The Yashiro Conspiracy

Disclaimer: I don't own Skip Beat. Meh.

Blacktohru: Thanks to Runadaemon for beta-ing this one! Gomen-ne, I made a few final additions at the last minute. ^^

Chapter 13 – Broken Wings

The screams of his ardent fans were fading into the background more and more these days, he thought disinterestedly as he belted out the chorus of his latest hit. Is this what the view from the very peak of success looked like? Nameless girls and faceless names became a commonplace, with his manager being the only fixture in his life. No friends to call his own, no family to be at his side; nothing but the strains of his guitar and the lyrics that he wrote to go with it.

Was this what he had worked so hard to achieve? Wasn't this what he had wanted, no, what he had dreamed of his entire life?

To be loved. To be admired. To be desired. To have the crowd scream his name.

But the one person he wanted to be there for him hated his very existence.


He gave them a careless grin, his trademark smile and began strumming another song, a ballad this time. It was one he had written for her a long time ago but never released with any of his CDs. Partly because he had been far too incensed with her for turning tail on him and partly, he admitted grudgingly, because he hadn't wanted anyone to see the depth of his feelings for her.

He sang of warm summer days filled with her sunny smiles and of the childish love they had once shared, pure and innocent. He spun tales of how they would frolic, hand-in-hand through those cinnamon sweet dreams. Yes, his memories of her as a child were always of her looking up to him adoringly with those beautiful brown orbs of hers.

He resisted the urge to rub a hand over his face wearily. Not even Tsuruga Ren, that B-grade celebrity who would rely on transient fame through his recent bout of scandals, could be considered his rival now. Such gossip was the recipe for instant popularity, and infamy. But that wasn't what he was looking for. All he wanted... he drew a deep breath.

This feeling, he thought as he ran through the final stanza of his song, was it loneliness?

Without realizing it, he had already raised his face to the sky, the spot lights above highlighting all too clearly, his tears.

And the crowd roared.

The air was still, almost quiet with the gentle susurrations of the leaves as they blew along with the gentle breeze. It was a peaceful place and it should have had a calming effect on her emotions, but the turmoil within her heart refused to abate. As if to mirror her mood, the earlier turquoise blue sky was slowly turning a deep hue of Prussian blue as an early dusk descended. Storm clouds were gathering, foretelling the coming storm.

Kyouko rocked on the balls of her feet, a blue stone clutched firmly between her palms as she mumbled to herself.

The journey home hadn't taken as long as she would have liked. Or perhaps it was purely because she had been in a complete daze when she had boarded that plane. So much for taking into consideration all of her surroundings. Her Otou-san would definitely not be pleased.

Her heart froze for a moment. It wouldn't just be Otou-san. She pressed her palms to her face in despair. Everyone she'd left behind – Moko-san, Maria-chan, Okami-san, Taisho-san, Takarada-san, Sawara-san, the Bridge Rock Onii-sans, her Dark Moon and Box "R" colleagues – all of them would be so let down by her.

"Tsuruga-san" she said his name in a whisper. She could just imagine him walking up to her and saying something worse than not wanting to speak to her outside of work. Perhaps he wouldn't even acknowledge her existence anymore! In retrospect, she truly deserved it.

Admittedly, she had panicked at reading the letter and ran off without thinking too much about it. It was painful but her instinctive response to run spelled the end of her career. Everything that she had worked so hard for was now in vain. It would have been so simple to just call any one of them up and tell them that she would be going away, just for a short while, due to 'family issues' that she had to settle. But she just couldn't find it in herself to lie to them. If only things were that easy….

And so here she was again, where she started all those years ago. She raised her eyes to take in her surroundings.

Her memories of this place had always been of clear blue skies dotted with fluffy white clouds and the shaded everglade she'd sit under, shading her from the gentle rays of sunlight that peeked through the crystal green foliage of the canopy above. On better days that is. She lifted her face to the skies and took a deep, invigorating breath of fresh air, heavy with the fragrance of tiny white star-shaped flowers. Serissa, she mused, a little surprised that she had actually recalled its name.

Just a few feet away from her was the edge of a cliff where a majestic waterfall cascaded to the lake down below. Once, when she was younger, she'd crept to the edge where she had stared, enraptured by the glistening rainbows that reflected off the misty spray.

She allowed her eyes to slide shut, taking in the calm and peaceful serenity of it all. It was the place she would always go to whenever she was confused or upset. It was the place she had met Corn. A small smile of reminiscence played by her lips.

"If only he were here. I'm sure he would have known what to do," she sighed to herself as she patted the blue stone carefully. Somehow, no matter how much she focussed her worries and burdens on it, it didn't seem to work anymore. All that she could remember was him lifting the stone to his lips and kissing its shiny surface.

'Kami-sama, what on earth am I doing! Remembering something like that...'

Footsteps broke her reverie and her eyes shot open. She nearly groaned aloud at the thought of someone intruding on her secret place. It belonged to Corn and her! Why should anyone interfere!

"Kyouko-chan?" a voice called out. "Are you here?"

That voice! She scrambled to her feet hastily. "Tsu-" her voice died in her throat.

The figure that appeared before her stood in a shaft of light and for a moment, she saw him.


The figure hesitated and then stepped closer.

Oh. The hope that sprung in her chest died.

"Yes, Kyouko-chan."

"Tsuruga-san? What are you doing here?" she could barely meet his eyes now. Not after imagining all that he would say to her now that he had found her. She frowned. Found her. How had he found her in the first place?

He gave a small grunt of exasperation. "I should be asking you that. Why aren't you in the office? What happened?"

She shook her head, unwilling to tell him anything. "It's nothing. I just needed to go away for a little while." Inwardly, she grimaced and wished that she could take those words back.

Unexpectedly, he didn't turn the force of his gentlemanly smile on her or get angry. Instead, he reached out and pulled her into his embrace, her small lithe frame crashing into his muscled chest. He bent forward, holding her tightly as he released a shuddering sigh. "We were so worried! I'm glad you're okay."

She stiffened for a moment in surprise and then leaned into his embrace, accepting the comfort he offered. He was worried for her. He had come to look for her. No one had ever done that for her. Not even Sho. She leaned into his hug, feeling the waves of uneasiness and hopelessness slowly dissipate as she buried her face into his chest.

"Kyouko-chan..." his usual calm and steady baritone was thick with emotion, making her shudder as his warm breath ghosted over the shell of her ear. She bit back a whimper in response and wished most fervently that it would be dark enough so that her cherished senpai couldn't see her agony.

"I'm sorry," she whispered, ignoring the patter of raindrops that were dotting her blouse and beginning to soak her from her shoulders downwards. The rain mingled with her tears, streaking down her face unchecked.

Ren opened the umbrella he carried at his side to shield her from the rain and silently thanked Moko-san's foresight in reminding him to check the weather forecast while he was on board the plane. Carefully tucking her head under his chin, he marvelled at how fragile his feisty little kouhai actually was. She smells of rain and tears, he thought sorrowfully. Ren closed his eyes, inexplicably filled with the desire to ease her burdens.

"What happened?" he leaned back a little to look at her properly, taking in her red eyes and tear-stained cheeks. The tall actor gently pushed her down onto the seat she had abandoned when she heard him coming.

'Even while kneeling down like that, he's still taller than me', she thought to herself a little bemusedly.

"If you don't tell me, how am I supposed to help you?" he chided her gently as he placed a finger on her chin, angling her head upwards. "You do know that all of us care for you, right?" his words were demanding but his mild tone was somehow calming. "Moko-san insisted on coming, but I didn't want to put her career at risk, especially since she's just starting off," he continued, noting the widening of her eyes. "Takarada-san even allowed it, but he did mention that he would make all of us work doubly hard for it."

"She did?" Kyouko whispered in wonder. "Moko-san really said that?"

Ren smiled at that. He repeated Ba-chan's words, "There are many who care for you, if only you'd let them." Carefully cradling the umbrella with his neck and shoulders, he used his handkerchief to gently wipe away the tears that were pooling in her eyes. "Your landlord and landlady were beside themselves with worry. Make sure you give them a call later, okay?"

His words echoed in her mind as she stared at him in wonder. "Even you, Tsuruga-san?"

His answer was instantaneous, tinged with a little hint of self-depreciation which she would wonder about later. "Of course, Kyouko-chan."

His sincere and unwavering gaze was her undoing and she hesitantly opened up that part of herself she had locked away when she made the decision to move to Tokyo with Sho.

'Why is it I trust him so much? Somehow or other, he has never ceased to give me strength...'

"My mother," she began. "I got a letter from the hospital this morning stating that she had just been admitted. I tried to see her just now, but they wouldn't let me in. I'm not really sure what's really wrong with her and...and..." she broke off painfully. "The letter said that with her current condition, she may not have much time left."

She gripped Ren's arm tightly. "What if..." she looked up at him beseechingly. "It's my fault... for running away...leaving her alone. I shouldn't have." Had her love for Sho so clouded her judgment that she had been willing to abandon family for him? Her mother hadn't been the best of mothers. But to a certain extent, hadn't she worried about the welfare of her daughter? To place her in the foster care of the Fuwas, wasn't that a form of caring? She could have just abandoned her in some orphanage. She wouldn't have been any wiser to the fact that she had a mother if that had happened.

"Kyouko-chan..." he was at a loss for words.

"I left her alone," she shuddered, trying to hold back the sobs that wracked her small body. "I always thought that even parents can hate their own children... but as my mother's daughter, how could I have done such a thing to her in return? I abandoned her... "

He pulled her close. "It's okay to cry. I'm here for you."

His words broke the dam of tears and she began crying in earnest. Ren wrapped his arms tightly around her, glad that he had made it in time. Once her sobs began to quiet down, he patted her head gently.

"You did try your best for her, didn't you?" he mused aloud. "The very fact that you're here in Kyoto means that you care for her. And since you got that letter, doesn't it mean that she managed to track you down? I'm sure she does care for you. Otherwise, she'd be completely indifferent to the fact that she has a daughter. Right?" he ruffled her short bangs.

She bit her lip. Put in that perspective, he sounded very convincing. Hope welled in her chest. Her mother cared. It was a strange emotion to consider, but if it were true... she pressed a hand to her eyes, trying to stop the tears.

"Still the cry-baby Kyouko-chan?" he teased her softly, jolting her from her inner contemplations.

She hiccupped as she choked and stared at him. "What do you mean by 'still'? And how did you know where to find me? The only person who knows of this place is me and Corn."

He nodded a little sadly. "Yes."

"But..." she stared at him.

"I don't mind what you call me, Kyouko-chan. I'm sorry for not telling you earlier. I hope that you will be able to forgive me."

She stared at him, his words contradicting the very axis of her knowledge of Tsuruga Ren. But, there were times when he had seemed all too familiar to her and knew exactly what to say and what to do to ease her fears and calm her troubles. Could it be? The sunlight that pierced through the canopy above highlighted his already fair hair. "Corn?" her voice was a reverent whisper. "You're really Corn?"

"Yes. In the flesh, or more accurately, in the suit," he tried to joke.

"I did think you were Corn, but I thought he was a ..."

"Fairy prince," he finished her sentence.

"But you're..."

"Human, much to your disappointment."

"But that means that you...."

"I didn't mean to bluff you, but I really didn't know how else to stop you from crying back then."

She stared at him, a little hurt. "You didn't trust me enough to tell me who you were?"

Ren took a deep breath. So it had come to this.

"I couldn't. I made a promise to myself, to my parents and to the President that I would never use my real name again until I have achieved my goal," he smiled at her winsomely.

"Have you achieved your goal?" she asked wide eyed.

"Almost. But I will make just this one exception for you. I trust that you will keep it a secret?"

"Of course!" she looked mutinous and her breath caught in her throat at the intense look he was giving her.

He'd made the decision, he remanded himself. He would stand by it. It would be for her, and for her only, he thought as he took in her luminous eyes, still damp from the tears she'd shed and the trusting hold she had on his hands.

"My real name is... Hizuri Kuon. I am the only son of Hizuri Kuu and Hizuri Julia."

She stared at him slack jawed. Hizuri Kuon. He was Otou-san's son? Which meant that she had met his father? Kuon and Corn were the same person? Her head was spinning with questions.

He gave a short chuckle. "I know you must be confused now. I'll answer all your questions, perhaps on another day. For now, you're more important."

"Promise?" she turned liquid eyes to him.

He couldn't resist those eyes, glimmering brown orbs that seemed to stare into his very psyche. "Yes, I promise."

"Why?" she suddenly demanded. "Why now? Why do you suddenly trust me now?"

He reached out and caressed her cheek gently. How was he to explain of the myriad of feelings that had welled up in his chest whenever she was near him? Or the inexplicable desire of just breaking free from his gentlemanly persona and reverting back to whom he really was? He gripped her shoulders just a little tighter.

"Because you mean the world to me." He regretted his words the second they left his mouth. He hid a grimace. Hadn't he already decided to do this?

She stared at him blankly. "What?"

His already wavering self confidence took a nosedive. "I like you, Kyouko-chan." He hesitated, unable to force the words out of his mouth properly. "I don't mean to make you confused or anything like that. I just wanted you to know." He sighed.

There. It was done. There was no going back now. If she were to hate him for it...the least he could do was to accept it... and hopefully regain her trust and friendship.

She wobbled on her seat. " me? But..." she sat up straighter. "But that's not possible!"

He almost frowned at her. "Why is it not possible?" At that moment, his conscience took the opportunity to rise up and bellow with uncontrolled laughter at his expense. Of course, even her best friend had mentioned how Kyouko-chan's popularity was on the rise and that there were more than a few men angling for her.

"Because the person Tsuruga-san likes is a high school girl," came her quiet reply.

The second the words were out of her mouth, her eyes widened and she clapped a hand over her mouth.

"Where did you hear that from?" He stared at her in a mixture of fascination and horror. A part of him silently rejoiced the fact that his inner self had been wrong. Well, for now at least.

"Uhm...uhm... by accident?" she stared at her hands and fidgeted.

The only person whom he had told was... he paused. The chicken.

"The chicken?" Ren's eyes widened in realisation.

Oops. Another faux pas on her part. She scrambled to her feet.

"Now, how do you know the chicken, Kyouko-chan?"

She began to sweat under his scrutiny. He was getting angry with her!

Bowing low in a dogeza position, she cried out, "I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to hide it from Tsuruga-san! It's just that it somehow became really difficult to tell you and you seemed to be comfortable talking to me in the chicken suit, more so than me in person, and so I thought that it would be better that way..."

"You were in the chicken suit?" he was dumbfounded, pulling her to her feet. "There's no need to apologize like that."

"I'm sorry," she refused to meet his eyes as she grasped the hem of her skirt tightly. She couldn't have chosen a worse time to tell him the truth of who was hiding under the chicken suit.

"I basically admitted all my feelings to you unknowingly???"

She looked down at the floor, studying his boots intensely. "Uh...but Tsuruga-san said that..."

"You are that high school girl," he replied with a sigh. "Is that so difficult to believe?"

She was blunt. "I can't be..."


"Because Tsuruga-san is... Tsuruga-san!" she objected heatedly.

"That's not really an explanation, you know," Ren chuckled. "And do use my name. I've already started calling you 'Kyouko-chan'"

"But that's not respectful! You're my senpai and I must address you appropriately."

He bit back a laugh. "We've known each other for so long and besides, if you don't use my name, I'll have to go back to calling you 'Mogami-san'."


He reined himself in. There was no need to rush her into it. Hadn't he told himself that he would give her all the time she needed?

Ren leaned his forehead against hers, trying to ease back the pain in his chest. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "I don't mean to force you into that... It's just that... No, nothing. I'm sorry," he took a deep breath and rephrased himself carefully.

"I understand if you don't want to answer me now. I'll wait for you. So, you don't have to feel awkward or pressured by what I'm saying. So take your time. Just…just think about it, okay?" He was blabbering. He felt as gauche as a teenager on his first date. Or rather, he amended wryly, like a twenty year old man confessing to the girl of his dreams.

She blinked. The tall man before her was suddenly uncertain, more so than she had ever seen before. The look in his eyes was sincere as he gazed upon her own openly, his heart laid bare to see. The man did look cute when he was flustered. The thought shocked her with its suddenness and her lips parted with a silent gasp.

"Don't turn away from me, Kyouko-chan. Even if this isn't what you want, I'll always be there for you as your friend, your senpai, anything you want me to be. I'll give you all the time that you need," he barely concealed his choke. Friend? He truly wondered whether he would be able to go back to the time when she didn't mean the world to him. His heart pumped in heavy thumps against his chest, reminding him of the passing time. Please, he begged her silently.

She contemplated his words silently, although inside, her brain was a whirlwind of jumbled thoughts and emotions. The world that she had carefully built upon her joining LME seemed in danger of crumbling at her feet.

'But for Ren...' she thought to herself. Images of him began to flash behind her eyes.

They had started off on a bad foot. He'd been furious, as to be expected from learning that someone wanted to join the entertainment industry for revenge on Fuwa Sho. But as time went by, fate had drawn them together. She was appointed his temporary manager and he had absolutely no intention of giving her any points for her effort. She'd seen his true smile and his ability to apologize so maturely, although she was hiding behind the face of Bou. He'd gone out of his way to help her build her characters for both Mio and Natsu. And somewhere along the way, he had become more than a senpai to her. Tsuruga Ren, Corn or Kuon, they were the same person after all.

"Tsuruga-san to me is someone very special as well," she looked at him shyly. "R-Ren..."

He raised his head at his name. The smile that lit up his features was blinding to behold. "Say my name again?"

She smiled at him delightedly. "Ren..."

He couldn't help himself. He swung her up in his arms and spun her around, making her laugh girlishly and clutch at his arms in reflex. "Kyouko-chan!"

"'Kyouko' is fine," she said shyly, a small blush staining her cheeks and a sweet smile at her lips.

He nearly kissed her. "Kyouko..."

He settled for hugging her tightly and whispering her name over and over again.

"Step away from her, you murderer!" a voice broke in.

They both looked up.


She felt the hairs at the back of her neck rise as she heard Ren's voice. She looked up at him and gasped. It was as if he were a different man altogether. In the fading light dusk provided, his eyes were dark and forbearing. They were narrowed and shone with a gleam of what appeared to be… hatred. Pure undiluted hatred. A cold shiver ran up her spine. She'd seen him angry. But never like this. It made him almost unrecognizable.

The sound of his name made her twitch. Shoutaro? What was he doing here? Then she heard his voice above her, cold and filled with disdain.

"I don't care what bullshit you told those reporters but I don't believe it. Kyouko, come over here. a murderer. Didn't you see all those pictures and videos?" Sho yelled. "Get away from him! What on earth did he do to you? Brainwash you? Your mother is in the hospital, for goodness' sake. Don't listen to a word of trash he says!"

Kyouko stiffened in Ren's arms.

"Kyouko?" he whispered, staring at her. "You don't believe what he says, do you?"

She pushed him away slowly.

"That's right, Kyouko! Back away from him!" Sho was yelling triumphantly.

"You bastard!" she suddenly yelled at him heatedly, startling the two men. "Don't talk to my senpai that way. Don't talk to Ren that way! You are nothing compared to him! Why can't you just leave us alone!"

"So now he's 'Ren' to you?" Sho mocked. "Do you know what he's done? That murderer? Those are the types of people who should be locked away for the rest of their lives!"

"I didn't..." Ren began.

She snapped. "Don't you dare give me that load of lies! Insult me all you want, but don't you dare insult Ren! Go away Shotaro! I don't want to have anything to do with you anymore!"

He smirked and gave her a condescending look. "You will always have feelings for me, Kyouko-chan. Even if it is hatred. You will never be able to get rid of me. You belong to me after all."

Ren's hands fisted at his sides. No, he argued with himself. Don't start something that will definitely end badly! Even though the brat deserved it after all the heartache he had caused Kyouko-chan. He forced himself to focus on her. Kyouko would definitely return to his side. He would make sure of that.

Sho glanced at the actor. Turned up like the bad egg he was, as always, he fumed to himself. Well, at least he had a contingency plan for that.

"Hey, aren't you supposed to be busy with one of those girlfriends of yours? Oh, sorry..." he mocked. "Having too many at once can be troublesome, right Ren?"

His drop of the honorific was glaringly obvious.

"It goes without saying too that if you were to hit me, I'll hit you back twice as hard," he threw his head back and laughed. "I was the one who protected Kyouko from the stalker in the end. Remember? And where were you? Busy entertaining?"

The tall actor refused to be baited. He'd been through worse and dealt with far more creative insults than that. "Are you done?" he smiled at the shorter man.

Sho heaved a dramatic sigh. "There he goes again, pretending to be so perfect. Did you see how fast your fans dropped you when they saw the truth of what you truly are?" He mimed a reporter speaking into a microphone. "Tsuruga Ren! Running away with his tail in between his legs! The truth of his past as a murderer!" He shook his head sadly. "Truly a pity your little holiday didn't last longer. Though I really should commend you on coming up with such an excuse to hide your guilt."

He turned to Kyouko suddenly and advanced upon her. "Did you know of his past? All those videos they were showing on the news? All that is REAL. I never would have thought you would fraternize with criminals."

She took a step forward instantly, ready to defend him against the hateful words Shotarou was spouting. Ren grabbed her wrist and shook his head. "It's okay," he whispered.

"No it's not!" she yelled back at him vehemently, shaking off his hold on her.

"Come back to me, Kyouko. I'll even forgive you for all your transgressions. We can start anew!" Sho held out a hand to her. He gave her a funny little half smile with a dimple that punctuated his smooth skin. It broke her heart. For a moment, they were both young again, back to a time when things weren't so complicated.

Ren restrained himself, forcefully imagining heavy chains holding him back. Kyouko was his. She wouldn't go back to trash such as Fuwa Sho. Not when he had thrown her away when it suited him and hurt her with his selfish words. But the look they shared, Ren agonized to himself. It was as if she were teetering between the love/hate for her childhood friend and the possible future she would have with him.

"Do you remember? The times when you would run to me crying..." Sho said softly.

"And you would stand there, helplessly," she replied and her voice hardened. "I learned to rely on myself. I had nothing! A mother who wouldn't even look at me unless I attained perfection. A friend who stood by and did nothing when I was down."

They stared at each other for a moment, their thoughts turning to the past.

"NO!" Ren finally broke his silence, piercing through their momentary stupor. He gazed down at the fuming singer. "You had your chance with her and you blew it. You hurt her and there's no way I'm letting her go back to your side."

Sho ignored the actor and gave his childhood friend a scornful, almost pitying look. "So, you've taken up with this murderer. Well, sorry to say, but you won't be able to rise to the top with that murderer at your side." He shot the actor a malicious grin as he directed his next words to Kyouko. "I'm so disappointed with you, Kyouko. To think that you'd throw away all your hard work for a man. I thought you knew better." Sho shook his head sadly. "I don't accept soiled goods."

Infuriated, she rushed up to him and slapped him. Hard. "You bastard! You aren't fit to lick his boots!"

He laughed sardonically, steadfastly ignoring the numbing pain. "You're pathetic. You hold such a high opinion of yourself now, eh?" he gazed down at her scornfully and then gave a short laugh. " mean you didn't tell your precious senpai? About how I found you in that compromising position with Reino of Vie Ghoul? He could have raped you."

She stared at him in revulsion. "What nonsense are you spouting...." she trailed off, belatedly remembering the deeds of Beagle Reino. "That wasn't rape!"

"No, he only had your outfit undone and had one hand up your dress. I wonder what would have happened if I hadn't gotten there in time," he goaded her further, seeing his words finally pierce through the impenetrable wall that Ren had built.

In between one heartbeat and the next, Ren had Sho by the throat, almost raising him a foot off the floor with one hand. His voice was steady as he gently increased the pressure around the soft cartilage. "Would you please enlighten me further? Since I seem to be most ignorant of the event of which you were speaking of."

The singer gasped for air, his already pale complexion whitened further at the actor in front of him. Ren wasn't furiously angry in the way a regular person would be. Instead, he seemed almost normal, his question phrased in a manner one would use to enquire about the weather. That was what he thought until he caught a glance of his eyes. They were flint hard and had a strange gleam that spoke of untold horrors.

"Cat caught your tongue?" Ren smiled slowly. " were so talkative just now."

Sho swallowed tightly and coughed harshly. "" he struggled vainly, unable to free himself from the actor's iron grip. He felt his energy depleting, a stronger emotion rushing to fill its place. Fear.

The actor's eyes narrowed to slits, his entire demeanour changing, his usual gentlemanly baritone was harsh. "Spit it out!"

Crap. He was dangling by the throat, quite literally, his intake of air gradually lessening. But he hadn't come this far for nothing.

He managed to wheeze out "Re-remember that stalker incident? Ky-Kyouko... nearly got raped by him. If I hadn't gotten there in time, who knows what would have happened." Despite his rather awkward position, he managed to shoot the actor a superior look. "And where were you when that happened? Did she even tell you exactly what happened? Heh. So much for..." he choked over his last words as Ren furiously tightened his hold on the younger man's neck.

"Y-You couldn't even protect her," Sho bit out in between gasps. "You would never be able to. Because you will never be more than a senpai in her eyes."

The actor turned swiftly towards her. She was still in the same position as before, stunned into fright by him, no doubt, he thought to himself sourly. Her eyes were filled with tears. He clenched his eyes shut and pushed aside the almost irresistible desire to just snap the neck of the snivelling singer before him. He dropped him like a sack of potatoes and stepped towards her.

She took a step back.

Ren opened his mouth to call her, but clamped it shut when he saw the look on her face. 'Kyouko...' he whispered to himself. He'd ruined everything.

Sho staggered towards her and grasped her hand tightly. "Kyouko," he breathed. "Now you see what I mean. Did you really think I meant what I said earlier? I'm sorry. I had to show you. You had to see for yourself what type of person he is," he ignored the startled look she sent him. "I did it for you. Come with me, Kyouko..."

She carefully disentangled her hand from his. "You said all provoke him..."

"Yes. I couldn't let you fall into the arms of a murderer. I'm sure you understand." He smiled at her and softly sang, his voice a deep rich thrum with only a slight rasp from his earlier ordeal, "I did it for you, all for you... So now all you need to do is to stay with me..."

Sho bent down on one knee in front of her. "Say you'll come back to me." Sho pried open her nerveless fingers to reveal the blue stone she held so tightly.

"You would throw away all that you've earned with your sweat and blood, just for him?" he asked her softly as he plucked the stone she'd christened 'Corn' from her hold. "Does he mean that much to you?"

Suddenly bereft of her precious Corn, she blinked, her eyes immediately registering its location. "Give that back," she growled and tried to snatch it back.

"Nuh-uh," he waved a finger in front of her face carelessly as he held the stone far beyond her reach in his other hand. "Not till you tell me what this piece of rock means to you."

"You know nothing about me," she spat. "You snivelling bastard! You used me for your own purposes, and when it suited you, you threw me away!"

"Kyouko," he murmured. "We can start anew. Forget our tainted pasts and look forward to our future. Isn't that what you always wanted? A future with me?"

She paused for a moment in contemplation. Then she leaned in towards him, completely missing the look of intense joy that crossed his face and the look of sheer pain that spread through Ren.

Sho nodded, pulling her close to his side in a loose embrace. "Yes. I love you, Kyouko. I always have, although I was too stubborn to admit it."

"Kyouko..." Ren stared at the couple before him, unable to believe his eyes as he watched the girl he loved place her hand on the singer's cheek. Was this it? Were the Gods so cruel? To take away the only girl he had ever loved...

"Love?" she shook her head, unable to accept his words.

The man who once meant the world to her reached out a hand to grasp hers. "Kyouko?" Sho whispered achingly. The singer clenched his eyes shut, burying the ache he felt as he slipped on a mask of cool nonchalance. His voice was tinged with just a hint of cruelty. "Well, I guess that just means that you won't need this rock anymore, eh?" he pushed the rock towards her face and she instinctively flinched from him. He tossed the rock lightly up into the air, as if to test its weight and threw it with all his strength.

"No!" Kyouko gasped, already reaching out for her precious Corn. "NO!"

"You never learn, do you?" He grabbed hold of her and while his earlier embrace had been as gentle as a lover's touch, his grip now held an almost maniacal force to it. He pressed a switchblade to Kyouko's neck, just allowing the knife to graze and pierce the tender flesh. Blood. Her brain registered it even as it skittered away from the fact that her childhood friend was currently holding a knife to her throat. She remained as still as she could.

"S-Sho-chan, what are you doing?" she hated the way her voice wavered.

He grinned down at her and the look in his eyes made her shrink back in fear. "Making my mark." His words chilled her, making her shudder involuntarily. His breath was hot and rancid with the smell of beer. "Scream for me," he breathed into her ear as he pressed the knife deeper. She clenched her teeth against the pain and bit her tongue as he yanked her hair back to angle her head upwards.

"Do you like what you see, Ren?" he ran the side of the knife gently across her cheeks, streaking her face with her own blood. "Such beautiful, unmarked skin, so pure and innocent. What man wouldn't want to possess such a treasure. Only a fool would turn her aside."

A muscle began to tick in Sho's cheek as he failed to get a rise out of the actor. And then he smiled cruelly as he gripped Kyouko's hair and bent his head to meet her lips in a sadistic kiss. She shuddered at the feeling of his tongue against her lips.

"No!" she whimpered, quite unable to budge for fear the knife would embed itself in her skin.

"Kyouko…" Ren whispered, his eyes widening as he took in the scene before him. He growled, low and deep in his throat. "Let her go."

"And what I say no?"

"You would live to regret it." Ren smiled at him in a deceptively mild manner which completely belied the clenching of his jaw and the ferocity in his eyes.

"Oh, really?"

"By the time I'm finished with you, you will never want to show your face in the crowd ever again." She shuddered at his vicious words, spoken in a soft pleasant tone and fell from smiling lips.

Sho hissed with satisfaction. "Excellent. I couldn't have said it better myself!" He pushed Kyouko aside roughly, sending her sprawling to the floor.

She gasped at the sudden move, and watched as both men ran towards each other, one holding a deadly weapon in his hands. For a moment she stared mesmerized at the glint of the blade as both men struggled over it.

Those idiots! She felt like pulling out her hair in frustration. First Ren drops a bombshell on her about how he was actually Corn AND Kuon; and now the childhood friend she'd known nearly her entire life had put a knife to her neck? But even as anger flooded her system, she worried over them. Ren, being of taller stature had the obvious advantage. But knowing Sho, he wouldn't pick a fight without knowing one or two tricks. She wouldn't put it past him to fight dirty. She bit her lip in anxiety as both men edged closer and closer to the precipice.

If only she could get them away from the edge of the cliff. Or even distract them from each other for a moment. Just to get some sense knocked into those two stubborn heads! The thought emboldened her for a moment and she stumbled to her feet a little ungracefully.

Please let it work. She sent up a hurried and disjointed prayer to whichever kami that was watching over her at that moment.

Kyouko looked up at the sudden yell of pain one of the men emitted. Ren was gripping Sho's arm, harshly twisting it in an effort to disarm him but the younger man doggedly held on to the switchblade. She grimaced at the popping sound of his bones being strained beyond their normal capacity. But she knew Sho wouldn't back off that easily. Not even the possibility of a dislocated shoulder could stop him.

Panting hard, Sho jabbed an elbow into the taller man's stomach, making him gasp and lose his grip. He jumped back, away from Ren's reach and dropped the switchblade into his other hand. His dominant right hand was throbbing with pain from almost being dislocated. He scowled. The actor had been serious about almost maiming him! What if he couldn't play the guitar anymore???

"Damn you, Tsuruga Ren!" he yelled, completely incensed. He raised the switchblade.

Kyouko's eyes widened and a quick glance at Ren proved that the actor was down for the count, catching his breath from the sharp jab Sho had given him. No!

She dashed forward.

Blood. It was everywhere. It was all over her. It was wet and sticky. And red.

"Kyouko!" Sho yelled, his face turning pale.

Ren started as he felt awareness snap back into place. He felt horror and shock wash over him. Kyouko. Only later he would admit to himself that it wasn't purely because of the words of Fuwa Sho that had propelled him forward, but the look which she cast upon him that nearly brought him to his knees.

She wobbled for a moment as the fact that she'd been stabbed began to filter through her brain. Suddenly she slipped on a patch of moss and teetered for a second. She fell and began sliding. Her hands scrabbled through the dirt trying to find purchase, but the damp earth yielded easily. No! She'd forgotten about the waterfall! Instinct told her to grasp anything she could, but it was all in vain.

"Kyouko!" Ren shouted, already darting forward.

Her eyes grew wide as she felt gravity pulling her over the edge of the cliff, the waterfall below rushing up to greet her.

She screamed. "REN!!!"

He jumped over the edge of the cliff, diving in after her.

Blacktohru: Hi! Yes, it's been a long time! *bows* Thank you for your patience! That was... *stares into the distance* about 7000+ words? Hope that makes up for the delay! My apologies for not being able to personally reply each and every one of you. But rest assured, I read and treasure each and every one of your reviews. Let me know what you think! But, is it just me or are there like... tonnes of Skip Beat fics out there now! It's amazing! When I first started writing TYC, there was only a mere handful! ^^ Anyways, TBC! See ya next time in Chapter 14 – Call Me Irresponsible.