Although the rest of the evening's celebrations wrapped up without incident, there was a lingering awkwardness between Kyoko and Ren that both actors felt but neither wanted to verbally acknowledge. They made plans for the following morning, Ren confirming twice before he let go of Kyoko's hand when he dropped her back off at the Daruma-ya. He told himself that the fluttering sensation in his stomach was only his eagerness to see her again soon and definitely not worry that Kyoko might disappear like Cinderella running away from the ball.

Ren showed up forty minutes early the next morning, parking in the alleyway and turning off the engine. After scrolling through his phone for a few minutes, the actor sighed. He wished he had brought a script with him, or even a book— anything to keep his mind occupied while the seconds ticked by. He silently debated exactly how early he could knock on the restaurant's back door without seeming making a total nuisance of himself. Luckily, after a few minutes Ren's debate ended when Kyoko appeared in the doorway, waving to him to come inside. It was more than twenty minutes before they had arranged to meet. Ren gave her a sheepish smile as he approached, noticing she was still wearing her slippers.

"I didn't mean to rush you," he said, bending down to kiss her cheek instead of saying good morning. He handed her a large bouquet of Fuji chrysanthemums.

"Thank you so much!" Kyoko took the flowers with a small bow, ducking her head to hide her warming cheeks. "Please, come in! We're just finishing up breakfast," she said, stepping out of the way and holding the door for him.

"I wouldn't want to intrude," the actor said politely, hesitating at the threshold.

"It's alright! My landlords won't mind," Kyoko assured him.

Ren was not at all assured. But Kyoko was already heading back to the living room and so there was nothing for the actor to do except follow after her. He apologized for intruding on their home so early in the morning, but the okami-san waved off his apology with easy cheerfulness, exclaiming at the flowers and bustling off with Kyoko to find a vase, leaving Ren alone with the Taisho. The chef was just as talkative as usual— which was to say, not at all. The actor was thankful when Kyoko and the okami-san reappeared quickly. The teen helped clear away the breakfast dishes and then scampered upstairs to grab her bag. Both Ren and Kyoko bowed politely as she said goodbye to her landlords and then they were off.

Fate and their managers had conspired to get Ren and Kyoko some time off to spend together during the holidays. Kyoko had to film the Yappa Kimagure Rock New Year's Special, but other than that the teen was also free, since the start of her next series had been delayed due to a scheduling conflict. The main shoot for Ren's upcoming movie had miraculously wrapped ahead of schedule, and while he had a few minor reshoots, Yashiro had managed to push them off until the first week of January. The manager had announced this with glee one Thursday in late December while the four of them (Kyoko, Mami-chan, Ren, and himself) sat in the Love Me Room going over the actor's schedules. Yashiro had followed this statement by sliding Ren a list of romantic winter date spots in Tokyo. Even Kyoko's manager had chimed in, reminding the teen to use her time wisely with a wink. But the subtext went completely over the actress's head, who nodded seriously and promised her manager that she would. Kyoko's obliviousness made Yashiro give Ren a look full of pity (Ren almost thought he saw tears beginning to form in his manager's eyes). Ignoring Yashiro's pouting, the actor suppressed a sigh and slid the list of date ideas into his pocket.

Ren and Kyoko were not currently heading towards one of the romantic spots that Yashiro had scouted out. Instead, after a thirty minute drive, the actors were standing in a practically deserted parking lot outside a municipal sports complex in the suburbs of Tokyo. Kyoko's eyes flickered between Ren and the building.

"Are you sure you don't mind?" She asked again. When Kyoko had floated the idea last night, Ren had seemed enthusiastic. But now that they'd arrived Kyoko couldn't help wondering if she hadn't made a mistake— having him help her prepare for her upcoming role was hardly a romantic date.

"Not at all," Ren said, shouldering both of their bags. "I'm sure it will be fun."

Kyoko squinted up at him. "It's harder than it looks," she said.

"I think I'll manage," the star replied as he headed towards the double doors that led into the gym.

For the past few weeks, Kyoko had been coming to the building to practice for her upcoming role in an ensemble sports drama about a university volleyball team. The director of the series had informed the cast that there would be professional volleyball players used as doubles for the actors, but Kyoko was determined to do as many of the shots herself as she could manage. Which meant getting up early the morning after Christmas to spend three hours practicing bumps, sets, spikes, and serves. Kyoko had informed Ren of this but for some reason the actor had not been dissuaded. He only smiled at her and confirmed when he should pick her up the next morning.

It became clear after a few minutes on the court that Ren was more than a beginner at volleyball. It had taken Kyoko a week of intensive practice before she could consistently do the most basic hit, but Ren had no trouble passing the ball back to her in a clean, controlled arc. On top of that, the actor even had the audacity to look ridiculously good, even in his gym shorts. No wonder he's a model, Kyoko thought. She became uncomfortably aware that her mouth was suddenly dry.

He caught her eye and grinned at her. "I grew up in Hollywood, remember?" he said. "I played a lot of beach volleyball as a kid. I'm a little rusty, though," he added. Kyoko scowled.

"You could have told me."

"I'm telling you now," Kuon said, a note of teasing in his voice. But the teen did not look amused, so he quickly changed the subject. "Do you want to practice your spikes?"

It turned out, Ren was an excellent spiker. It stung her pride a bit that he was better than her at volleyball, too, but Kyoko pushed her feelings away, instead deciding that she may as well take advantage of Ren's experience for some free coaching. He was more than happy to teach her what he knew. Ren demonstrated a perfect hit, then stepped up behind Kyoko to guide her arm through the proper motion. Kyoko's breath caught in her throat when the actor corrected her stance by stepping a foot between her legs and nudging her inner thigh with his knee until she moved her foot wider. It was only when he felt her freeze that Ren realized his position and quickly stepped back, apologizing immediately and leaving Kyoko's back suddenly feeling cool and tingly.

The three hours passed quickly. Ren helped by setting up tosses, fetching stray balls, and making sure the actress paused for water breaks. He showered Kyoko with praise almost every shot, which made the actress roll her eyes at him when she hit a terrible shot and he still complimented her. When he made a casual reference to playing volleyball on the beach as a kid with his friends in LA, Kyoko was so surprised that she missed the ball entirely, her hand swinging through empty air. The actor had laughed goodnaturedly, his eye sparkling with something as she looked at him. Or maybe, Kyoko thought, it's just the lighting in here. She bit her lip and forced her eyes back to the ball in her hand and the court, but Kyoko's ears pricked as they remained focused on the sound of Ren's voice. Questions clamored around her brain but Kyoko forced herself to remain quiet. If the slip had been a mistake, she didn't want to make him uncomfortable. And if it hadn't, then… Kyoko wasn't quite sure. He seemed to understand and appreciate her silence, and after a moment, began to reminisce about wide, palm tree-lined streets and the bike path that ran along the boardwalk. The way he spoke it would have been easy to believe that the actor was absently talking to himself aloud, but Kyoko knew it wasn't like Ren to ramble out loud. He was opening up to her, at least a little. Kyoko listened eagerly as she practiced, imagining that she was standing on a flat expanse of sandy beach under a warm sun, instead of inside a gym in the middle of winter in Tokyo.

They changed out of their practice clothes before leaving. Ren beamed when he noticed Kyoko somewhat self-consciously wrap herself up in the scarf he had given her yesterday for her birthday. She noticed him staring and flushed, sliding on the sunglasses he had gotten her and hoping the large frames would hide her pink cheeks.

"They suit you," Ren said, aware from her expression that his smile was blinding her and yet unable to stop himself from grinning like a lovestruck idiot.

"Nonsense. They're too glamorous for someone like me," Kyoko mumbled as she buckled her seatbelt, feeling more pleased than embarrassed. Even if she privately thought that anyone besides Ren would think she looked ridiculous.

The actor was all too used to Kyoko's refuting any compliment he tried to give her. Instead of arguing, he cheerfully started the engine. "Should we stop for lunch? You must be hungry after all that."

She was hungry, but Kyoko hesitated. They hadn't made lunch plans. What if Ren had plans? After all, he was Tsuruga Ren. He was probably very busy but simply too polite to not offer to treat her to a meal.

"Uhm, that sounds nice but—" Kyoko's eyes darted meaningfully to the clock on the dashboard. "if you have somewhere else to be, then…"

"Kyoko." Ren's voice was soft and serious, his gaze intent as he leaned towards her. "There's nowhere else I'd rather be."

Kyoko tilted her chin up slightly in anticipation as her eyes began to flutter closed. But instead of moving down to kiss her, Ren reached past her, his hand on the back of her car seat as he turned to look over his shoulder to back up. Kyoko swallowed, feeling slightly disappointed before she scolded herself for getting carried away. Of course he wasn't going to kiss her right now. He had just seen her in her gym clothes for the past three hours — hardly a romantic sight. Unlike Ren, Kyoko was aware that she did not look like a model in the baggy t-shirt and old shorts she wore to practice in. She looked better now that she had washed up and changed her clothes, but she suddenly found herself wondering if it wasn't worth investing in some nicer, more cute workout clothes. Maybe if she looked a bit nicer when practicing, maybe then he'd think she was cute, or maybe he'd want to kiss her—

Kyoko suddenly screeched, jumping up in her seat and twisting, her seatbelt lock activating and jerking the actress to a halt. By now, Ren was used to driving through Kyoko's strange reactions and was only mildly alarmed. He kept most of his attention on the road, throwing a quick glance at the actress, whose mouth was moving silently as she pointed an accusatory finger at him.

"YOU K-K-KISSED ME!" She accused with a horrified look.

Ren raised an eyebrow. "Care to be more specific? I can think of several times that you—"

"IN GUAM!" Kyoko screeched. She was outraged, poking him in the arm—hard. The fact that he was driving was apparently entirely forgotten. "YOU PRETENDED TO BE CORN AND YOU KISSED ME! YOU FAKER!"

"That's hardly fair," he countered. "It's not faking if I am Corn. Besides, I didn't set out to lie to you. I never claimed to be Corn— you were the one who called me that first."

"But you went along with it!"

"What was I supposed to do?" Ren said plaintively, glancing at her.

Kyoko crossed her arms and turned away from his sad puppy look. She refused to be moved. "I can't believe you! You lied to me!" The teen frowned. "You even told me not to tell you about the kiss! Why would you do that!? You would obviously know, since you're you— I mean, since you're really you…" Kyoko groaned in frustration. Why was talking about this so complicated?

"I thought it'd be easier," Ren said after a moment. Kyoko risked a glance at him and saw that the actor at least had enough good grace to look embarrassed. "I didn't think you'd actually tell me," he muttered.

"Well, I did." As far as retorts went, it wasn't her best. Kyoko's mouth twitched.

"Indeed you did," Ren said mildly. He glanced over at her again. Kyoko did her best to glower at him, which only made the actor smile. He seemed to be enjoying her annoyance. "You told me about it twice, actually," he goaded as he raised an eyebrow at her. "Remember, in the Love Me room? You never did tell me if Corn was a good kisser…"

"THAT WAS YOU!" Kyoko practically howled, her cheeks flaming. Actually, all of her was flaming. She was flushed with annoyance: at Ren for teasing her and making everything so confusing, and at herself for enjoying the sheer ridiculousness of the conversation. She bit back a grin.

"I'm not going to apologize. I had wanted to kiss you for forever. Besides, it was barely a moment," he grumbled, then heaved an overly dramatic sigh. "As an actor, I'm ashamed. Tsuruga Ren is supposed to be perfect romantic male lead and yet I couldn't get one girl to even notice me. For literal years."

Kyoko said nothing. What could she possibly say? The actor was so adorably pouty that Kyoko had to fight the urge to squeal. She stared down at her lap.

After a few more minutes of silence, Ren glanced at her again. "Are you too annoyed at me for lunch?"

"Of course not," Kyoko said practically. Her stomach was probably going to start growling loudly any minute. "How does ramen sound to you?"

"Ramen sounds great," Ren said with an angelic smile. This time, instead of looking away, Kyoko shyly returned the look with a smile of her own.

Ren swerved and almost bumped into the curb, causing Kyoko to help.

"REN-SAN! THAT'S DANGEROUS!" Kyoko clutched at her seatbelt, her knuckles turning white. "Are you alright?!"

"Sorry— it's too bright," Ren mumbled. He stared straight ahead at the road and blinked several times, muttering under his breath, his cheeks slightly pink as he kept his eyes fixed on the road ahead of them.


Three days after her birthday, they were cooking dinner together at Ren's apartment and things finally felt normal again. They were actually better than normal, but the actor didn't want to admit such a thing in case he jinxed himself.

They agreed that she should continue to call him Ren. It was simpler than using Kuon in private and worrying about making a mistake and using the wrong name in public. The actor had been slightly worried that the teen would slip up, but Kyoko never made a mistake in terms of address. Ren even noticed that she no longer made the mistake of calling him Tsuruga-san, either. He wasn't sure if it was her finally acknowledging their closeness or if the teen had some sort of internal rule about where pseudonyms fell in terms of politeness and hierarchy. Probably the latter. But it didn't matter— whenever she called him Tsuruga-san now, it was to express playful annoyance. Other times, she would gently tease him and call him Corn. Ren might even go so far as to say that she was flirting with him. Except that it was Kyoko, and so he knew better than to get his hopes up.

At the moment, Kyoko was too focused on teaching Ren how to make curry to properly flirt with her boyfriend. He had picked out the recipe from his new cookbook to try and they had gone grocery shopping together for ingredients. Now they stood side by side in his kitchen, two cutting boards laid out, the ingredients prepped in tiny separate bowls. Kyoko insisted on mise en place for both of them, even if it used twice as many bowls, cups, and spoons. Proper preparation was an important step, and this way at least half of what they made would be edible. Kyoko smiled playfully as she said this and Ren was glad he hadn't been holding a knife at the time, since he certainly would have dropped it and chopped off part of his fingers.

They sat down to a meal that Ren called a tentative success. Kyoko's tasted better of course, but Ren was pleasantly surprised at how edible his own attempt had come out. And he was even more surprised (and even more pleasantly so) when Kyoko had casually leaned forward to take the bite he offered her off his spoon, smiling and nodding her approval.

Ren insisted on doing the dishes since, he argued, there wouldn't be so many to do if it wasn't for his culinary incompetence. He went so far as to imply that he would be wounded if she even attempted to offer to do so much as dry one plate. Instead he gently took Kyoko by her shoulders and steered her into the living room, suggesting she pick out something for them to watch.

When Ren finished cleaning up and returned to the living room, he found the actress curled up staring at her phone screen.

"Kyoko?" he asked, sitting down next to her on the sofa. The actress murmured something in reply, not looking up. Ren fought the urge to put an arm around her waist and tuck Kyoko into his side. He didn't want her to think he was trying to snoop or read her messages over her shoulder. He waited for her to speak.

Kyoko wordlessly handed Ren her phone. He raised his eyebrows, waiting for her permission before looking down at the screen.

It was a message from his dad. The Hizuris were departing Tokyo soon and wanted to have dinner with their 'son' before they left, if she was available. And, Kuu had added, she was more than welcome to bring a friend, if she wanted to. Ren smiled, handing the phone back to her. Kyoko looked at him, her face scrunched.

"You want to see them again, right?" Ren asked. She nodded.

"I— well, y-yes, but…" she trailed off, staring at him. Ren looked back at her. She gestured at him. "Wouldn't it be weird? I mean, they're your parents."

"No, they aren't."

Kyoko looked at him.

"Tsuruga Ren doesn't have parents," Ren said.

"But you do," she insisted.

"Hizuri Kuon has parents," he admitted. "But Tsuruga Ren does not."

"But… you're the same person. So they are your parents."

In reply, the actor gave her his annoying, over-the-top shrug that made Kyoko glare at him.

"It's complicated."

"I think you're making it complicated."

"It's not me whose making things complicated, it's the fact that he doesn't—"

Kyoko cut in. "Why do you talk about yourself like that?"


"Like you're two separate people," she said.

The actor blinked. "Because… well, because…" Ren struggled to articulate his thoughts. He made an inarticulate gesture, finding Kyoko's confused expression endearing and adorable, even as it was clear to him that she was annoyed. He could practically hear the gears in her head turning as she formulated her thoughts.

"You told me that Tsuruga Ren is like a character," she said slowly. She paused.

"He is. Sort of," Ren supplied.

"You're Tsuruga Ren," Kyoko stated.

Ren nodded.

"But really, you're Hizuri Kuon."

He nodded again.

"So they're your parents," she concluded.

"No," Ren said emphatically. "I know it seems that way, but— the reality is more complicated. I've been living as Ren for the past seven years," Ren said. "Kuon is… different."

"Then who are you right now?" Kyoko asked softly. "Am I dating Tsuruga Ren? Or Hizuri Kuon?" She paused, adding in a smaller voice, "Is only part of you in love with me?"

"No!" His response was immediate and emphatic. He reached for her hands, relieved when she didn't pull away. He wrapped his hands around hers. "That's not it, I promise," he said desperately. "I love you. All of me— whoever I am, whatever I'm called—is in love with you. There isn't a part of my heart that doesn't belong to you. You… you know that, right?" He squeezed her hand. "Please tell me you know that."

"I know," Kyoko said quietly after a moment. "I'm sorry— I just, I don't understand. I can't sort it out. Is Tsuruga Ren just a role? What about Katsuki? Or Cain Heel? Which side of you was that?"

Ren suddenly felt like he was back in middle school, and the teacher had announced a pop quiz and he hadn't studied. His throat was dry. "I—"

"What about the Emperor of the Night?"

That made him pause. "The who?"

"N-nothing! Anyway," Kyoko said hastily, cheeks turning pink. "My point is that you're just—"

"The Emperor of the Night?"

"Oh my!" Kyoko said brightly, completely ignoring Ren's words and picking up her phone as if he hadn't spoken. "I have to respond to Hizuri-san's message!"


"Shall I tell them you're coming to dinner too?"

"Are you sure you wouldn't rather invite the Emperor?" Ren purred.

"Don't change the subject!" she squeaked.

"You're the one who brought it up," he grumbled, but dropped it when he saw Kyoko's stubborn look.

"Are you going to come with me or not?"

"Well, I think they made it pretty clear I'm invited. Unless you'd rather take Kotonami-san," Ren joked, then thought better of it. "Please don't actually do that," he said hastily.

"Are you sure?" Kyoko smiled at him, but it was slightly wobbly. "It won't be…too much?"

Kuon smiled back at her, giving her hand a reassuring squeeze. "I'd really like to introduce you to my parents. Properly. That is… if that's alright with you."

Kyoko nodded, not trusting her throat. "That— I'd like that," she managed to choke out. The teen picked up her phone. "I'll let them know!"

"Back to what we were talking about before," Ren began, his gaze growing heavy-lidded as his voice seemed to rumble in his chest.

"WOW! LOOK AT THE TIME!" The actress leapt up from the couch, almost tossing her phone in her haste to stand up. "I think I should go home now!"

"You win for now," Ren said, letting it drop with a laugh, "but don't think I've forgotten." He turned to face her, giving her a smile that made Kyoko feel hot all over.

"You'll have to tell me someday, Kyoko." He smirked, a hint of the Emperor playing around his eyes. "I'll be looking forward to it."


Dinner with Kuu and Julie was a delightfully strange affair. It started off a bit stilted, but if the Hollywood couple was surprised that the teenage actress knew their son's secret, the surprise was quickly overtaken by joy. Kyoko got to witness the full, pure, chaos that was a Hizuri family dinner. Kuu's usual appetite and oya-baka tendencies seemed to have doubled in the presence of his two sons, as he still referred to Kyoko. With his dad, Kuon met his match in terms of someone who could rave about how wonderful Kyoko was. It was hard to say which was more articulate on the subject, and Kyoko quickly felt like she was going to overheat from such lavish praise. Luckily Julie stepped in, gracefully distracting her husband when she suspected the modest actress reached her limit.

The dinner lasted for hours, but eventually after Kuu's fifth round of dessert, even his legendary stomach was satisfied. The time had flown by. Kyoko had been nervous upon arriving, but now it felt like they had spent almost no time together at all. She wished the evening could last forever. Juliena's eyes glistened with unshed tears as she made both Kuon and Kyoko promise to see her again soon. Kuu swept them into a bear hug as he wept openly. Only Juliena's gentle touch was able to pry her husband away, but not before Kuu whispered to his son that next time, he wanted to see a ring on Kyoko's finger. Then with one last hug and a wink, Kuu let Julie lead him away.


Three months later…



Published March 10 by Komiyama Asami

All of Tokyo is buzzing with the news last night from the ballroom at the Grand Prince Hotel New Takanawa where the 44th annual Japan Academy Awards took place. Japan's brightest stars turned out for an evening of triumph. Symbiosis was favored to be the winner this year and absolutely swept the ceremony, bringing home the prize for Screenplay of the Year as well as the Picture of the Year grand prize. The psychological thriller also snatched a win for veteran actor Moriyama Shuichiro for Best Actor in a Lead Role. His co-star Tsuruga Ren, who played Moriyama's onscreen son, won for Best Supporting Actor. But ladies, we know that when it comes to our hearts, Tsuruga Ren is always the lead! The 23 year old star looked absolutely gorgeous yesterday in R'Mandy couture on the red carpet.

[Image caption: on Left: our expert fashion panel agrees, Tsuruga Ren looked dashing and timeless in a classic black and white ensemble that managed to be anything but boring. Pictured right: Tsuruga Ren during the ceremony, sitting with his Bitter Sweet Heart co-star and fellow LME talent, Kyoko.]

Many believe the actor should have also been nominated for best male lead for his work as Hatori in Bitter Sweet Heart, especially given the sizzling chemistry that Tsuruga has with his costar, Kyoko, who won the Newcomer Award. Although she's not new to the world of acting, this was Kyoko's first lead role in a film. Audiences loved the strength and depth the actress lent to Mayuko. We can't wait to see what she'll do next. Fuwa Sho took home the prize for Outstanding Achievement in Music for his original song, and his performance last night made sure there was not a dry eye in the room!

[Link: see photos from Vogue Japan after party!]

Another LME talent was recognized last night for her work on the foreign film Hunt for the

Ren felt Kyoko begin to stir beside him. Absently, he stroked her shoulder lightly as he continued to flick through the article. They had gotten back to Ren's apartment at three in the morning and promptly collapsed. He looked down at the actress's bright auburn hair and was surprised to see Kyoko smiling up at him blearily.

"Good morning." He bent down to kiss the top of her head and Kyoko made a small contented noise, snuggling closer. "Sorry. Did I wake you?"

She stifled a yawn. "I'm awake," she insisted.

"It's still early. We don't have to get up yet," the actor said gently. But Kyoko's was pushing herself up, her eyes focused on Ren's phone.

"That's Moko-san!" Kyoko said excitedly, pointing at a picture. Ren looked. It was a picture of the actress, taken at the afterparty. Kyoko squinted, peering closer to look at the photo. "That guy kind of looks like Yashiro," she added, pointing to a man in the photo.

"He does," Ren said slowly. Then he leaned over to put his phone on the nightstand so he could wrap both arms around Kyoko. His eyes settled on the two statuettes sitting on his bedside table.

"I still can't believe I won," Kyoko whispered, looking at the bronze trophy with her name engraved on the bottom.

"I can," Ren said, smiling at her. He paused. "Last night," he began slowly, his arms still wrapped around her, "the director told me tonight that he wants us to attend the Academy Awards in the States. It hasn't officially been announced, but Symbiosis is nominated for the foreign film category."

Kyoko paused while that sunk in. She blinked at Ren, then broke into a smile as she hugged him. "That's amazing! Congratulations!"

"Come with me," Ren said softly. "We can visit Mom and Dad, take a small vacation. I want to show you around LA."

"Alright," Kyoko agreed easily. It sounded fun, after all. And besides, she could use a tiny break. And it wouldn't make sense to go all the way there and not see Kuon's parents. She yawned.

"You know, my dad will give me an earful that I still haven't locked you down," Ren hinted, half playful, half serious.

Kyoko groaned. "Corn, it's too early in the morning for this. It's only been a year!"

"Alright, alright," Ren said, relenting. "I got it." He paused. "I'll ask you again after breakfast."

Kyoko made a small grumble of protest. She was already drifting back to sleep, lulled by the warmth and Ren's arms around her. Later in the day she would have to deal with her boyfriend's teasing (he had been asking her since Valentine's Day if she was ready to be engaged yet), but for now, Kyoko had everything she wanted.

"Go back to sleep," Ren encouraged softly. He kissed her hair, settling back against the pillows. In response, Kyoko only murmured, burrowing her head into the crook of his neck.

"Love you," the actress said, her voice rough with sleep and slightly muffled.

Ren still heard it, of course. His arms tightened around her. "I love you, too."

A/N: Wow! It's finally done. I kinda cannot believe it! This took me so much longer than I had originally planned, so thanks for everyone who stuck around til the end! And a very special extra thank you to everyone who took the time to leave a comment, I can't say how much they encouraged me to keep going.