The Yashiro Conspiracy
Disclaimer: I don't own Skip Beat. Meh.
Blacktohru: This will be a oneshot for the time being, though I did attempt writing Chapter 2 already. So, if all goes well, I'll post that one up too.
Chapter 1: The Great Plan
He was brilliant! Two birds with one stone! But first, he needed to plan it out carefully, so that Ren did not suspect anything. Glancing briefly into his appointment book, he checked off the days Ren would be busy and noted when he would be free. Now all he needed was HER schedule. Perhaps he could talk to the President about his great plan and acquire all the details necessary.
Yashiro leaned back in his chair, a tiny grin playing at his lips. Beside him, Ren was taking a break from his photo shoot and sipping a tall glass of ice coffee. Ren glanced at the preoccupied Yashiro curiously.
"Yashiro seems to be in high spirits today," Ren thought.
His stoic manager was indeed in high spirits. If his plan succeeded, he would be Ren's best man at his wedding! He knew Ren was rather put off since he hardly saw Kyouko lately since she was busy attending to Kuu.
A crew member called out to Ren, reminding him to prepare for the next shoot that would begin in five minutes. Despite the loud distraction, Yashiro continued to be absorbed in his little appointment book, occasionally grinning idiotically to himself. Ren nodded to the crew member who had hailed him and headed to the dressing room. Taking another glance at Yashiro, who had apparently not noticed anything at all, he idly wondered whether Yashiro was going out with someone at the moment. Perhaps that would explain his iridescent aura today.
After the photo shoot
Ren rubbed his neck absently, trying to work out the stiff knots that had appeared there. Yashiro had been in a distracted mood the entire day. Even during the photo shoot, Ren had noticed him chatting excitedly with someone on his cell phone. Again, the theory of Yashiro having a girlfriend was reinforced. Absently he wondered who it was and how they had met. Perhaps he had a date tonight. Even at the moment, despite being in the confines of his car, Yashiro seemed to be extremely energetic, with sparkling eyes and the occasional grin that he could not hide.
"Ah, Ren! Drop me off at the station tonight. I need to pick up some papers. You can head home straightaway," Yashiro said.
"If it's just picking up some papers, I can wait for you in the car," Ren replied. "It shouldn't take long and I can send you home after that."
"It's no problem! No problem at all! Just head home, and don't forget to eat!"
Ren narrowed his eyes. When Yashiro adopted that big brother nagging for him to eat, he wouldn't stop until he extracted a promise from him to finish his food. How annoying. He was tired after a long day's work and just didn't have any appetite.
"Okay then," Ren said. "I'll see you tomorrow."
Yashiro gave an uncharacteristic grin and exited the car. "See you tomorrow!" he waved and hurried off towards the main building of LME. Glancing at his wrist watch, he mentally counted off the number of minutes till the surprise he had planned for Ren.
"Just thirty more minutes. Perfect!"
Instead of the main office, he headed directly towards the president's private office. He had much to discuss with his co-conspirator.
Ren still continued to wonder at Yashiro's strange behavior today as he drove home. He allowed his mind to wander as he took the familiar route home, disregarding the beautiful scenery for his contemplations. At this late hour, there was hardly any traffic, most office workers already snug in their homes enjoying dinners with their families. He was used to eating alone, or disregarding dinner altogether for much needed sleep.
After carefully maneuvering his car into its usual parking spot, Ren switched off the engine and reached behind to grab his jacket. It was getting slightly chilly at night as winter was approaching. What he wanted right now was a nice hot shower and a solid eight hours of sleep, if he was lucky. He had been getting recurring nightmares of late and was only getting about five hours every day. Fortunately for him, he hardly got eye bags although he sorely lacked sleep.
Stepping out of his car, he took a breath of the cool brisk air perfumed with the delicate fragrance of irises that his landlady had planted. He headed to his room, his long strides covering ground quickly. In his apartment, Ren just slung his jacket over the back of a chair when his doorbell rang.
Wondering a little at how late it was for visitors, Ren opened the door to reveal a smiling Kyouko. A smiling Kyouko with a great deal of grocery bags.
All thoughts of hot showers and long naps vanished in an instant. He opened the door wider.
"What are you doing here Mogami-san?" he smiled at her, his heart warming with indescribable tenderness; his stiff muscles loosening already.
"Uhm… uhm… Tsuruga-san wanted someone to teach him how to cook?" Kyouko looked up at him nervously. Yashiro had called her earlier to ask her whether she would be willing to teach Ren how to cook some simple dishes. Apparently Ren himself wanted her assistance. So she had gathered all the ingredients she thought he might need and brought along several cookbooks that he would find easy to refer to.
"Hmm?" he absently replied. "Here, let me get those for you," he gracefully divested her of her bags, carrying them into the apartment.
"What are these?" he asked her in bemusement.
"Ah! Ingredients which you may not have and some reference material for you," Kyouko replied. "I thought it would be better if you choose something that you enjoy out of those books and I could teach you how to make it. So I got everything that you could possibly need!"
"Oh?" he eyed the bulging bags. Everything that he could possibly need? More like everything off the supermarket shelf.
"Since I wasn't sure exactly what Tsuruga-san's favourite is, I thought that I'd better prepare something beforehand for your dinner tonight, and then I could start the lessons tomorrow since you end work early then."
"How did she know I finish work early tomorrow?" he wondered. "Ah…"
Everything was beginning to come together in the puzzle that was Yashiro. That conniving…! No wonder he was in an ecstatic mood today! "And since he wanted to be dropped off at LME, the president was probably in on it as well", he surmised.
Back at the head office, Lory and Yashiro gave simultaneous sneezes.
In the kitchen, Kyouko had begun unpacking her bags and arranging everything neatly in their respective cupboards and shelves. After using his kitchen a few times, she had begun to be remarkably oriented. At the same time, she was warming up some stew for their dinner. To prepare everything on such a short notice, she herself had gone without dinner. But she did not really mind considering she had eaten her dinner at much later hours in the past. Her dratted past…
Clenching the spoon more tightly, Kyouko began to stir the pot viciously. Damn that Sho. Being reminded of him just through simple everyday things always worsened her mood. However, her thoughts straying to Sho these days had been occurring on a less frequent basis. Absently she tasted her sauce. "Perhaps a little bit of nutmeg and white pepper," she thought, reaching for the shelf where both were stored.
Just then she noticed another cupboard which she hadn't opened yet. It was extremely high up and far beyond her reach. Belatedly remembering her last accident in Tsuruga-san's kitchen, she turned around to ask him to open it for her when she realized he was standing just behind her. Giving a small gasp of surprise, she dropped the spoon she was holding into the pot of stew.
"Damn it," she cursed, hurriedly looking for something else to fish out her drowned spoon.
Behind her, Ren stood watching her brisk and efficient movements. Not only was she a splendid actress already, but also a great chef. The food she had cooked for him in the past was absolutely delicious. And his mouth was already watering from the enticing smells wafting from whatever she was stirring in that pot. Suddenly, he was rather hungry.
"Though that shouldn't have been surprising considering the fact that I only had a glass of ice coffee for lunch," he mused. "At least this time I'm not too sick or too worried to enjoy her food."
He stepped next to her, wondering a little at her panicked expression.
"Can I help you with anything?" he asked.
"No, no. That's fine. Just need to get this damn spoon out before…" she neatly scooped it out with a ladle she had sourced from one of his drawers. Sometimes it seemed to him that she managed to find a great deal of utensils and cooking appliances which he himself did not know existed. The apartment had come fully furnished complete with a fully equipped kitchen apparently. At that time he had merely requested for a bed large enough to fit his long frame.
"Ah, could you set the table, Tsuruga-san?" she replied. "This stew is almost ready."
"Sure," he replied, glad to be able to help.
Outside, it began to pour with rain, interspersed with the occasional thunder and lightning.
The hot stew was definitely a welcome treat for Ren. It had been ages since he had a delicious home-cooked meal. Somehow, the idea of her going to so much trouble just to prepare dinner for him warmed his face. He could definitely get used to this.
A small smile played by his lips. Absently, he reached into the drawer where his utensils were stored and rummaged around till he found what he needed. As he finished setting the table, he turned around to find Kyouko maneuvering towards him while balancing her pot of stew and several bowls.
"Ah, let me help you with that," he reached out to her.
"No, no. It's okay. I'm used to it," she replied easily, while gently setting everything on the table.
"Used to it?"
"Ah! Uhm… no, it's just that I can handle it. It's no problem!" she smiled nervously. "Itadakimasu!"
"Itadakimasu," Ren echoed softly.
They began to eat in silence.
"Is it…is it good?" she asked worriedly.
Ren looked up, startled. "Yes, it's delicious."
Kyouko breathed a sigh of relief and beamed at him. "I'm glad. I couldn't decide whether you liked stews or not. Perhaps you could choose something you like out of these cookbooks?" she began pulling out a stack of thick cookbooks on the table. "Just take a look at the photos and don't worry about the recipes for now. Let me know if you're interested in any of those."
Ren eyed her stack bemusedly. "That's a lot of homework," he joked.
Kyouko stopped flipping through the top stack. Glancing at it, she began to wonder whether she had indeed overdone it. Her pile was about a meter high of glossy hardcover cookbooks.
Just then, a bright flash of light lit up the entire room, followed instantaneously by low rumble of thunder. And the lights went out.
Ren got up swiftly. "Just stay where you are. I'll go get some candles."
Heaving a sigh, he began to feel his way to the kitchen where he had stored some candles for emergencies. Of late, the electricity had begun cutting off at random times due to renovations to his apartment block. And of all days, it had to happen today. His mood began to deteriorate.
He set some slim white candles on a candle-stand, lit them and carried them gingerly to the table. Setting it gently, he turned to look at Kyouko. His gut clenched and his throat snapped shut.
Kyouko looked absolutely ethereal; her face bathed in candlelight, her eyes shining a smile at him. And there was the shimmer of the girl he once knew.
"I love eating by candlelight, don't you," she said softly. "It gives such a different atmosphere."
Ren gave an inward sigh of relief. "It really does," he agreed. Trust Kyouko to remedy things so easily.
"Come, let's eat before the food gets cold," she nodded at him.
"Yes, can't let your delicious stew go to waste," he gave her a soft smile.
Kyouko almost stopped breathing. The Emperor of Night's smile was really dangerous. Even more so by candle light. When he wanted to, he could be charming and dashing. Enough to captivate any maiden's heart, including hers. But no, she had decided long ago never to let her heart race over anyone ever again. Even though a little demon inside of her whispered that perhaps it was worth it to let her heart race over a guy as handsome as Tsuruga Ren.
She took in a gasp of air, belatedly realizing that her breathing had become rather shallow during her contemplations.
Ren watched her through lidded eyes. She really was interesting to watch. Her emotions were so clearly obvious through her expressive face. While she was a brilliant actress, he was glad that she lowered her defenses in front of him. Only in front of him? Was that naivety or did she simply trust him implicitly? As Tsuruga Ren or was it an instinctive trust towards his past persona of Fairy Prince Corn?
Kyouko quickly continued eating her meal, taking occasional glances at the cookbook and flipping pages desperately. Even without looking directly at him, she could tell he was watching her every move. Like how a hawk eyes its prey.
Ren took a slow bite of his stew, delicious as it was, he just couldn't taste it anymore. Was this how it felt to be in love? To feel his heart hitch every now and again just watching her? To find her every action endearing? To have that unstoppable desire to place her on a pedestal and worship her? He did not deserve her. He told himself time and again that she was far too young and far too innocent for one as soiled and jaded as he was. It would mar her perfection and destroy her future as an actress.
But was this how he was going to continue his life? Secretly loving her? Watching out for her by the sidelines? Giving her advice as a senpai while trying not to fall into the role of an older brother? Heaven forbid! In his imagination, he replaced Maria with Kyouko, running up to him and demanding, "Ren nii-san! Gimme a hug!"
"Here," she pointed at the cookbook she was currently perusing. "This looks tasty and it's quite easy to make. What do you think?" she pushed the book towards a slightly pale Tsuruga Ren.
"Well, this stew that we're currently having is pretty good already. Perhaps that will do?" he managed to reply.
Kyouko frowned. "You can't be eating the same stew all the time. You'll be sick of it in no time!"
Ren chuckled. "That's true. Though I'm really not particular with food so anything you choose would suffice."
"That is the precise reason why you want me to teach you how to cook, huh," she muttered.
Ren looked up at her. "That reminds me," he said carefully. "What exactly did Yashiro say to you?"
"Yashiro-san? Well, he was complaining about how one time you forgot to eat both breakfast and lunch, and eventually had dinner at about 11pm that night," Kyouko said absently, flipping through yet another cookbook.
Ren put down his chopsticks. "I was extremely busy that day and I barely had any appetite by the time I got back home."
"Mmm. Though you still need food to fuel your busy work life," she replied. "Wouldn't do you any good to faint or collapse. Right?" she gave him a sweet smile.
Talking about that did bring back memories of him collapsing on top of her when she was working as his part-time manager. The feel of his feverishly warm body pressing against her still brought a frown to her face. Did his work take precedence over his own health? Apparently so; to the extent that nothing else mattered to him.
'Yes, the feel and the weight of a male body pressing against you, his warm breath against your neck. I bet you remember all of that, don't you,' her demons whispered to her.
Kyouko felt the beginnings of a blush across her cheeks.
'He was ill and fainted because of his fever! A person with high fever can be strangely captivating, right? Plus, I just repeated some of the lines of his co-actress and he immediately responded with his lines! And that was creepy enough!' she snapped back at her demon.
Her demon laughed slyly. 'Oh, but the man is devoted to his work! Isn't that attractive?'
No! She must be steadfast in herself! Like Tsuruga Ren, she needed to dedicate herself to her work in order to attain that level of professionalism.
Ren looked at her face, illuminated clearly by candle light. He did have an answer ready, but the byplay of emotions on her face was far too intriguing. Especially that tell-tale blush that was working its way down her neck. Damn. If only he knew what she was thinking. Had Yashiro spilled the beans? Was that why she was blushing? Might as well ask her straight out.
"True enough. Though did Yashiro say anything else?" he asked.
Flashback to Kyouko's conversation with Yashiro
"Let me tell you a secret Kyouko-chan. One of the reasons why Ren adopts such an attitude towards his eating habits is because he's a total klutz in the kitchen," Yashiro said craftily.
Kyouko choked. It would indeed explain why he refused to eat properly. More like he didn't have a choice. Though it was rather hard to imagine the perfect Tsuruga Ren with a flowery, pastel pink apron around his waist and a chef's hat on his head.
"But his apartment has a beautiful kitchen!" she countered, trying not to laugh.
"Yes, but he hardly makes use of it. All apartments do come with kitchens after all."
"I guess…" she replied.
Yashiro smiled. Victory was in his grasp! He knew it! "So will you help him?"
"Okay, since I do owe him one anyway."
Ren felt a slight flush staining his cheeks. Gripping his chopsticks almost to the point of snapping them, he thought furiously, "Damn that Yashiro!" He would definitely get him for that one. A klutz in the kitchen? He wasn't all THAT bad. Right? He could still cook rice. It only burned two or three times in the rice cooker. And instant noodles were a piece of cake. Just add hot water. How difficult can cooking be? It's just because he was far too busy to cook, he thought defiantly. Yashiro's comments were uncalled for!
"Owe me one?" Ren wondered aloud, trying to bury his resentment towards Yashiro.
She nodded, feeling more than slightly amused at his reaction. 'Ah, he does have his adorable moments…,' she thought. Aloud she said "Well, it's just that you've helped me many times in the past. Like standing up for me and giving me advice when I was having difficulty with my characterization of Mio in Dark Moon."
"Oh, that? That was nothing. Anyone else could have told you the same thing so don't worry about it."
"Well, perhaps. But you were the one who helped me. And I made a promise and I intend to keep it," she said obstinately, her face set with determination.
He smiled. That answer was so like her. Honest, stubborn and dedicated to anything she set herself to.
"Since you're going to be teaching me how to cook, perhaps I should start calling you Kyouko-sensei?" he teased. It was becoming an interesting game for him. To see how far he could push her and how easy it was to make her flustered.
But this time, she refused to be baited. "Yes, yes. But I would really prefer it if you called me by my name…" she hesitated.
"Mmmm, you're indeed rather young to be my sensei," Ren remarked. Dipping his voice to a lower register, he said softly, "Kyouko-chan."
She shivered from his caressing tone, deliciously deep and sexy, disturbing and exciting her at the same time.
"Ah…uhmm…un," she stuttered. "Gochisosama!" she stood up quickly and grabbed her plates, intending to make a hasty escape. Seriously! Did the man ever stop to think about what his very presence meant to innocent young girls?
Ren stood up with her and gracefully touched her wrist, intending to guide her. Instead, he felt the acceleration of her pulse at their contact. A heady and exhilarating feeling indeed.
"I'll help," he managed to say evenly. "The power hasn't come back on yet and it's quite dark."
She could barely meet his eyes now. Damn. He didn't mean to scare her away from him. Two steps forward and three steps back, huh. Oh well, no choice now.
"What's wrong with calling you Kyouko-chan? Yashiro calls you that as well," he prodded gently.
"Nothing. Nothing. Whatever you want is fine," she mumbled, mentally berating herself for not strengthening the barrier around her heart.
Excellent. Now if only he could drop the 'chan'.
Blacktohru: Please let me know what you think. If it's ok, I'll finish up Part 2: Ren's past and soap suds.
Here's a line I REALLY wanted to use. Sigh!
"I'll eat only if you feed me…" Ren added with a twinkle in his eye.