"I can't believe it!" Okami-san of the Darumaya exclaimed in disbelief. Her husband, the taisho, grunted in acknowledgment/affirmation.

"Taisho Shinobu Okita of the Seisho Inn in Kyoto is in serious condition?!" she exclaimed gripping the news paper.

There was the sudden sound of the tinkling of glass. Okami's and Taisho's heads both jerked over to their left. The floor was covered in liquid and broken bits of glass. Kyoko, who was always so efficient and graceful at serving that it was like she had been born with a tray in her hands, who had never once dropped a single cup of plate in the entire time that they had known her, had just dropped an entire trayful of them at her feet. The bottom hem of her serving yukata was soaked from the splash. But that was not the thing that had arrested their attention... Kyoko was as white as a sheet, every speck of color and blood was gone from her normally expressive face, and she stared at them both in wide-eyed shock.

"Wh-what did you just...?" she said, her voice seeming small and quavering in the quiet of the dining room just before opening.

"The Taisho Okita of Seisho, that's a very famous inn in Kyoto, is in serious condition," Okami repeated. "I just can't believe it, he's always been the picture of health. A good thing too, for that worthless son of his had to run away and leave him without an heir to continue the family business."

That last was added in an undertone from Okami to herself. She and Taisho had no children of their own, and they both worried a bit about who they would leave their establishment to when they were gone, and how this proposed person would care for the place.

"Did it say how serious his condition was?" Kyoko asked quaveringly.

"No, it just said that the question of--"

"I gotta go!" Kyoko said, bowing low and spinning on her heels, dashing out the door to the restaurant. Okami blinked in shock. That simply wasn't like Kyoko, she normally had such a strong work ethic that it bordered on being unhealthy. It was almost inconceivable that she would abandon her post without advance notice, but she'd run off before anyone could stop her.

"I wonder," Okami said, curiously as she looked out the door after the sight of Kyoko, still dressed in her yukata, running full tilt somewhere. She had always been a bit of a mystery; she'd shown up one day in answer to a Help Wanted sign that Okami had placed in the window (not many workers these days wanted to work in a traditional establishment, or had what it took to do so) like a kitten in the rain and had completely blown away Okami's and her husbands expectations. She held herself like the daughter of a well established family, and yet she was always humble and sweet. Then her personality had changed. Okami still knew so little about her, despite the fact that they shared a home. Kyoko was always unfailingly polite, but distant. She tended to evade questions about her past, and didn't really open up much. It made Okami a little sad.

Her husband grunted to himself, and the wife took that to mean "she's fine let her be, she'll be back on her own in a little bit."

& & &

Part of her couldn't believe she was doing this, even as she ran, full tilt, for Akatoki Agency, the place where her arch-nemesis Shotaro worked. Normally she would be going to any lengths to avoid having to meet with her beloved-turned-most-bitter-and-hated-enemy but this wasn't a normal circumstance.

On the day when she had found out that the one she had devoted herself selflessly to, the boy whom she had always seen as her perfect prince, was in fact nothing more than an ugly toad-in-princes-clothing that was using and abandoning her, Kyoko had sworn that she would never forgive him for it. A secret box had been unlocked inside of her heart and the demon that emerged had twisted her and made her go mad. She hated him a thousand times more than she had ever loved him, and she swore that she would devote her life to brining him down, to making him humble and contrite before her. Grudge didn't even begin to cover it. Revenge, not even close. Hatred barley scratched the surface of the depths of her feelings... it was a full-blown vendetta.

But... there was something in this case that the very core of Kyoko's sad tattered soul would not allow. This was a matter of family.

For all that Shotaro had renounced his name and connection to his parents who had raised him with such love and care (to become the spoiled brat he was today) for all that they might have renounced him... they were still family. Blood was thicker than water. Despite all of the evidence to the contrary she'd had in her own life (being constantly rejected and ignored by her own mother) Kyoko really, truly, completely believed this. She owed a debt to Sho's parents that she could never repay; when her own mother had rejected her and abandoned her, they had stepped in. They hadn't had to, there was nothing compelling them to do so; they could have just kept her fed and clothed from the money her mother sent to them, and then had nothing to do with her, but they had treated a lonely and sad little Kyoko like she was their very own child. They'd provided not only a shelter for her, but they'd loved her and guided her, showing them the ins and outs of their way of life like she was their own daughter.

She loved them, as much as her twisted, battered little heart understood love. She loved them, and she owed them. She knew in her heart that the one thing that would make them happy if (heaven forfend) Sho's father should die, would be to see their precious darling boy again and make peace with him. No man should have to die with such issues unresolved. Kyoko could do at least that much for them. She could see to it that there was peace in the heart of a man who had opened his home to her... even though it meant putting her own feelings of hatred and loathing aside to be in the presence of someone she despised above all living things that crawled between heaven and earth. She would do this. Not for her sake, certainly not for his sake, but for the sake of the ones who had given her so much when they didn't have to. She would fetch Sho and bring him home to Kyoto, even if she had to knock him out and drag him to the train.

Her mad pace had brought her more quickly than she had expected to the front entrance of the Akatoki building. There was a large gathering out in front, all of them entirely female, all of them shouting and squealing in excitement. Kyoko wondered breifly how she was going to get through all of them to search the building for the lazy, good for nothing object of her quest when she saw through a gap in the crowd that the center of all that female attention, was in fact the object of her search.

"There!" she muttered to herself. Just her luck. It seemed like there was some king of invisible line of force connecting the two of them, even when he was the last person she wanted to see she still managed to run into him. Well, at least in this case, much as she hated it, it was turning out to be useful.

Now to get through the shrieking Mongol horde of screaming fangirls. Kyoko knew there was no time to be delicate, she was on a mission! She started throwing elbows left and right. Those ladies pushed back, unwilling to let an interloper get any closer to their precious Sho. Finally, Kyoko had enough and set her Grudge!Demons on them. Her eyes met his, and the strange light of determination in them must have surprised him for he seemed to startle with a gasp.

A path was quickly cleared for her. Sho's manager Shoko was answering questions to a small gathering of magazine reporters about the new video for the new song he'd written. Kyoko ignored the press, ignored the fans, ignored Shoko and marched straight up to Sho reached up to him and took his ear in a firm grip.

"Come with me," she commanded him. She was not taking no for an answer, neither would she be put off. He would either follow her willingly or she would drag him. She pulled him along behind her by the ear, Grudge!Demons forming an escort of unseen cattle-prods in case he should take it in mind to resist.

"Hey!" he snapped as she pulled him along. "What do you think you're-- Hey!"

Kyoko, with a vicious feeling of delight, twisted his ear to shut him up until they were someplace that they could speak in private. She dragged him past the front desk, into the elevator and used her grudge-demons to clear the way for her. The door hissed closed behind them, granting them privacy.

"What's this all about?" he demanded in his next breath as she released him. "That was the press you know? The entire country just saw you in your stupid little waitress uniform, it'll be all over the--"

"Doesn't matter," Kyoko said flatly. "You're coming with me."

"What? Where?" he demanded, apparently a little thrown off by her sudden commanding aura where she had always before been meek, pliant and eager to please.

"Home," she replied.

"No-way!" he said with a scornful tone. "No-way in hell am I going back to that back end of no-where town. I don't care how you beg me."

"I'm not going to beg you," she replied firmly. "Shotaro..." she trailed off, her voice and manner softening a little. This wasn't about the two of them and their personal squabble. This was the former Kyoko, who had once cared for a kind boy erased by the selfish man who stood before her, trying to reach that good (sort of) person he had once been.

"What?!" he snapped, clearly still very irritated with her. His attitude, sulky and proud, was out in full force in his stance and demeanor. "And don't call me Shotaro."

"Shotaro! Shotaro! Shortaro!" she snapped in reply, rubbing his face in it. "Listen to me. This isn't about us."

She moderated her voice from the angry, irritated tone that it had been a minute before and tried again for one of calm and patience.

"Shotaro... I just got the news this morning," she said.

Sho snorted indifferently.

"What news? The one that said you'll never catch up to me? I could have told you that," he grumbled.

"It's about your father," she pressed on. Sho started, and then tried to hide the expression of concern that briefly blinked across his face. He crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the wall, trying for a casual air.

"What about him?" he grumbled, trying to act nonchalant, as if the answer didn't mean anything to him. Kyoko knew better. There had been a time in the boy Shotaro's life, back before he'd ever rebelled, when the good opinion of his father had meant the world to him.

"I read in the news paper that..." she hesitated, not really wanting to say it, because saying it out loud would make it true. "

Shotaro, your father is in critical condition."

He tried to hide it. He tried really hard to act as if the words she spoke didn't matter to him. His face tried hard to remain in its usual uncaring bad-boy sulk that he pulled off, all proud and world-weary and just a little above it all, but for the briefest instant his mask slipped and Kyoko saw genuine fear and concern there. He covered it up immediately by snorting in an uncaring manner and saying

"Yeah? So? What's that old man got to do with me?"

"He's your father," Kyoko replied, her voice soft and steady in the silence of their private little cubicle.

"So what?" Sho snapped. "That doesn't mean anything."

"It does and you know it does," she said firmly with just a touch of impatience. Who did he think he was dealing with? He might be able to fool anyone else, but not her, never her. She knew him better than anyone else, even a lover, could ever hope to.

"I'm going home to Kyoto, and you're coming with me."

"In what alternate universe do you think you have the right to boss me around?" he demanded incredulously. "You can go home if you want to, but I'm not going anywhere but to my next meeting."

"Oh yes," she said with finality. "You are."

"Oh no," he replied in exactly the same tone as she. "I'm not."

He stepped up closer to her so that he was towering over her, his arms crossed again over his chest and his demeanor saying 'I'm bigger and stronger than you and there's no way that you're going to make me do anything I don't want to do.'

"Shotaro, it's your family," she tried again. Trying to soften her annoyance and keep the Grudge!Demons in check.

"I don't have any family anymore. I'm-"

Whatever he might have said to her was cut of by the open-handed slap she delivered to him. Her eyes blazed up at him in anger.

How dare he?

"You are just so--!" she said, her temper snapping. She took in a deep breath and really let him have it.

"You're so spoiled and self-centered and egotistical that it defies belief! No-one in your little world matters to you except for yourself, its like all the rest of humanity are just spear-carriers in your own little grand opera of life! You don't deserve to have things as good as you've had them, people like you should have suffering put into their lives so they learn to appreciate what's really important... and believe me, family is really important."

"Ky-" he started, staring at her like he'd never seen her before. Part of her couldn't blame him, the former Kyoko who was always pliant and eagre to plese the god of her existence would never have flown off like this, and certainly not to pick apart all of his flaws.

"Do you think that all of these sycophants, that all of these hangers-on, actually really love you?" she demanded next, beginning to pace as she railed at him. "If they knew you like I do, they wouldn't even like you!"

Sho stiffened and scowled, but Kyoko continued, heedless.

"All the adoring fans worshiping your poster in their rooms at night, all the talk-show hosts and interviewers clamoring for your story, fawning all over you, all the people in the biz shaking your hand and dropping their names... do you think any of them actually care about you at all? They don't! Okay?! They don't give a flying fart about you! They don't care about you now, they won't care about you tomorrow, and as soon as your star falls, they'll be the first to turn on you!"

"Shut up!" he snapped.

"You shut up!" she snapped back. "You know it's true, you saw it when those Beagles tried to steal your thunder. People are fickle, and none of these people that praise you to the skies now are actually your friend."

"Then what the hell are you?" he demanded, cutting off what she was going to say next. "Why the hell are you here? What's it to you?"

She paused and looked at him seriously.

"I owe your parents a debt," she said softly. "I may hate you with every fiber of my being, so much that being around you makes me want to be physically ill, but that doesn't matter right now. What does matter is that they're the closest thing to a real family I've got and they love you. Lord only knows why. Your father would want to see his only son once again before he dies."

Sho tried hard to act like the words didn't strike him like a physical blow, but his breath sucked in and his the color of his face drained away.

"This isn't about you and me," she added quietly. "This is about family. You can be as much of a jerk as you want, but I won't let you turn away from that."

"yeah whatever," he muttered. She sensed his capitulation however and it was confirmed a moment later when he said

"I suppose you've come all the way over here to mooch train tickets off from me."

"Excuse me? Who's the mooch?" she demanded, her eyebrows raising in defense. "Who was it that was so pathetically helpless he had to drag along some poor unsuspecting girl to Tokyo with him just to do simple tasks that a five-year old could manage on his own?"

:Put that way: she preened to herself. :It actually does sound pathetic!:

"Yeah whatever," he grumbled. The uncomfortable shift in his posture however made a Kyoko, who had mastered the art of reading every nuance and shade of meaning in her beloved Shotaro's voice and body as a child, gloat a little inwardly at her victory.

"But if you're offering," she added, just to make sure she could keep an eye on him and make damned certain he actually got on the train.

"Fine, fine," he said. "I'll make arrangements. Just be at the station by eight in the morning tomorrow."

Without another word, Kyoko turned on her heel and pushed the button to open the elevator doors. There was a small crowd waiting outside, either they needed to use the elevator really badly, or everyone was interested in what sort of argument the two of them might be having. She marched out of the elevator, looking neither left nor right, her head held high in victory.

& & &

End Chapter One.

So here it is, my first Skip Beat! fic. I'm excited to be posting this and I hope to hear how everyone likes it so far. Ren Tsuruga's in the next chapter, along with the eccentric Lory Takarada (everyone's crazy about a sharp dressed man right?)

Ren Tsuruga was perhaps the most wanted man in all of Japan, and not as a fugitive. An actor of acknowledged talent, so tall and handsome that he could model for armani easily. He was a darling of the media for his surpassingly gentlemanly demeanor, he'd never had a breath of scandal attached to his name, he'd never let all of the fame and public adoration go to his head, he was well known for being a concsiencous man with a superb work ethic. Always polite, with a kind, gentlemanly demeanor. In short, the perfect man.

Unfortunately for him, no-one was perfect. No matter how well crafted the mask, the substance behind it was actually rather a bit different from the face people saw. He had flaws, he made mistakes, he was human. He got angry, he got jealous, he got insecure...

He got really annoyed when he saw the tabloids in the supermarket when he stopped by to grab a dime-store rice bento on his way to his next job and saw a picture of Kyoko with that idiot Shotaro plastered in full color across the front page.

Psst... reveiws are love!