Title: Empathy
Author: Adali
Rating: PG [Mild swearing
Notes: Takes place during the events of chapters 96/97


There were times, Yashiro reflected, when being Ren's manager was a pain in the ass. Now was one such time.

He stood at the entrance to the hotel's café, feeling like he was back in middle school again, the new transfer kid that didn't have anywhere to sit in the cafeteria. If he'd had a tray, he would have clutched it to his chest as a defense against the unknown hordes that filled the quietly bustling café.

Director Ogata wasn't there, and neither was Kyouko-chan. Which, by simple subtraction, left exactly zero people that Yashiro knew. This is what comes of working with Ren, he thought in resignation. Ren rarely ate so, by extension, Yashiro didn't either. The few times the other man did stop work, he was with Director Ogata or Kyouko-chan. Yashiro went with him, and hence… he didn't know anyone else on set.

He looked around, hoping to spot a face that was even somewhat familiar. Normally, he would just take a table for himself, but the café was full, and Yashiro's precious lunch hour was rapidly disappearing.

In the back corner, sitting alone and apparently lost in thought, was a woman that Yashiro thought he might have seen once or twice around the set. Her pretty face was set severely, and she was stabbing at her salad with an intensity that made Yashiro wonder if joining her was such a good idea. A pang in his stomach reminded him that he only needed a chair and some food, not a conversation, and standing here was decreasing his chance of getting even that.

He avoided eye contact with everyone as he made his way over to her, as though about to ask a girl out for the first time. I'm an adult, he reminded himself. The reminder didn't help, and neither did the fact that it was necessary.

"Ah…" The woman looked up at him, quickly smoothing away her previous irritation. "I'm sorry, but would you mind if I join you? Only there's no where else to sit…"

"Of course." Her smile was pleasant, but distracted. Whatever had been on her mind before still took up most of her attention.

Now that another paying customer was seated, a waiter appeared as though by magic. Yashiro ordered quietly, not wanting to disturb the woman who had returned to glaring at her salad.

A few minutes later, after Yashiro's food had arrived and he was happily digging in (he sometimes thought he ought to force Ren to eat better, just so that he could as well) the woman opposite him tore her gaze from her food and offered him a tentative smile.

"I'm sorry I haven't been a very good lunch companion," she said.

Yashiro swallowed hastily. "No, no, that's alright. You had something on your mind."

"It was that obvious, was it?" She fiddled with her chopstick before setting them down deliberately and folding her hands, as though to keep them from moving restlessly. "I'm, well, have you ever had trouble working with someone?"

Yashiro hesitated. Ren wasn't troubling to work with, per se, but… "I guess."

"Maybe trouble isn't right. The man I manage, I thought I had him figured out, but…"

Now they were on firmer ground. If that was what she meant by 'trouble', Yashiro could relate (a bit too easily). "I know exactly what you mean. As managers, we spend so much time with our artists, and then they seem to enjoy doing unexpected things."

"Yes." She gave him a relieved smile. "I'm not sure I should be complaining, though. Normally he lazes around and puts off his work, so I should be happy that he's suddenly so dedicated, but…" She gave a little laugh. "I'm not sure how to react."

How unlike Ren. Ren was dedicated and focused to the point where he didn't seem human. He was so incredibly responsible… a mental image of vending machine onigiri rose in Yashiro's mind… well, he was responsible most of the time. About important things, anyway. Kyouko-chan's voice, telling him about how she'd cared for Ren while he was sick, floated through his mind. Alright, so Ren could be childish and irresponsible at times. He was good at hiding it, at least.

"It's quite a shock when they change. To be honest, the man I manage has started to be more relaxed about work lately. Well, he seems happier, anyway."

"You must be glad."

"I'd be happier if he admitted it," Yashiro grumbled. "He acts deliberately dense any time I bring it up."

"That's better than surly, which is what I get. It's so trying; he's like a little boy throwing a tantrum."

"I thought you said he was acting more responsible," Yashiro commented around a mouthful of rice. It was terribly rude, he knew, but he had been so interested, it just sort of popped out. Besides, he was oddly comfortable being around this woman, and somehow he didn't think she'd mind.

"Acting. Exactly. It's because he almost had his toys taken away, so now he's being good."

"That's exactly the opposite of my problem. If he looks like he's going to lose, R… ah, that is, the man I manage gets sulky and childish." Only a little, Yashiro admitted to himself, but with Ren it was a noticeable difference.

"Oh, he pitched a proper tantrum, right enough, and sat around and sulked. Then he got yelled at, and suddenly…" She waved her hand to vaguely indicate the change she'd mentioned earlier.

What a weird guy. He's the complete opposite of Ren. No one yelled at Ren - except Kyouko-chan, and that never helped anything. Ren always looked kind and nice after that; but then, he was the sort that smiled more brightly the angrier he got.

"I'm sorry to keep whining about my problems to you, ah…"

"Yashiro."

"Ah, Yashiro-san. Thank you for being so kind. I'm sorry, I should have introduced myself first. I'm Shouko."

"It's very nice to meet you, Shouko-san. I don't mind listening, really. I have the same problems, after all."

"Have you found a solution yet?" She didn't look hopeful at all.

Yashiro thought of Ren's face whenever Kyouko-chan was mentioned. "I'm not sure if it makes things better or worse," he admitted.

"Same here. Maybe if she loved him back, things would be easier."

What a weird thing to say. And yet, Yashiro found himself understanding exactly what she meant. He didn't doubt that Kyouko-chan cared for Ren; it was just that she didn't seem to realize it, and Ren seemed unwilling to let himself hope. If the two of them would just get together already… but it wasn't going to happen any time soon, Yashiro was sure. Unfortunately.

"Maybe if you told him things might work out that way..." It was what he said to Ren, after all, for all the good it did. But maybe, for a man who was at once very like, but also the complete opposite of, Ren, it might work.

Shouko-san gave a half-hearted laugh. "Even I don't believe that. She hates him, it's his fault, and he knows it."

"Hence the sulking?" Yashiro asked gently. He found himself liking this woman quite a bit. Perhaps he could find out who she worked with, and maybe he'd get to see her more often. Of course, it was one thing to tell Ren to go after a woman he was attracted to; doing it himself was completely different.

"But the hard work comes from that too. She yelled at him to grow up, so he's trying."

"Maybe she'll come around, then."

"Maybe. She's a very nice girl, and gets along with everyone but him." Like Ren. Things had changed, but Yashiro could still clearly remember all the times Ren had been deliberately mean to Kyouko-chan because he disapproved of her desire to get revenge on Fuwa Shou. Seeing that sort of behavior from a guy who normally got along well with everyone he met, it had been a shock. "Well, almost everyone," Shouko-san amended, with a pointed look towards the doorway.

Yashiro followed her gaze, just catching a glimpse of a tall figure before it moved behind a wall. He had the impression of dyed hair, dark clothes, and a demonic aura. He thought he ought to recognize the man - a singer, perhaps?

"I need to get back to the recording studio. Shou will be needing this lunch soon." She gestured to the wrapped bento beside her. "It was very nice to meet you, Yashiro-san. I hope to see you again."

Yashiro managed to choke out a "likewise" around the piece of chicken he had choked on. So she's Fuwa Shou's manager, he thought as he at last cleared his throat. Damn. It looked like he'd be able to relate a lot better next time Ren started looking lovelorn over the 'unattainable' Kyouko-chan. And he knew exactly who to blame, too. Damn you both, Fuwa Shou and Tsuruga Ren!