Mogami-san, I was told to be light-hearted this evening. This would just be an unusual fact I would let people know of."
Kyoko groped for the chicken head and tried to re-situate for her role as they only had a few minutes left. She pondered the comment a little more and finally said, "If you think it's OK Tsuruga-san, I trust your wisdom."
Ren shot her a fond look, and then found himself smirking playfully, "Then, in the case of you feeling bad and requesting some sort of punishment, if my unusual fact forces Bo to show shock or surprise of some sort while shooting, then I dare you to let me ask any question I like that you'll answer wholeheartedly and in complete honesty."
Kyoko shrank in terror at the smirk and the challenge. And then she sent him a suspicious look. "That depends Tsuruga-san, will you use that, or the answer I may give you, to manipulate me into doing something I'd rather not do?"
Ren just blinked at her, stunned at the accusation. With enormous effort he tried to not let the shock of her boldness show on his face. Clearing his throat and fighting down an embarrassed blush, he replied, "That's ah, a um, fair point to make. I may have been a bit pushy recently. But, this is really just an effort on my part for some transparency between us."
Kyoko felt a little bit more relieved at his earnest tone. She then found herself rising to the competitiveness in his earlier words. She held out a chicken wing to him after plopping Bo's head on her own, "It's a deal Tsuruga-san." After chuckling for a second, Ren took the wing and shook it.
They only had to wait a little longer until the Ishibashis, Yashiro, and Momose-san had joined them. The others chatted quietly while waiting to be called onto stage and Yashiro snuck them an interested glance as he took them in.
I'm sure Yashiro-san will be a tad surprised as well at what may come up this evening, Ren thought to himself, amused. Nodding slightly at his manager in greeting, Ren moved in closer to the chicken to murmur quietly and unobtrusively to Kyoko, "Are you actually free this evening after this?"
Kyoko nodded inside of the chicken suit and hoped the suit communicated the same.
"Oh good. How about we settle everything this evening then?" Ren smiled down at her and she ruffled her feathers menacingly.
"Don't be so certain you'll win mister. I'm gonna give it all I've got." He let out a small laugh at the challenge in Kyoko's voice and inclined his head in agreement. He caught an interested side glance Yashiro was shooting them as he heard the quiet voices. Ren was suddenly very glad that Kyoko was not universally known as Bo. He was sure the Ishibashis and LoveMe members knew, and probably a couple others that had to, but at least her secret was fairly well-kept. He faintly heard the speaker calling in the Ishibashis to the stage, then shortly after, for Momose-san to join the trio on stage.
He shot another amused glance down at Bo-Kyoko, "As you wish. But just remember this conversation later, will you?" Kyoko huffed at that but nodded again. She then promptly pushed Ren out on the stage as she heard the Ishibashis call him out. Yashiro shot her a faintly scandalized look. Kyoko didn't pay it much mind as she was trying to stifle laughter as Ren stumbled, righted himself, and then glared over his shoulder at her. Already in Bo's persona, she waved cheerily as the audience laughed at the byplay. In the same amused manner, he pointed at himself, then at her, inviting a challenge. The audience laughed again to see it.
After the various introductions were said, a small clip of the some scenes from Dark Moon played overhead on the Ishibashi's big screen. Ren briefly answered some questions about his method and got a sinking feeling in his gut as Shinichi Ishibashi turned towards Momose-san with a glint in his eye.
"Momose-san, we love that you're one of the few people to talk about behind the scenes antics. I know that you guys always get the chance to have commentary tracks on DVD releases, can you say whether or not there's more of those stories to look forward to on that commentary?"
"Oh yes, there's definitely a couple!"
"Excellent, would you by chance tell us one?" Shinichi asked eagerly, nearly elbowing Hikaru and Yuusei in his excitement.
Momose-san laughed as Ren started to face-palm. He didn't know if it was Momose-san's competitive spirit or what, but he came off terribly in these stories. He winced as he heard her start talking of the Episode Seven Incident. So named, due to it happening while shooting for episode seven (Dark Moon's cast and crew were just so creative). Ren groaned quietly, but his mic, attached to his collar, picked up on the faint noise and it had the audience tittering in amusement.
Momose-san glanced at him, also amused.
"So later in the series, as you may already know, the students are preparing for this music festival, and my character is very morose over it as she won't be able to have what family she has left in the audience to listen to her, and etcetera. So Katsuki is supposed to notice this, and approach her as she's helping make this banner and ask what's wrong and what have you." She paused for effect, the Ishibashis on the edge of their seats.
Kyoko, as Bo, was watching this in horrified fascination in the wings off stage, much as she would a train wreck. She'd had no idea Momose-san had such a good memory that she could rehash their behind the scenes mess ups for everyone else's enjoyment. Voice cracking with remembered entertainment, Momose-san continued,
"In case there are people here who don't know, our Kyoko-san has chestnut colored hair normally. She also appears quite different just in general appearance from Mio. You may spot her in the background of scenes as a filler extra, as she appears so very different from Mio when she doesn't have her Mio hair or makeup and isn't done up like her."
The Ishibashis began to slowly grin as they cottoned on to where this could be going. They knew Kyoko's antics well. Ren sunk further into his chair in dismay, who knew Momose-san had such great comedic pacing?
"So here I am, waiting to be approached, Kyoko-san is on a step stool putting the finishing touches of paint to a wooden sign in a doorway. And why there I am, with an excellent front row seat to what happened next."
Ren's very audible groan could be heard amidst various snickering and giggling. Momose-san's grin grew wider as she continued, "So an extra trips, stumbles into the step-stool, poor Kyoko-san just starts tumbling down, pint of paint, paintbrush and all and Tsuruga-san here promptly decides to step on said extra that tripped, who appears to just let him do so, all so Kyoko-san can be safely caught. Which, of course, Tsuruga-san does, in the most perfect princess hold you can possibly imagine." At this point, nearly every individual in the studio was outright chuckling at the mental image this created.
Momose-san just shook her head at them and cracked a wicked grin, "Oh it gets better." The Ishibashis were now listening in rapt fascination while Ren hoped to God and whoever else might be listening that if he could disappear within the next thirty seconds that'd be swell please and thank you. Kyoko was utterly relieved to be in a chicken suit and not withstanding the same torture Ren currently was.
"Kyoko-san just gives Tsuruga-san this astonished look, and with both of them covered in wet pastel pink paint that somehow is still dripping onto the tripped extra, who is still on the floor, poor Kyoko-san is just horrified but what somehow pops out of her mouth is, 'Why does even pastel pink look good on you?'."
Fighting now to be heard over the studio's uproarious laughter, Momose-san spoke again, "To which-to which! Tsuruga-san replies, 'Have no fear Mogami-san, I too found this garish coat to be in need of a change in color. I'm so glad you approve'.
"Then there was this fantastic comedic pause as we all just stopped to process what had just been said, but then the tripped extra started losing it, every other extra around also started losing it, and I start losing it and the director is laughing so hard he can't even call cut and absolutely nothing got done for about twenty minutes... Which in terms you people may understand, means that this was aaallll caught on tape." Momose-san settled back against the couch with an air of great satisfaction as she delivered her punch line. Her smirk did not fade even as the studio's rowdy laughter slowly calmed.
Kyoko watched with great sympathy as Ren struggled to bring his face back to a calm, less embarrassed facade.
"I gotta say Tsuruga-kun, that's a heck of a line," Hikaru addressed Ren while also trying to stifle the last of his snickers.
Ren held up a hand to signal a pause in fielding more questions and comments being thrown in from the audience, "I'm sorry I don't know if you all know Mogami-san well, but when things like that happen, she has a tendency to freak a little." He adjusted his position a little on the couch so as to address not just the audience, but his fellow individuals with him on the stage, "She's young and a bit self-conscious. I feel I gotta defend myself a little here. I was just trying to defuse the situation as we were in the middle of the scene and I was hoping to avoid it becoming, you know, like a bigger deal than it needed to be."
Momose-san rolled her eyes and decided to poke fun at him a bit. She leaned closer to the Ishibashis in an offhand stage sidebar that naturally, everyone could hear, "So he says, but really, one of his favorite pastimes was to just tease her mercilessly."
The Ishibashis exchanged surprised glances with each other and then they redirected their attention back to Ren, who had face-palmed in exasperation again. "That's quite surprising behavior from you Tsuruga-kun, isn't that right? Aren't you supposedly one of the most polite people to work with?" Yuusei asked.
Ren shrugged, keeping in mind Lory's advice, "I don't see why I can't be both. After all, if anyone here knows Mogami-san, they'll soon understand, if they don't already, how much fun she is to tease."
Kyoko glared at him from behind the couch, where she was currently positioned to walk onto the stage. One of these days, I'll get you back for that! She overheard a slight sigh and noticed a shake of the head from an exasperated looking Yashiro. She had to smile slightly inside her suit at it before she refocused on the events on stage
"Sometimes, that boy I swear." Momose-san's manager chuckled slightly to hear the other manager so ruffled.
The Ishibashis on stage exchanged another glance before Hikaru caught their AD making the motion to continue with their next variety section.
"Well thank you very much Momose-san, we definitely can't wait to hear this DVD commentary." Hikaru shot her a smile. "Now, our next section is a bit unusual, as we usually only do it with our non-musician guests, so you two are in luck! This is called Test Your Taste! As in, those music playlists we had you submit beforehand, that's what those were for."
Momose-san looked enthralled. "What exactly do we do?"
Yuusei smiled back at her, "We, and the audience, get to test our music knowledge against what your music tastes are like!"
Shinichi spoke up next, "So we break into teams, and we have Bo come out and join us so it's an even number of people if necessary, which it is tonight." Bo bowed and waved to the audience as they stepped on the stage.
Ren made the same challenging hand motion he did to Bo earlier, much to the audience's amusement, but Bo just turned their beak up haughtily and went to greet Momose-san with great chivalry. Momose-san giggled delightedly, right on cue, as Bo placed their beak on her hand in a mockery of a kiss and helped Momose-san up off the couch.
Bo then presented her to Hikaru, and the three of them stepped to another part of the stage, with the other three following close behind. This section of the stage had two mics set up with some whiteboards and markers on a table near it. Yuusei, Shinichi and Ren stepped up to one mic, while Bo, Hikaru and Momose-san went to the other. Shinichi tapped on the their mic to check that it was on.
"Alrightie, let me explain this a little bit more. Our guests here have five songs being handed to them. Our tech crew will play the music from each without the vocals. Our guests have to provide their own vocals, as best they can, and us on the teams here will try our best to back them up as we can."
Across the stage from that trio, Momose-san grabbed the mic as Hikaru was about to use it to speak, "Ohmygosh, let me guess, the opposing team has to guess what it is we're singing!"
Yuusei laughed, grabbed the mic from Shinichi, and nodded, "You go it! Now who's ready to go? It's best out of five! The songs will get increasingly harder to guess, as best we're able to figure that out, as we can't know like, every song that's ever been released. Winner takes home a prize!"
Momose-san fist pumped excitedly, "Yes! Let's do this! Me first!"
Hikaru chuckled and motioned for the tech to roll the song. Bo started tapping their foot as a heavy beat came across the speakers and surprisingly, Momose-san started belting out a wicked fast rap almost immediately. The guys across from them burst out laughing to see it and to see the quick turn around from her normally sweet faced appearance. You almost couldn't hear Momose-san once the audience let out an jubilant uproar as they recognized a top 40 song that had been real popular with the younger crowd in the past month.
Yuusei and Shinichi had to hold onto each other as they were giggling too much to write on the whiteboard. Ren took care of it for them, though he had to ask the title. He had to shrug inwardly as he wrote it out and held up the sign. He just really didn't keep up with Japanese pop.
The tech crew stopped the song as Hikaru applauded in congratulations for the other team guessing right. Momose-san wiped her brow clean of the sweat of the exertion and waved cheerfully to her supporters in the audience. Shinichi and Yuusei looked inquisitively at the placard Ren held as they waited for the tech crew to change up the song.
"You were definitely a tad tricky Tsuruga-san. I have to say, I'm looking forward to this one." Hikaru teased the trio across from them while Bo stepped forward and challenged Ren with with rapid wing-flapping.
Ren kind of wanted to pout, he was pretty sure Bo-Kyoko had an unfair advantage here. As he'd just turned in a recent one he'd made up for Cain and Setsu, the two of them had happened to jam out to quite a few of these tunes hanging out in their hotel room in Guam the last couple days they'd been there. Can't exactly reveal that though…. Ah well. But really, music was one of those things where he had such Americanized tastes that this would probably startle more than a few people. Ren sighed as the first sounds of Wrong Side of Heaven started piping through the speakers. In the spirit of his promise with Kyoko, and in returning Momose-san's challenging first choice, he decided to give it his all anyways.
"I spoke to God today and she said that she's ashamed…What have I become. What have I done… I spoke to the devil today and he swears he's not to blame… And I understood 'cause I feel the same…" Ren wasn't untrained in vocals, it just definitely wasn't his favorite thing to do. But he had a raspiness that Kyoko as Setsu had said was nice.
As an entertainer however, he could recognize the surprise emanating from an audience. While Kyoko might have known he was well versed in English, a great majority of others did not. Well, it was what it was. He imagined this might not have been what Lory might have expected but, c'est la vie.
The song quickly picked up pace from it's slow start and Ren tried to add more of a deeper rasp, mimicking the original vocals as best he could while Yuusei and Shinichi tried to keep up the beat by stamping their feet. The audience seemed to pick up on what they were trying to do and tried to clap along to the beat. "Arms wide open...I stand alone...I'm no hero and I'm not made of stone...Right or wrong...I can hardly tell...I'm on the wrong side of heaven and the righteous side of hell. The wrong side of heaven and the righteous side, the righteous side of hell."
Ren didn't get much further before Bo-Kyoko had scribbled out 'Five Finger Death Punch's Wrong Side of Heaven' on their team's whiteboard while Momose-san looked on in amazement at what the chicken was writing. She shot an inquisitive glance to Hikaru who could only shrug back. Yuusei and Shinichi shouted out their congratulations to their team while Ren took a bow for his audience.
Momose-san sniffed and crossed her arms, "Just you wait Tsuruga-kun! I'll figure out the next one for sure!"
Ren smiled, "As you like Momose-san."
At this point the tech crew had queued up the next one of Momose-san's and so started round two. Momose-san had to pout as Shinichi and Yuusei quickly caught on her to next one. (Bo had tried hard to not shake her head in disappointment, it had been Sho's Prisoner).
Hikaru laughed lightly as he tried to make her feel better, "Don't feel too terrible Momose-san, we've just had him on the show before. He's one of those guys we follow."
Momose-san pretty quickly moved on to challenging Tsuruga again once she'd heard that.
"Go on Tsuruga-kun! What's next?"
Almost immediately the music started up and Ren had to quickly start up to not lose the beat of his song, "Just a young gun with a quick fuse. I was uptight, wanna let loose. I was dreaming of bigger things and wanna leave my own life behind. Not a yes sir, not a follower. Fit the box, fit the mold. Have a seat in the foyer, take a number. I was lightning before the thunder." This song was much faster, and Ren had to focus a lot to be able to keep up. However, it had also been featured in a commercial recently, so it'd become sort of a hit with it's catchy 'Light-ning-Thunder' chorus so Yuusei and Shinichi were quickly able to catch on and sing along with the chorus.
The audience were laughing and clapping along as Momose-san triumphantly spelled out 'Thunder: Imagine Dragons' on her whiteboard while Hikaru and Bo-Kyoko cheered her on.
Yuusei spoke up as the tech crew changed things up, "We are two for two! Who's gonna be first to trip up?!" He held a hand up to his ear, miming for the audience to shout out answers. Bo got in on this and flapped a wing dramatically towards Ren's team, but the audience booed that choice down. Bo huffed and stomped back behind Momose-san. Ren then booed along with the audience and pointed at Momose-san's team. The audience cheered that on.
Hikaru then got in on it by pointing both thumbs down to the ground and shaking his head. He and Shinichi then started sticking their tongues out at each other before the tech crew motioned for Momose-san to start again.
Momose-san was totally ready and started singing classic Enka. Yuusei and Shinichi were promptly horrified. They had no idea the title and to just say Enka was tantamount to failure. They slumped defeatedly against each other while Ren hung his head. They'd been had. Momose-san finished up the song while Bo cheered her on, having the audience go along with them.
Hikaru triumphantly pointed out their victory, "You are 2 for 3 now fellas! Come at us!"
The other team stiffened and Ren had to adjust his tie and cuffs real quick. He was positive he could get Kyoko with this next song. The music started up and he began singing. This was one he'd mostly put in as he was considering Cain and Setsu's relationship. Most of this playlist was actually due to him trying to create a sound Cain would have been interested and entertained by. He had to chuckle as he got to the chorus and she was still stumped. She'd begun hesitantly writing and he had to hold back a smirk as Yuusei and Shinichi tried to clap along to the beat. It seemed he'd stumped everyone with this.
"All aboard, I heard my sister sing...All aboard, and bring your offerings...That's me, I'm knockin' at the door. I'm thirsty...For more, for more, for more. That's me, I'm knockin' at the door. I'm knocking at the door. I'm knocking at the door. That's me...From the ground up...From the people...Turn the sound up...Like we mean it. Rise up, oh rise up, rise up, oh rise up. Rise up, rise up, rise up, rise up!" That's as far as he got before he saw Bo-Kyoko turn her board around with only, 'Knocking at the Door?'. She was buzzed out as it was only a partial answer and hung her head in despair.
Yuusei whooped, "Yo! You all are 2 for 3 now! How's that feel?"
Hikaru sniffed and turned to his other team members, "Alright, let's keep this up. Momose-san, what's up next?"
Bo despaired at the guilty look that came across her face. Momose-san held up a placard with Sho's most recent hit on it. Hikaru face-palmed and looked upwards, despondent for a moment before he shook it off.
"Alright, let's do this." And so they did. It was a tad painful, but they managed. Shinichi and Yuusei had great fun in making jokes at their expense however, while Ren looked on in amusement. Ren eventually grabbed the mic from Shinichi as the tech crew rolled out his fourth song. And really, it was one of his favorites. So while he might have been embarrassed otherwise, Momose-san had been trying so hard, so he felt he should just go for it.
"Said, I'm pulling down the shades for the long ride...I never knew that I could feel so black and blue...I've been holding onto something now for sometime...All I know is it's a feeling fit for two." He saw Bo-Kyoko's head shoot up in recognition. It should. You caught me singing this to myself at least twice in recent memory. Ren struggled to keep his voice even as he remembered how amused he'd been at the look on her face when she'd caught him tapping along to the beat in the car on their way to set one day.
"Cuz when the sunlight laid its head down on this dog night...And I was talking to myself in the rear view...Yeah I've got questions but I know everything is alright...All I have to do is just remember you..Cuz I'm never gonna lose you...I've got you deep inside my chest...And I can feel you beating like the soul of a drummer boy…" This song's beat was very catchy and Shinichi and Yuusei quickly caught on with the chorus what with it's many repetitions of 'Keep goin! Don't care what anybody say! Keep goin!'. Ren actually caught Bo-Kyoko bobbing their head along with the beat and wondered briefly if she was just letting him enjoy himself. He had to smile if that was the case.
"I've been fake and I've been free. I've been you and I've been me. But now I stand up tall for what I believe. Against all odds I walked that trail of fear...And tread on desperate leaves...But no one's leaving just yet...We all want that make believe!" Maybe Bo-Kyoko could hear his raspiness tiring out, but she went ahead and turned her whiteboard around with the answer of 'The Revivalists: Keep Going'. He had to stop to get a drink of water after that as his team congratulated the other.
Momose-san shook her head in amazement at the chicken as they waited for the crew, "Honestly you amaze me Mr. Bo. Are you an American Rock aficionado? What's up with this? And I tell you what, I never expected Tsuruga-san to be such a rock fan. Talk about a surprise."
Bo could only shrug as the crew queued up Momose-san's last song. She stamped her feet as she sang along with this one. It was a cheery JPop piece that, if Bo got the time correct, Ruriko had released after Ring Doh 2. It seemed to stump the other team though and they could only shrug. Bo flapped and cawed triumphantly as she noticed this. That meant the other team was 3 for 5.
Bo-Kyoko got a tad nervous as she saw Ren smirk and roll up his button-down's sleeves, take off his tie to stuff it in his pants pocket, and unbutton his shirt's first button. Surely, surely he wasn't going to go all out, not at this stage? At best, the two teams were just tied.
Remember this conversation later...The thought came unbidden to her and she nearly dropped her whiteboard as she remembered how he'd challenged her. Oh no...what could he possibly be doing now?!
Smooth, sultry music started coming through the speakers and Ren placed the mic on it's stand. He began clapping along to the beat, having Shinichi and Yuusei copy him, and then started singing. By the end of the first verse, Kyoko was frozen in place, blushing to the roots of her hair.
"Got a girl from the south side, got braids in her hair. First time I seen her walk by, man I 'bout fell off my chair. Had to get her number, it took me like six weeks. Now me and her go way back like Cadillac seats... Body like a back road, drivin' with my eyes closed...I know every curve like the back of my hand. Doin' 15 in a 30, I ain't in no hurry...I'mma take it slow just as fast as I can…" Ren couldn't help but smirk. This was never something he would have listened to with Kyoko around. It was full of innuendo that would have definitely made her smack him. But boy was it a fun song.
If at any point someone had asked Hikaru, esteemed leader of Bridge Rock, how this show would go, he probably would not have said, Oh you know, I'd expected it to be completely derailed by a decently talented tenor like Tsuruga-san who completely shamelessly started working the crowd. Why? I haven't the foggiest? But he keeps smirking at our chicken mascot like he knows who's under the mask so I imagine that might have something to do with it. You couldn't pay Hikaru to make this shit up. But Kyoko never broke character, so he was absolutely baffled (and also a bit jealous) at the confidence with which Tsuruga worked the audience and his fellows on the stage as Hikaru just could not figure out the purpose of it.
Bo-Kyoko at this point in the song was so flustered by the amount of innuendo-laced phrases spilling out of Ren's mouth, that she had to pull one of her prop hankies free of the hidden pocket to her costume and wave it in defeat. Momose-san looked just as stunned as she at the smooth huskiness of Ren's voice while singing such a song and Hikaru looked too overwhelmed to actually write anything down anyways. (Did the audience care? No they did not, in fact, some had outright swooned.) For the safety of all involved, Kyoko had to put a stop to this. With great, overly dramatic motions, she waved the white hankie around in a show of surrender.
Ren laughed to see it, as Yuusei and Shinichi motioned to cut off the music. Hikaru shook his head at them but took the defeat goodnaturedly.
"I say this with every respect Tsuruga-san, but please never go into the music business. We'd be overshadowed within a week." Hikaru crossed his arms, still maintaining a welcoming air but it was laden with a hint of a threat.
Ren held up his hands to show he was warned off well enough, "Not at all Hikaru-san, music never was a favorite of mine. I prefer to act."
Momose-san sighed, "I never would have guessed you were into American Rock Tsuruga-kun! Why's that?"
Ren smiled, "My mother actually."
Kyoko, having recovered slightly from Ren's sultriness, nearly cracked her neck she whipped it around in shock so fast to stare at him. Shinichi and Yuusei were amused by that action.
"Tsuruga-san, I think Bo's surprised by that! Maybe they thought you came from an egg full grown?" Shinichi snickered at his own joke.
Everyone in the studio laughed along with him so Bo just went with it, nodding fervently in agreement.
Hikaru, noticing the AD giving him the motion to wrap it up, gestured at the audience to quiet down so he could speak over them. "Please everyone, a round of applause to our amazing guests this evening! They were very patient, and quite agreeable! Give em a hand!"
The sound of the uproarious applause echoed out past the stage and into the hallways.
Hikaru smiled to hear it. Truly, this would be a show to remember. "Tsuruga-kun, I think everyone here might agree that you and Momose-san could split the prize, you all did do so exceptionally well. Here," He and the others pulled some folders off the table they were standing near and handed them to Ren and Momose-san, "We were able to get a couple Dark Moon finale scripts with your entire cast signatures. Please, cherish them. I think your fans of this show would think they deserve to stay with you." Ren and Momose-san thanked the Ishibashis graciously, awed and touched by the gesture.
The entire team then took a bow, said their goodbyes, applause still lingering as they walked off to the backstage area. Momose-san and her manager quickly greeted each other and her manager then turned to Ren, "Tsuruga-kun, we had no idea you had a talent for vocals!"
Ren shrugged lightly as he took in Yashiro's befuddled and faintly stunned countenance, "Eh, it's not really my thing, but I can have fun." They chatted a bit further before Momose-san and her manager waved goodbyes at them so they could head on home; Bo waving Momose-san goodbye with the hankie they still held while Momose-san giggled.
Once they were out of earshot, Yuusei clapped Ren on the shoulder, "Honestly Ren-kun that was brilliant. The ratings will probably go through the roof. Well done."
Kyoko had to pull off her head as she heard that. She wiggled out of the rest of the costume since it was overbearingly hot. She smiled in thanks at the stage hand that scooped it up for her to put it in its cart. As she wiped her brow free of sweat she shot Ren a glare, "I thought I had the advantage there Tsuruga-san! Just you wait! I don't know how, but I'll get you back for that."
Ren couldn't stop the smirk pulling at his lips as he drew himself up to his full height, one hand on a hip, "Oh no worries Mogami-san, I'm sure you will. But in the meantime, you should probably go change. You have an appointment after this after all." Without much care to his surroundings he shot her a rakish wink, riding high on the victory of his challenge.
Kyoko grit her teeth, and stamped her foot in frustration but could say nothing against that so she turned and flounced away. Ren let out a low laugh to see it and enjoyed watching her walk away.
The Ishibashis were a bit stunned at the interaction. Shinichi whistled softly as Hikaru spoke up, "I thought my eyes and ears might be deceiving me all evening, but no, really Tsuruga-san, you just have so much fun messing with her don't you?" His tone was slightly awed.
Ren cut a sharp glance down at him but decided to be a bit bold. If she'd been working with these fellows all along, who knew what kind of development would have occurred between them, "Do you not? It's a bit like pulling pigtails isn't it? You do it just for the attention. And well, once you have their attention, who knows what can happen." He smirked again as the Ishibashis appeared startled at the suggestion he layered in his voice. He then shrugged a little, "But you know, maybe that's just me. But it's worked so far. Yashiro?" He nodded his head to the man and gestured for him to go ahead of him.
He stopped his stride for a brief moment to look back and ask, "Boys, by the way, where's Kyoko's dressing room? I needed to give her a ride."
Yuusei pointed down the hallway to the right, "Couple doors down, it'll have a LoveME logo. That's hers."
Ren shot them a grin, "Thanks. Oh, and thanks again for the show. It went over way, way better than even I thought it would. See you around." The Ishibashis could only return the sentiment by nodding their heads, appearing faintly shocked still at his behavior. Well, they weren't the only ones. Yashiro still seemed rather stunned.
"You appear to have something on your mind Yashiro-san. Can I do anything for you?" Ren asked him pleasantly as they strolled towards Kyoko's dressing room. Yashiro could only shake his head no at him. Ren had to smother a laugh to see it. They waited across the hall until they heard the click of the door and saw Kyoko peek out, a cute sundress and cardigan her new outfit.
Yashiro smiled softly, "You look quite nice Kyoko-chan." She blushed but said thanks. She huffed a bit as she looked up at Ren.
"Well? You said you had a question?"
"Ah ah, don't think it'll be that easy. I'm hungry and I imagine you are also. I'm fully intending on making this a dinner date."
Kyoko blushed furiously at that and she shot him a glare. "Please be more aware of how people will take your words. But, if you're going to be so insistent, Okami-san told me they were holding dinner for me. I can call them and ask them to make you some if you're going to be so particular."
He shot her a brilliant smile, "That sounds lovely."
She rolled her eyes, a blush still riding high on her cheekbones, but got out her phone to contact them. Ren turned to Yashiro. "Yashiro-san, as much as I'd like to spend all night with you as well as my entire day, I hope you can find your own way home."
Yashiro shot him a disbelieving stare, "Wow, I think that's the rudest thing you've ever said to me."
Ren scoffed, "Hardly."
Yashiro shrugged, "It's no matter. I have things to do. Like drink and pray I can forget that I watched you work an entire studio audience just to pull one over on a teenager while simultaneously proving a point to the men she works with."
"That's a bit overly dramatic I think."
"No. No it's not. Good night Ren." A bit miffed now, Ren glared but sent him off with a farewell, regaining some of his good humor to hear Yashiro muttering about Bo-Kyoko and Kyoko-Bo as he walked away.
Kyoko quickly snapped him out of his remaining funk by looping her arm through his and pressing against him as they started to walk out of the building, "Niiiii-san, why'd you show off for that girl?"
Ren stared down at her, heart going a mile a minute at her forwardness, but decided to reply with a hint of humor, "Don't tell me your inner Setsu is jealous of Momose-san Mogami-san."
Kyoko put her nose in the air and stuck out her tongue, "That was our playlist wasn't it? Where'd that last song come from then? Do you play it for all your girls that aren't me?"
Ren struggled mightily to retain the fact that this was obviously just a Kyoko deciding to express her inner Setsu. Trying to keep that in mind, he teased a little more, "My my Mogami-san. I had no idea you cared so much for me. What should be our couple song then? Surely you have a preference? Shall we choose one together?"
"Ugh! You're incorrigible!" She tossed off his arm and stepped ahead of him into the parking lot where he was parked.
He had to snicker at her frustration, "The answer is yes if you want to know. That came from a playlist I've titled Songs to Play for Ladies I Like. How is it?"
Kyoko rolled her eyes as she got into his car, "It's eerily reminiscent of the playboy ways you purport not to have. So you got that going for you. Good job!"
He gave her a theatrical bow before he entered his driver's side, "So long as it pleases you my lady."
"Uuuuggh!" That was definitely more a Setsu grimace than Kyoko had ever done herself before. He chuckled at it.
Before starting to drive away from the building he shot her a glance, still thoroughly entertained by her sulking and all around pouty behavior. "Mogami-san, while it's endlessly entertaining to tease you, I do hope you believe me when I say I don't actually tease to be mean. There's just very few people I can be this comfortable with. You are the top of that very short list and it makes me happy to see you give as good as you get."
Kyoko swallowed hard as she heard the sincerity in his voice. She'd been hoping that bringing more of Setsu out would help her act more naturally after everything she'd just had to endure and it seemed to have worked better than expected. She cleared her throat as she clasped her hands tightly together in her lap to hide their fidgeting. "I'm glad you can relax and have some fun with me Tsuruga-san. It makes me think I might be doing better at this friend thing." She braved a glance upwards and had to struggle to withstand the bright smile he shot at her without melting into a puddle.
"Thank you very much Mogami-san. I'm happy to hear that." Ren felt both emotionally raw and comforted at the same time.
Kyoko had had a suspicion for a while that Tsuruga-san was not entirely Japanese. That he may not have even spent most of his childhood growing up in Japan was starting to seem even more likely. She'd been rolling these thoughts around in her brain for a while now and such thoughts had been stirring up so much internal exasperation and curiosity in the past month alone she was moving past frustrated hair-ripping to outright internal screaming matches. She wondered if she might be able to get him to speak a bit more freely about it tonight. His actions tonight on stage and how freely he'd been acting in general in the past couple hours made her think that maybe this was his way of trying to pull down his walls a little. Anticipation made her heart beat a little faster as they pulled up to the Darumaya and settled in to have a bit of a late dinner in their family room.
As she and the Okami-san exchanged greetings, the Okami-san gave her a bit of a teasing wink when she caught her eye. It made Kyoko blush a little but she quickly got it under control. She certainly wasn't planning on doing anything untoward like the Okami playfully suggested, they were merely going to have a conversation.
Ren, for what it was worth, was weathering the hard gaze that the Taisho was sending him as he finished sharpening his knives after the dinner rush. Ren gave him a polite nod and smile and tried to not be intimidated by the older, burlier man. His brain however, despite his urging, insisted on imagining up a grand old ringside setting of Taisho v. Ren, Round 2. He swallowed hard as he ate his next bite and the Taisho gradually paid closer attention to his own cleanup than to him. Ren let out a quiet sigh of relief when he noticed.
Ren and Kyoko mostly stayed quiet as they ate, and the Okami-san and Taisho finished cleaning up. Kyoko, when she noticed that they were lingering, was quick to speak up, "Tsuruga-san will be leaving soon, and I can finish cleaning up here so you guys can go rest up for the evening. I can handle the rest of the closing."
The Okami-san thanked her with a gentle smile and ushered her husband up the stairs even as the Taisho sent Ren one last hard glare. Ren perfectly caught the warning on his face and returned it with a calm, neutral look, doing his best to hide most of the emotions roiling beneath his facade.
Ren began to speak quietly as Kyoko returned to sit next to him. "There's something I've been meaning to ask, but haven't had the chance."
Kyoko gazed at him, slightly alarmed as she saw his more subdued demeanor. "Yes?"
Ren cleared his throat nervously but spoke with a determined voice, "Well, not even a month ago, I sat here, in this very room, stamping your stamp, after trying to help you with your mother, and completely did not even realize that at the time, someone else had tried the same, mere hours earlier." This was something they really had to clear the air about if they were going to try to be more honest with each other. Anytime that boy was involved, Ren became frighteningly concerned for her well-being and this time was the same as any other.
Kyoko had slowly appeared more and more horrified as he'd kept talking. "Tsuruga-san, I'm not sure what you're meaning."
Ren's gaze fell from her face to travel around the room uncomfortably, "As you may or may not know, Lory keeps a close eye on this place as he wants to make sure you've got a certain level of safety and security around you. He's aware Fuwa was also here that night. I'm not sure why he also let me know, however, Fuwa's interactions with you are something I do get concerned about. Will you explain what happened?"
Ren winced as he returned his gaze to her face and saw how pale it'd gotten. Kyoko's face and nervous fidgeting made him wonder if this all hadn't just been a terrible idea.
There was an awful silence for a brief moment before Kyoko spoke up. "He was doing what he always does when I'm upset. Making everything worse."
Ren felt simultaneous relief and anger flare to life inside him and he reached out to still her shaky hands with his own. "Then I'm very sorry I brought up a bad memory. Can I help?"
Kyoko glared down at her lap and muttered, "Unless you can expunge the memory of the taste of anteater, I don't know how you could."
Ren let out a small chuckle and ruffled her hair. "Here, ask me something you never thought you could. I promise I'll answer. How's that?"
That seemed to quickly perk her up and she smiled up at him. 'Thank you. That's so sweet to offer."
Ren struggled to control the blush that caused him and waited to hear her question. After a bit of pondering she asked, with all the subtlety of a two-by-four, "You're foreign-born aren't you?"
Ren nearly choked on the tea he was swallowing. Clearing his throat as he set his cup down, he replied, "That would be correct. I've not exactly hid that from you."
Kyoko looked at him thoughtfully, "Are you from the U.S.?"
Ren winced, "Trying to dig it all up are we?"
Kyoko blushed at her boldness but stared him down steadily enough that he sighed and nodded yes.
"Your mother, where you get your music taste from, it's because of how you grew up right? Will you tell me about it?"
Rem smiled softly at her. "I can tell you a little bit, yeah. My mother, when she wasn't out modeling or doing the celebrity thing and had the time, used to sneak me into rock concerts when I was still under-aged before I turned sixteen. It wasn't very often, maybe once or twice a year, but they're some of my best memories." The fond smile on his face as remembered back to then made something in Kyoko melt at how adorable it was.
She knew he came from a troubled background, just as she did. But same as her, he had some good memories too.
He laughed a little, "God, until I made up that playlist for us, I hadn't remembered those times in quite a while. Another thing I can thank you for I suppose. If you hadn't asked me questions about how I created my characters, I might not have thought to do that back then."
Kyoko shared his smile and sipped her tea quietly, enjoying the nice atmosphere. After a bit, Ren couldn't hold in his curiosity anymore.
"You didn't have to keep my secrets, but you have. Why?"
Kyoko turned away from his questioning face to study the grain of the wooden table underneath her teacup as she turned that question over in her head and tried to say what she really felt was the truth.
"You have appeared to be so lonely to me at times. It's hurt my heart to see. I don't know everything that's happened to you to make you close yourself off, but I certainly don't want to be yet another person that's let you down." She blushed as she spoke, but she didn't know how else to explain what she felt.
The joy Ren felt at her answer made him reckless enough to reach out and tuck a loose lock of hair of hers behind her ear. Propping his chin up with his other hand he shot her a thankful smile.
"Your consideration and kindness for others continues to amaze me Mogami-san," he said, letting his fingers gently brush her cheek as he pulled his hand away.
Kyoko wet her lips nervously at his actions and turned her eyes to her teacup again. "Can I be so bold to ask another question Tsuruga-san?"
"That girl you mentioned. Did you decide to pursue her?"
Ren stiffened as they entered dangerous waters. What would be a good answer that wouldn't push her away? But he hesitated and was quiet for a tad too long.
"Ah, I'm sorry, that must have been too bold, huh? I apologize then-"
"I have." Kyoko abruptly stopped her inane chattering as it seemed that all air left the room once he replied. What did he say? The pain she felt piercing her chest was breathtaking in its depth.
Numbness came over her and she couldn't say anything but, "I'm sorry, what?"
Ren tapped a nervous beat out on the table and couldn't seem to bring his eyes to hers. "It's something Lory mentioned to me last week. He told me to relax a little, and to maybe try pulling off my safety net I've been shrouding myself in. I decided today that if I would, I was going all in. It's all or nothing for me now."
Kyoko struggled to keep her breathing steady as she tried to process this. She almost couldn't bear to look him in the eye. But they'd promised each other to try to do better so she forced her gaze to his and spoke through numb lips, only half comprehending what she was saying, "Congratulations Tsuruga-san. I'm sure she'll say yes."
The bitter laugh that tore free of Ren startled her enough into acting normally, and she stared. "Thank you Mogami-san, but it's not that easy. But I'll keep what you said in mind, for sure."
Worried that she'd seriously upset him over this, she searched for a safer topic. "Ah, well, shall I tell you a secret Tsuruga-san?"
He arched a curious eyebrow and gestured for her to proceed. She smiled teasingly at him and said, "You're terrible at emoji usage."
The affronted look that came over his face startled her into bubbly giggles that also then put a smile on his face. Ren reached out and tugged on a piece of Kyoko's hair that was hanging loose, "Well missy, as you're the only one I use them with, you'll just have to tutor me."
She tried stifling the rest of her giggles as she batted his hand away. "Alright then, lesson one…"
Okami-san, who'd stepped back down briefly for a drink of water, slowly crept back up to avoid their notice, all the while smiling at the joy of the two young people in her family room. Those two were beyond adorable.
After the emotional rawness of his evening with Kyoko, Ren was a bit relieved to pull on his gentlemanly facade and face the world as the simply professional Tsuruga Ren for the next couple weeks. He and Kyoko were only able to meet in passing and at the moment, Ren was okay with that. His schedule was seriously overloaded with the addition of the the Oguso project, especially since he was hiding it from both Lory and Yashiro and forcing Yashiro to schedule or reschedule things around the times Shingai and Takashi-san were able to meet with him for chemistry tests.
As far as he was aware, Oohara-san, who'd worked with him on Dark Moon, was the next pick by the production team for Oguso. They'd met up a couple weeks after his Bridge Rock taping to do a chemistry test for a possible romantic relationship in the series with her as Akiyama Nozomi and opposite his interpreter Tanaka role. For whatever reason, he was to come back in this week to do another with her. Shingai-san hadn't been understating how picky and particular the screenwriter could be. They still hadn't even received act two of the series yet.
So, he was at the moment waiting on said production team, while rereading parts of the script. Increasingly over the past couple weeks, he'd become more and more intrigued by the Jack Taylor role, the Lieutenant Commander from the naval base by Mt. Oguso. There seemed to be hints here and there of an intriguing past behind the character that Ren was seriously awash in curiosity about. At various times throughout the first act, which was supposed to cover a good six month span of time, Commander Taylor would be escorting families with children to the inn in the town so they could participate in the traditional Japanese lessons of tea ceremonies, flower arranging, and calligraphy.
But, after every meeting, Taylor would anonymously leave a calligraphic note and a daffodil for the Okami-san's youngest daughter to find. At first it seemed to just be romantic in nature. However, the youngest daughter was engaged to Officer Yamamoto, and barely even knew of the commander. And, once you considered it further, why would an American Lieutenant Commander know how to do Japanese calligraphy? This was set in the 1950s. It wasn't realistic to have such a high ranking officer to be anything mixed, considering the racial tensions at the time, which had been his first thought. Was it a metaphor for how some people assimilated into other cultures better than others? Ren furrowed his brow in thought. It might be, but the script specifically detailed how beautifully he wrote the calligraphy. And the script also specified that it was always a daffodil the commander would leave with it. And the quotes the commander had of how honor was what separated men from monsters, that seemed steeped in double meanings.
He was scratching his head over it, metaphorically speaking, when he heard heels clattering against hallway tile. He looked up, expecting Oohara, and was surprised to find her with one Kotonami Kanae.
Kanae looked just as surprised to see him. "Kotonami-san, I thought Mogami-san said you two were shooting for Lotus in the Mire today?"
"Ah, yes, we are. I just had a brief break for this audition." She replied, nodding in greeting while he and Oohara bowed as well.
Oohara-san then spoke, "Are we still waiting for the rest?"
Ren shrugged, "I didn't know anyone else was coming."
Oohara laughed lightly, "I see. Shingai-san had mentioned over the phone that he thought he might have an Officer Yamamoto try out with us today. He probably forgot to mention it, especially if it was last minute."
Their questions were answered not even five minutes later as Shingai-san came striding down the hallway with another vaguely recognizable fellow.
Shingai introduced them all and then escorted them to where Nanaka and Takashi were waiting. Once everyone settled in around a table, Shingai-san explained further. Ren kept his role as the interpreter, but Oohara-san was switched to the role of the Okami-san's oldest daughter, Yoneda Yumika-sama, and Kotonami was given the role of Akiyama-san, his potential romantic interest while Atsushi, the other new addition, was told to play out Officer Yamamoto.
With the scene set as he and the officer just chatting in the Inn and taking the chance to admire the ladies in said inn, Ren caught Takashi-san frowning as it played out. He focused all of his attention on Kanae however, when her role came into play. Their chemistry wasn't bad, but it certainly wasn't even as developed as he and Momose-san had been able to work out in Dark Moon. Considering these roles and the fact that this relationship was supposed to be more a sweet natured one, he felt he and Kotonami-san could work on it enough that they could pull it off in the couple scenes of the first act that it required.
Which left him a puzzle. What was it that Takashi-san didn't like? He felt that question bugging him more and more as they ended the session, with Shingai-san quite relieved that Takashi had approved of the additions to the cast. He lingered, saying goodbye to even Shingai as he walked out, as he really wanted to ask Takashi her opinion.
When she noticed him lingering at the doorway, Ren saw her sigh, but she finished pulling her bag together and walked towards him.
"Alright, out with it. What do you want to ask?" Her abruptness made Ren smother a smile.
"You just don't seem satisfied. I'm curious about your opinion." She raked her eyes over him and frowned.
"To be perfectly frank, the only squeaky wheel in all this is you."
"I'm sorry?" Ren was a bit taken aback.
"Well, the interpreter is not that big of a role. Mostly it's just there for some calmness amongst a stressful situation What draws you to it?"
Ren turned that question over a couple times in his head before he came up with an answer, "For me, it comes back to accessing a part of this situation that speaks to both American and Japanese cultures. He's part of both cultures with the duties of his position, and is in a particular situation in which he can see both sides of the story. The dichotomy of them attracts him, and that helps him become a better man. I find that intriguing."
Takashi mulled that over for a while, smiling briefly at how he explained it. She then asked, "What else draws you to this production?"
Ren thought carefully about that question and hesitantly started to reply, "I like that it focuses a lot on assimilation of culture. It's a difficult thing, and a difficult thing to discuss. The situation with the part Japanese-American soldier being offended by his treatment at the inn is a wonderful metaphor for the overarching question of can cultures mesh without hatred leaving a lasting effect." Warming up to his topic now, he continued, "Everyone eventually forgives everyone once he mentions his time in the internment camps. Which you might think is an easy out. But the people at the inn are just recognizing that he's been through difficult times, at the hands of the people of his country, and still decided to do something to help his country. That's honorable. In this show, it's the first time the breach between these two peoples is bridged. In a word, it'll be a wonder for people to see that individuals can bridge a gap like that."
Takashi, as he'd been speaking, had slowly started smiling broader and broader. "Your intuition astonishes me Tsuruga-kun. I am delighted to have you as part of this production. I think I'm going to give you the second act. Please read it thoroughly. And do not, do not, tell anyone else you have it. If you change your mind about your role, I'll be free about noon in the next couple days. Give me a call, hm?"
Taking the script she held out to him, he nodded slowly, attempting to fit the puzzle pieces together even as more pieces started showing up. Takashi chuckled at the look on his face, clapped him on the shoulder, and left, a faint goodbye drifting back over her shoulder. What an odd woman. He shook off his confusion though when he noticed the time. Yashiro would have his head if he was late to pick him up.
However, he found himself thumbing through the script later that night before he got ready for bed, the curiosity overwhelming him. He grew deeply absorbed in it, growing increasingly amazed at the depth of emotion the Commander Taylor role stirred up in him. It would be so very very risky, but did he really have anything left to lose?
The thought kept him up most of the night. But, around noon the next day he found himself calling up Takashi-san almost before he realized he was doing it.
"Takashi-san. This is Tsuruga, and it may seem a bit forward, but may we meet please?" He held his breath in hope before he relaxed slightly as a chuckle came through the line.
"How funny. I'm actually at LME right now. Where are you?"
"My manager's office at LME. Shall I direct you?" He quickly explained the directions to get there and then they hung up. When he heard the quiet tap a couple minutes later, he quickly showed her in, turned around and locked the door.
Nervously he ran a hand through his hair. Takashi gazed at him as he did, slightly concerned, "Is everything alright Tsuruga-kun?"
"If you could hold on one moment." Barely comprehending what he was doing he was so nervous, Ren grabbed his contact lens case, pulled his contacts out, blinked away the water from his eyes quickly and then refocused his gaze on her.
Her mouth fell open in shock, and she could seem to barely gather her wits about her enough to even ask the question so Ren just answered it for her.
"I want the Jack Taylor role. I imagine you don't have a problem with that?" He stared her down, gritting his teeth in determination, hearing his pulse pounding in his ears with all the adrenaline pumping through his body.
Slowly Takashi-san seemed to process the request. Her hand tightened on the straps of her purse and then she slowly started to smile back at him. "No, none whatsoever. Welcome to the team." She held a hand out to him, "It's very nice to meet you."
Ren smiled back and shook her hand, "Thank you so much for this opportunity."
"Oh no Tsuruga-kun, thank you."
Any feedback is welcome! :) While I have the next few parts mostly all laid out, they need editing and reformatting. So I do expect this to be finished in a decent amount of time. Thanks for reading!