Fandom: Skip Beat!
Summary: It's Christmas Eve, and LME has given all of its employees a couple of days off. Thinking Ren might be lonely, Yashiro sends Kyoko to see him.
Warnings: Makes sense mostly in the context after Chapter 110, but no major spoilers.
Disclaimer: Skip Beat! is the property of Yoshiki Nakamura, and a whole lot of other people and companies.
Thank Yous: Alastair Black, for ridiculing me until I did it right.
"What am I doing tonight?" Kyoko pursed her lips, thinking. Her restless fingers toyed with a charm hanging off of her cell phone. Lory had declared that "Christmas is a holiday for love!" and had given everyone in the LME agency both Christmas Eve and Christmas off. She had been planning to work the night at Darumaya, for it would be the busiest nights of the year, but the Okami-san had surprised her by giving her the night off after she helped the Taisho make a huge batch of rice and noodles. "I don't think I'm doing anything, why?"
"Is that so?" Yashiro's voice perked up, and a smile spread over his face. "Well, Ren is always lonely at Christmas," he said, pleased with how well the lie rolled off the tongue. He knew full well that Ren would spend most of his break reading. "And you know his eating habits, he'll spend all Christmas eating instant noodles. Do you think you could drop by later and keep him company for a bit?"
"Umm, okay," Kyoko said, her voice uncertain. Somehow, she couldn't see Tsuruga-san pining away on Christmas Eve, but she didn't really feel like being alone on Christmas either. Stupid couples. Stupid romances on TV. Stupid Shotaro. She sighed, looking out the window. "If I'm going to go, I better leave soon – it's snowing pretty hard."
"Thanks, Kyoko-chan," Yashiro's voice echoed his gratefulness, but his face echoed something different, something slightly evil. Christmas, he thought, would be a perfect time to get Ren and Kyoko together!
"No problem, Yashiro-san," Kyoko said. She was absentmindedly glancing around her room, thinking about what to bring. Obviously she would need her coat, hat and mittens, and probably she would need one of her cookbooks; it would be impossible now to get a Christmas cake, so she would probably have to bake one from scratch. Perhaps the supermarket down the road was still open too, so she could buy the ingredients there. Oh, and she would have to bring Tsuruga-san's present, too. She had initially intended on giving it to him on the 26th, but that would not be necessary now. "I'll see you on the 26th at the Tsukigomori filming, right?" she asked Yashiro-san, spotting his present sitting beside Tsuruga-san's. "I'll give you your present then, okay?"
"Oh, thank you," Yashiro's voice betrayed his surprise. "I'll see you on the 26th, then. Bye." Only after he pressed the end button did he begin to laugh, imagining Ren's face as Kyoko showed up on his doorstep on Christmas Eve, of all days. Now, with luck, Ren wouldn't screw everything up, and they would be a couple by the 26th.
Kyoko shut her cell phone with a clack and tucked it back into her bag. She grabbed Tsuruga-san's present and her dessert cookbook and tucked that away too, and pulled her coat, hat and mittens out of her closet. "Present, check, cell phone, check, wallet, check, keys, check, cookbook, check," she murmured, glancing through the contents of her bag. Looking outside her window, she could see that it was snowing pretty hard, or rather, pretty thickly. It was the kind of snow that had big, fat snowflakes, but not a lot of wind. Very romantic, she thought bitterly, spotting a young couple nuzzling noses on the street. An older couple strolled past them, laughing. She sighed and clattered down the stairs to the doors before pulling on her coat, hat and mittens. "I'm off," she called to the Okami-san who absentmindedly nodded and told her to have fun. The restaurant was getting busier.
In his neat third floor apartment, Ren settled back in his leather couch, a stack of novels on the mahogany coffee table in front of him. Strangely enough, even for those who knew him, these novels were all in English. In magazines and on the air, Ren Tsuruga had no more command of the English language than the average Japanese businessman. Christmas was his only chance each year to settle back and read his favourite English books without interruption.
Well, until the doorbell rang. He sighed and set down The Life of Pi, thinking darkly that if it were a door-to-door salesman, he might just snap and hit him. No, he thought, mentally shaking himself and taking several deep breaths. No, of course he wouldn't, because that wasn't something that Ren Tsuruga would do. No, he decided, if it was a door to door salesman, he would pretend he wasn't there. Yes, that's it, he thought, conveniently forgetting that this building was card-locked and door-to-door salesmen wouldn't even be able to get to his apartment. Looking through the peephole, however, he saw Kyoko – Kyoko, who looked somewhat uncertain, and yet twice as beautiful as usual, with snow melting into water droplets on her hat, in her hair, even in her eyelashes. No, not twice as beautiful, he thought, because that would no justice to her. Four times as beautiful, maybe. Hell, even fourteen times as beautiful. He opened the door for her as Kyoko looked uncertainly at the doorbell, clearly wondering if she should press it again. He saw a smile spread across her round face, as she tilted her head up to look at him. In an adoring manner, his mind purred to him. You'd wish, wouldn't you?
"Mogami-san, what brings you here?" He smiled down at the petite girl, only noticing now that she carried a large paper grocery bag with both arms. His fingers itched to wipe a loose, cold, wet strand of hair from her face, but he kept them locked on the doorframe. "Come in," he invited, eyeing her wet clothes with concern. "You must be freezing."
"Yashiro-san told me that you would be lonely tonight, because it's Christmas Eve," she told him cheerfully as she shed her shoes and hat. "So I came over to keep you company. Um, where do you want me to put this?" She lifted up the grocery bag. "I bought ingredients for a Christmas cake, I thought we could maybe bake it together."
"The kitchen is fine," Ren said, taking her coat from her. "Your hat and mittens can go . . ." he paused, glancing around. "On that table over there is fine." She nodded, shifting the bag to brush a couple strands of damp hair behind her ears and pattered into the kitchen with her ingredients.
Well, Ren thought with amusement, packing away his stack of books, clearly I won't be able to read tonight. Somehow, however, he could not bring himself to be angry about this.
When he joined Kyoko in the kitchen, he saw she had dug out an apron from somewhere, and had arranged a lot of mysterious ingredients out on a counter. She was gazing mournfully up at one of the cupboards. He sighed, recalling the last time that Kyoko had tried to get things from the cupboards in his kitchen. "What do you need?"
Kyoko brightened upon hearing his voice behind her. She really had not wanted to repeat an experience like the last time; facing the Emperor of the Night was not on her list of priorities. "Umm, I need a mixing bowl, a measuring cup, and a baking pan." Her cookbook was open on the counter as well, and she skimmed the directions as Ren dug out the requested items from a cupboard. He was surprised he even owned a measuring cup. "A couple extra bowls might be a good idea too," she called over, as she poured flour into the mixing bowl.
He brought over two extra bowls as Kyoko shoved the mixing bowl into his hands. "Sift that flour, would you?" she asked. "I have to whisk these eggs."
"Run your fingers through it like this," she demonstrated, taking the bowl back and setting it on the counter. Pulling up his sleeves, he imitated her action while she broke the eggs into another bowl and whisking them furiously with a spoon.
"Why are we baking a Christmas cake?" Ren asked cautiously, as Kyoko managed to somehow keep all the egg in the bowl. He probably had a whisk somewhere, but he wasn't sure.
"Because it's Christmas," Kyoko replied, surprised. She set down the eggs and poured a measuring cup of sugar into them. "On Christmas, we should have a Christmas cake, and I don't imagine you bought one, and they're sold out now. These eggs are done, so pour them in with the flour." She strode off, picking up the second of the extra bowls, and poured some milk in it. Turning to the microwave, she put in the milk and heated it.
"No, I didn't," Ren said, carefully pouring the eggs into his flour. Silence reigned as he tried to find another topic of conversation. "But why are you here baking one? I would have thought that you would be working tonight."
"Okami-san surprised me today," Kyoko said, popping the milk out of the microwave. Sticking a finger in it, she pulled it out quickly, wincing, and gave her hand an odd flick. Ren was suddenly seized with the desire to walk over there and kiss those darling fingers better. He glanced down at his mixing bowl, regaining his composure, as she, having noticed nothing unusual, slid butter into the hot milk. She walked purposefully back to where Ren stood, holding a bowl of eggs, sugar and flour, and dumped the milk and butter mixture in with it. "Your choice; wash these dishes and preheat the oven, or stir this."
"I'll stir the batter," he decided. "What do you mean?"
"I was going to work tonight, but Okami-san gave me the evening off after I helped Taisho make a lot of rice and noodles. You know, it's the busiest night of the year. You're stirring the batter wrong."
"What?" Ren blinked. "There's a way to stir batter wrong?"
"Yes, and it's the way you're doing it. You're going to make it clump." She grabbed the bowl from him, brushing his hand and demonstrated. "Like this." She stirred the batter far more evenly than he had done it, with wide, even strokes, before passing the bowl back to him. "You try."
He was too dazed from the sudden contact to really have been paying attention to her demonstration. "Like this?" He made some sort of attempt of what he thought she had done.
"No, use wider strokes. You're missing spots."
In the end, it took him about four tries before he could stir batter to her satisfaction. She dashed around his kitchen doing mysterious things before he had found another topic. "But aren't Christmas cakes what you share with a," he hesitated, knowing this was a delicate subject. "A romantic partner?"
Kyoko dropped the baking pan that she had been lining with wax paper. Turning to him, he was almost surprised to see the expression on her face. Almost.
"No. Not at all," she told him in a flat tone, her eyes dark, her face having lost its usual good humour.
"Of course," he agreed with her hastily, wanting her to lose that expression. "What do I do with this?" He raised the bowl. She raised an eyebrow and glanced into the bowl, where the batter was now an even, dark brown colour.
"Mix it a bit longer," she said, staring at it critically. "It doesn't really need it, but the oven hasn't come to temperature yet, and a little extra stirring doesn't hurt." She paused, flicking the oven lights on. He didn't even know there was a switch for that. "Yes, that should be good." She took the bowl from him, and poured it into the baking pan, just as the oven beeped. "Ah, that means it's at temperature. Open the oven door for me?" He obeyed, and to his surprise, she slid the pan into the oven without putting on oven mitts. Noticing the look on his face, she asked, "What's wrong?"
"You stuck your bare hands into a hot oven."
"Yes, I did."
". . . Isn't that a little dangerous?"
Kyoko paused to consider, setting the timer on the oven. "The pan wasn't hot yet," she said, as if that answered the question. "Leave it in the oven to bake for about half an hour. Have you eaten anything yet?"
Ren smiled. "Of course I have," he said, beaming.
". . . and what exactly did you eat?" Kyoko was instantly suspicious.
"Err. . ." Ren paused, caught in his lie. Kyoko really was getting to know him far too well. "Instant noodles. With a bit of torn up sandwich meat and an egg. . ." he improvised, hoping he sounded believable.
"Liar." She sighed. "I haven't eaten yet either, so I'll make some nikujaga while we wait for the cake to bake. Go set the table, it won't take too long. But can you get a large pan for me first?" She pulled out the potatoes and meat she had bought for this very situation from her grocery bag. She set the pan that Ren pulled down for her on the stove, poured in vegetable oil, and began chopping the meat and potatoes with seemingly inhuman dexterity.
Ren sighed, he hoped, unnoticed, as he exited the kitchen to his dining room with an armful of placemats, chopsticks, and spoons. Why would Yashiro-san tell Kyoko he was lonely on Christmas Eve? He knew that Kyoko would feel the need to come over and keep him company, he thought, mildly annoyed. He could not truly feel angry at his manager as he watched Kyoko wander, businesslike, around the kitchen, sleeves rolled up and apron on. She really was far too cute with that apron on. Her auburn hair, almost dry after it's exposure to the elements outside, danced around her face as she stirred the meat and potatoes. How he would like to brush his lips across a few strands of that hair, wrap his arms around that slim frame, breathe in her distinctive, flowery scent. He shook his head, realizing that he had been staring. He glanced out the window; it was snowing harder now, and he was struck with an idea.
He dropped his placemats, spoons and chopsticks onto the table, and quietly slipped off to the storage room. After all, what was better in cold weather than a kotatsu for keeping warm, and dare he think it, being romantic? And if Kyoko asked, he could just say that he set it up earlier, and that it was chilliest close to the windows. She looked preoccupied now, so it wasn't likely that she would notice the switch. Quietly, he set up the kotatsu and removed the table, setting it only after he turned on the heat. He wandered back into the kitchen.
"You can go watch TV or something, if you like," she said, noticing he was back. "There isn't too much left to do, unless you want to wash those dishes." She nodded towards the sink, which now held the mixing bowl, measuring cup, and various utensils. "The nikujaga will be done soon, and the cake should be done in the next five minutes or so. Then I'll just put icing and fruit on the cake while we let the nikujaga simmer."
"I'll wash dishes then. After all, Mogami-san, you were kind enough to come over and cook." He meandered over to the sink, watching her discreetly out of the corner of his eye. True to her word, the oven sounded soon after, and he watched as she pulled it out of the oven (using mitts this time), sliced it in half horizontally, put whipped cream inside the two layers, top it with more cream, and set six strawberries around the top. It was almost like a dance, he thought, as she moved busily between the cake and the stove to check on the stew. He finished the dishes just as she poured the nikujaga evenly onto two plates.
"Take the cake out to the table," she smiled. "It'll be our dessert." She easily hefted dinner and moved gracefully out to the dining room, stopping short when she saw it was a kotatsu.
"A kotatsu?" Kyoko turned to give a dark look to Tsuruga-san, who followed after. "Why a kotatsu?"
"It's cold in the dining room." Ren replied, using all of his acting skill to make it sound obvious. "It's snowing harder now, and there's a draft coming from that window." He nodded towards the window, not trusting himself to balance the cake with one hand. He evaluated Kyoko's reaction carefully; she would probably buy it. She viewed him as a Demon Lord, and the idea that her presence sparked the use of the kotatsu wouldn't even cross her mind.
Kyoko stared up at Ren; his expression was open, innocent. This being Tsuruga-san, however, that didn't mean much. She turned her gaze on the kotatsu; the tabletop was plain glass, turned blue by the colour of the puffy duvet that lay beneath it. It really was fairly plain as kotatsus went, but still . . . She didn't really want to sit at a thing with such, such romantic connotations, but Tsuruga-san had spoken with reason. It was cold in this room due to lack of stove. Sighing, she set down the food on the placemats, and sat down, wrapping her lower body in the duvet. Tsuruga-san set the cake down in the centre of the table and set himself down opposite her.
"Do you want to turn on the TV, Mogami-san?" asked Ren, his manner mild.
"I'd rather not, if it's all right with you, Tsuruga-san," she replied, barely keeping herself from scowling. Watching romantic couples on TV on Christmas Eve was not her idea of a good time.
"All right," Ren agreed easily, eating. The room fell into brief silence as Kyoko focused on her own food, and he contemplated something. "Kyoko-chan," he began uncertainly.
Kyoko dropped her spoon into her half empty plate and looked at him suspiciously. "Yes?" She asked, her voice edged with suspicion.
"I was just thinking that even my manager is allowed to call you that. Why not me?"
Kyoko studied his open face cautiously, noting that there was no malice in his voice. Of course, being that this was Tsuruga-san, that meant nothing. However, the fact that her anger-sensing demon wasn't out was more reliable. She rose from her seat and checked his forehead. Nope, no fever, she thought.
"Would you like to call me Kyoko-chan?" she asked, as bemused as he was after her strange action.
"I would like that very much," Ren smiled. "I would also like it very much if you would call me Ren-kun," he continued, his voice deepening. At that moment, the power went off, cutting off whatever he had left to say.
Kyoko thought that that had good timing, at least; Tsuruga-san had missed the look of incredulous confusion and suspicion that tore across her features. She would have to check his head again later; maybe he was running a temperature, and she just missed it the first time. For the time being, however, she chose to ignore his words. She rose and opened the curtains, bringing a ghostly light into the apartment. "It really is snowing out. The wind's picked up since I left Darumaya. . . I can't even see the streetlights," she commented. True to her word, the streetlights, normally visible from Ren's third-story apartment, were only faint blurs of yellow. The window dimly illuminated the room, just enough for Ren to make out Kyoko's silhouette.
"I'll go get a flashlight." Ren said, his demeanor calm. Inwardly, he could have been celebrating. "And perhaps a couple of candles."
"Have you got a radio?" Kyoko asked. She had now come to the realization that she was trapped in the dark with a man who quite possibly wanted her to call him Ren-kun, which made her earlier relief at this turn of events disappear. Who could know who she was talking to now? It could be Tsuruga-san, or it could be the Demon Lord, or worst of all, it could be the Emperor of the Night. She prayed it was the first. "We'll need to check the forecast." Her voice, contrary to her feelings, was strong and she was glad to hear, perfectly reasonable.
"In the kitchen. Can you find your way there?"
"I will be fine. There's just enough light from the window that I won't trip."
Ren had entered the kitchen with a couple flashlights, holding two candles before Kyoko had found the elusive radio. He passed her a flashlight, the candles and a matchbox before easily digging out the radio from behind the toaster. Returning to the kotatsu, Kyoko briskly lit the candles and set them in high enough places to transmit light to the rest of the room (carefully avoiding placing any candles on the table, to Ren's disappointment), as Ren fiddled with the controls of the radio, bringing into focus a news channel.
". . . worst blizzard in over a decade," an announcer's voice was saying, "so I hope you and your loved ones are inside! Temperatures are supposed to fall to negative twenty degrees Celsius tonight with wind chill, so we advise you don't go outside. Oh? What's this?" A pause came in the announcer's voice. "Also, we have a power outage in several districts of Tokyo." The man's voice trailed on, listing the different districts. Kyoko recognized her own on the list. "We hope to restore power as soon as possible. Now, in world news, the Supreme Court of Pakistan . . . " the announcer continued on, his voice not wavering an inch.
"Well," Ren's voice came out of the semi-darkness. "I don't think you can go home tonight, Kyoko-chan. You should call the Okami-san to tell her you're safe."
Kyoko struggled quietly with his logic, but gave up, seeing his point. The walk back to Darumaya in negative twenty degree weather sounded even less appealing than spending a night at Tsuruga-san's apartment. She knew he had a spare bedroom, and it wasn't as if it would be her first time staying over. The only difference would be that Tsuruga-san would not be feverish and possibly hallucinating with a cold. As ashamed as she was for thinking it, she wished it was that Tsuruga-san that was in the room with her now; an ill Tsuruga-san would not be either the Demon Lord or the Emperor of the Night.
"Have you a landline?" she asked, resigned. "With those winds, cell phones won't have any signal at all . . ."
Christmas in Japan is more of a romantic holiday than it is one for family, which is why Kyoko sees a lot of couples walking around. A Japanese Christmas cake is more of a sponge cake than the Western Christmas cake, which is why it didn't take so long to bake. Nikujaga is a meat and potatoes stew, very tasty for cold days, and a kotatsu is a table that has a heater underneath it and a duvet around it, under the tabletop. The duvet traps heated air, and keeps the person sitting at the table nice and toasty.
This is my first fanfic for this fandom, which I am currently crazy about. xDDD I really don't need another obsession, really I don't!
On another note, I haven't decided if this should remain a one-shot or if I should continue it. As a result, I've left it open-ended; comment and tell me what you think! I 3 comments/reviews!