DISCLAIMER: If I owned Skip Beat! this wouldn't be FAN-fiction. Skip Beat! is the creation of Yoshiko Nakamura, and I use her creation for my own enjoyment only. I make no profit from it, and if asked by someone with the right to do so, I would remove this fiction from the internet immediately.

Note: This fic may not be liked by those who like my Ren x Kyoko fics, as this is about Yashiro, and is so heavily introspective that there isn't even any dialogue until it's half way over. However, it was inspired by (and thus dedicated to) RavingBabbit, so it must be posted. Also, PrincessFaux, if you are reading this...please don't throw the pencil at me!

Just the fact that the girl wasn't staring at Ren had caused Yashiro to notice her. She was sitting by the window in the studio cafeteria, reading a textbook, slowly drawing a straw between her stained lips. The cup had obviously contained some kind of red slushy drink, as there was ice in the bottom of the clear plastic vessel, and the inner part of her mouth was a brilliant, unnatural red.

She had smoky almond-shaped eyes of a bewitching bright hazel, and long, sleek black hair, and Yashiro thought she was gorgeous. And she wasn't staring at Ren. Every other girl in the cafeteria was gaping as though they had never seen a human being eating sushi, before. Yashiro was so used to it that he didn't notice any more, until something new happened, such as this.

Of course, the reason the girl wasn't staring was almost certainly because she hadn't even realized Ren Tsuruga had come into the cafeteria, as she had not yet so much as glanced up from her textbook. Still, the unusual event had made Yashiro notice her…and realizing how attractive she was had reminded him that he hadn't been on a date in nearly a year.

He glanced up at Ren, who was eating dutifully, his attention on the food. Ren ate as though it was a job he was doing, as though it required dedication. He was never hungry, and he never seemed to experience cravings. When women gave him chocolates on Valentine's, Ren accepted them with a smile and then…when the woman in question had departed…he looked at them with dismay, as though the chocolate surfaces were covering worms and beetles rather than cherries and hazelnuts.

Yashiro always got his chocolate fix on Valentine's. As did his entire family and all his friends. Ren was not the type to throw out a gift, so instead he passed them along to his manager.

Ren's a nice guy, Yashiro admitted, somewhat grudgingly, glancing at the young woman once more. Had this been three years ago…before Yashiro became manager to the most popular man in Japan…he would have gone over to the girl's table and introduced himself and at least attempted to feel out her interest, to ascertain whether or not she might be interested in dating him. But now?

Being Ren Tsuruga's manager had its perks. For one, the pay was incredible. Ren worked long hours and had a very complicated schedule, and Yashiro had been able to negotiate a lucrative contract when signing up as his assistant. He got to re-negotiate every year, and at the rate Ren was going, Yashiro would be able to retire in about seven years with money enough to keep him comfortable for the rest of his life. And it was interesting…even glamorous. Yashiro got to go to some incredible parties and elite functions; things normal people would never see the like of. He also got a lot of lesser perks that Ren passed on, or had Yashiro accept in lieu of him…cologne, designer watches and shoes, books and movies and CDs…the list was endless. And it was exciting, working at the peak of Japanese show business. These were the things that everyone enthused about whenever they asked Yashiro about his job.

What they didn't know was that you had to kiss your social life goodbye. Not only did he have very little free time…he also had no romantic prospects. And that, very definitely, was a side effect of being Ren Tsuruga's manager.

Women didn't see him, any more. Yashiro knew it wasn't him…he'd been popular enough before becoming Ren's manager to be sure of that. People sought Yashiro out to get closer to Ren, not for anything to do with Yashiro himself. And if he wanted to date a girl outside the show-business world, someone who didn't know he had close connections to the 'most desirable man in Japan', he would have had to keep his job a secret…and for how long could he manage that? But the instant he revealed himself to be Ren's manager, any woman would go wild with enthusiasm, asking all kinds of questions and wondering if Yashiro could introduce them. Yashiro was lost in the blinding glow of Ren's fabulousness. He never got to know a woman well enough to make her see him, any more…and Ren was becoming more famous every year, driving his fans ever wilder with his charm, beauty, and truly outstanding skill as an actor.

Yes, being Ren Tsuruga's manager was amazing. But it was also isolating and almost self-destructive. Yashiro sometimes felt like he was invisible, or merely an extension of Ren. He glanced over at the girl, again. She was still reading.

I could ask her, he thought. Ren never objects when I ask for extra time off. But he didn't really feel at all motivated to do so. He could already see how it would go. He'd approach her, she would be politely friendly…and then she'd realize that he was Ren's manager, and her hand would leap up over her fluttering heart, her eyes aglow with excitement…for Ren. And that would always be who he was, to her…Ren's manager. Not Yukihito Yashiro.

Yashiro was not jealous of Ren…but he did sometimes resent the man's overwhelming fame for rendering Yashiro's existence as nothing more than an afterthought.

"What are you looking at?" Ren finally looked away from his 'task'. He looked over his shoulder, following Yashiro's line of sight. A smile took his lips and slowly bent them further and further up at the corners. "Her, huh? She's pretty. And she's got glasses. It must be fate," Ren teased. "You haven't mentioned having a date in…well, so long that I can't remember when it was. Why not ask her out?"

Yashiro snorted faintly. Ren, while truly kind at the core, could be quite a punk when he was in the mood to be. He had a temper and he could be a bit overbearing, and he was very intimidating whenever he dropped his usual gentle manners…though no one would believe it if Yashiro told them so. Ren covered these traits with his sweet words and gentlemanly smile, and none were the wiser. But whatever Ren truly was, he was definitely not arrogant, and for all he was so observant, he had these blind spots that could be described as obliviousness. The main one was his own influence. Ren knew he was famous. He knew he had a horde of fans that would sell their souls just to hold his hand for half an hour. Yet he did not seem to realize that when he was around, he was all every woman in the vicinity could think about. When he was around, women saw no other man…just him. He probably had no clue that, were Yashiro to do as he suggested, the reason the woman would be excited would not be because she was interested in Yashiro, but because Yashiro represented a chance to meet Ren.

"I haven't time," Yashiro replied.

"It's okay, we can take a few more minutes," Ren encouraged.

"No, I mean…I haven't time for dating."

"Really? Yashiro-san, if you need more time off…"

Yashiro smiled helpessly, looking at Ren's concerned (and preternaturally handsome) face. What could you do with a guy like this? He remembered his first week as Ren's manager…he'd gotten a headache so bad that turning his head too quickly had made him vomit. Ren had made him go lie down in the car…and had even taken a break from shooting to bring him an ice pack and a pillow, and offered to drive Yashiro home early. This was not a person who would want to render his manager incidental in the eyes of every woman in the country. He'd probably be horrified, were he to realize.

But still…Yashiro felt he was entitled to take a few liberties for these reasons. Mainly that he be allowed to meddle in Ren's love-life, or at least to tease him mercilessly every chance he got.

"What, and let you take on even more work yourself, thereby giving you another excuse to screw up your own love-life?" Yashiro raised an eyebrow. "Ren, please. You had the girl you love in your apartment at night and did nothing. You had a chance to sweep her away from her ex, and you did nothing. You had a chance to comfort her after she had that awful experience in Karuizawa, and instead you browbeat her for not spilling her guts on every detail the instant she first saw you after days of being apart. I can't take a minute off! This task is too monumental."

Ren exhaled, heavy but silent, and put his fingers to his forehead for a moment. "Yashiro-san, why are you so concerned with my relationship with Mogami-san?"

Because you work too hard, Yashiro thought. You're too dedicated. In the three years I have managed you, you've never met up with family, you've never gone out with friends, and you've never shown the interest in a woman that you show in Kyoko-chan…and even with her, you keep letting go. I'm afraid that if you don't grab hold of her, you'll wake up at thirty or forty and realize that a career is all you have…that you have no life outside of acting. I don't want you to excel in your roles at the cost of your self.

Had they known his situation, most people would likely say that Yashiro was in Ren's shadow. Yashiro preferred to think of it as being at his back.

For all he was mature beyond his years and gifted beyond belief, Ren seemed not to have learned that one's career could not make up their entire life…and Yashiro didn't want him to have to learn that lesson the hard way. Right from the first day he'd started as Ren's manager, he'd felt this. Ren had been trying to convince the president that he did not yet require a manager, vehemently insisting that he could still handle things on his own. Then he'd turned and spotted Yashiro, and all kinds of guarded emotions had crossed his expressive face…dismay, irritation, regret, doubt…it had been impossible to make sense of it all, until finally his expression coalesced into one of gentle defeat. He had smiled, held out his hand, and greeted Yashiro with, 'Hello, Yashiro-san…I'm Ren Tsuruga. Please take care of me.'

Yashiro had been struck powerfully with a thought that had not occurred to him until that moment, even though it should have. Ren was five years younger than Yashiro…eighteen, at that time…and he was alone, working twelve- to sixteen-hour days without any support. He looked like a man, he talked like a man, and he worked like a man…but he was a teenager. A kid. And he was already a workaholic who put little to no value on anything that wasn't connected to his career.

Yoroshiku onegaishimasu, indeed. It may just be a Japanese idiom, but Yashiro had been struck hard by the literal meaning of those words for the first time, and had taken it to heart.

"Kyoko-chan gave you chocolates for Valentine's, didn't she?" Yashiro ignored Ren's question, as the answer was far too complicated.

"You know she did," Ren replied dryly, putting his tray in order and standing up as Yashiro grabbed his briefcase. "You were there when she handed them to me."

"Then it's about time we discussed what you're going to do on White Day," Yashiro concluded cheerfully, ignoring the fact that he had just made Ren's eyes roll so hard that they'd nearly been dislodged. No matter what, he would keep his word…even if Ren himself were the one making it difficult.

Note: Yoroshiku onegaishimasu is the polite thing to say when you are introducing yourself in Japan, at least in a business situation. In English it's the equivalent of 'pleased to meet you,' but it literally means 'please take care of me'.