DISCLAIMER: Would a person who owns RIGHTS to Skip Beat! really be writing fics for free on the internet?

AUTHOR INTRUSION: My muse demanded I explore the personality of the Emperor a little. This fic is the result. Also, I don't know if Kijima is Kijima's first name or last, and don't actually care. (Though Kijima is likely his surname, I'd say.)

"There's only three minutes left," Kijima murmured, glancing at the clock and then at his watch, to confirm the time. "She's going to be late…"

"She'll be on time," Ren replied calmly.

"If you're so sure, why not take the bet?"

Ren flicked a hand and shrugged a shoulder, indicating his disinterest. A gentleman did not make a woman the subject of a wager.

"Two minutes," Kijima updated half a minute later, annoying Ren, who automatically put on a good-natured smile. Those moments when one was angriest or most irritated were the moments when one most needed to smile.

"She'll be here," he repeated…and was interrupted by the rattling of the thin windows in the wall that separated the Dark Moon filming studio from the hall. Everyone glanced over, as they were in the process of changing the set and thus any of the cast who were already ready had nothing to do, and they caught a glimpse of fiery hair and a slender body glad in brilliant deep orange, flying by at light speed.

Kyoko Mogami streamed around the corner, inline skates flashing as she gave one last push, moving wide in an attempt to halt her incredible momentum. She went into a long dive, skidding ten feet across the smooth concrete floor on what appeared to be a vinyl-clad hip.

Everyone stared.

"I m-made it!" she said breathlessly, desperately yanking at the fastenings of her skates. There was a cheer from everyone who had bet that Kyoko would make it on time in spite of her having been filming a new job at Studio 10 only twenty minutes earlier…an amount of time in which no one could have come on foot to Studio 3. Even on inline skates, it had to have been nearly impossible. But as Ren had predicted, she had made it…even if it was by the skin of her teeth.


"What is she wearing?" Yashiro gaped, standing just to Ren's right. Even Kijima Hidehito was gawking. "Wh-what kind of commercial was she hired to do? My god!"

Ren could not answer him, because his brain could not process Kyoko's appearance and Yashiro's comment at the same time. He'd been amazed twice, now, by how easily Kyoko could be made spectacular with pretty clothing and a bit of make-up, but neither time had been so shocking. When he looked at her now, she seemed like a different person entirely.

She was wearing clip-in extensions of several brilliant shades of orange and red, blending into the coppery layers of her own hair seamlessly and adding extra body and movement, making it look as though her head was wreathed not in hair, but in fire. She also wore smoky eye make-up in deep blood red and gold that exaggerated the size and shape of her eyes, and there were misty streaks of swirling red, orange and gold sparkles at her temples, making her look otherworldly, like a fire elemental.

Her clothes were most shocking of all, as they were so unlike anything Kyoko had in her own wardrobe. She wore a one-piece short-suit in bright orange vinyl that was not only skin tight, but which bared most of her back, all of her legs, and two inch streaks down the entirety of each side, where suit laced up. It was modest in the chest area, as no cleavage was bared, but everything else was prominently on display.

"Wow," Kijima said blankly. "I know I said that Mio could never be especially charming, but who could ever have realized that she was hiding such amazing pins under those long skirts? Wait…how old is Kyoko-chan, again?"

Don't call her Kyoko-chan like you're her friend, Ren thought, annoyed. Kijima called all the girls by 'chan', but he had mostly ignored Kyoko up until now. Of course, it was very hard to ignore Kyoko as she was today…Ren couldn't even look away. Kijima was right, of course…Kyoko had lovely legs: slender, firm, and shapely. But Ren had realized that long ago, being the sort of man who as more drawn to the overall line of a woman's body rather than specific body parts. Kyoko's daintily athletic figure suited his taste nicely, but it certainly was not a very showy body type, and had to be deliberately played up in order to be shown to its best advantage. Kyoko had always worn modest clothing. Even her school uniform was modest…she had never folded the skirt up at the waist to make it shorter, like most high-school girls did. As strange as it was in someone trying to become a celebrity, Kyoko was not an attention-seeker…and she was never eager for male attention.

She was definitely getting it, today. Even Ren could not blame the cast and crew for looking…Kyoko was mesmerizing in that fiery get-up, and so shockingly unlike her normal self that it seemed unreal. The shorts were so short that her backside was barely covered, and her pretty legs could be seen all the way up to the very top of her thighs, which were just as firm as the lower part of her legs. Her arms and back were small and lean as well, and the whole effect was wonderfully feminine.

Itsumi Momose was helping Kyoko pull off one of her skates as she did the other, frantically trying to be ready on time even though she would have to change from head to toe, and get rid of the extensions and the dramatic make-up. Director Ogata hurried over to her, helped her pick out a knotted extension, and said something that relaxed her completely, making her smile in relief as she got back to her feet, grabbing up her things to go to the back of the set, toward the lockers.

"Do you know what the commercial she's doing is for?" Yashiro wanted to know. "Did you see her?"

"It's for Bridgestone Cycle Co," Ren replied, still rather numb, trying to figure out what he should be thinking. "A new bicycle model. That's all I know." Suddenly he pulled out his phone and started typing away, searching the net. "It looks like they're releasing a new model this month called 'Phoenix FYT III'…that must be the one she's promoting."

"Must be," Yashiro agreed. "That outfit certainly was effective in giving the impression of a mythical fire-bird."

"I have to see that again," Kijima said suddenly, and went in the direction Kyoko had gone. Ren followed him immediately. Kijima was not a bad person, but he certainly wasn't the sort of man he would trust to deal well with someone like Kyoko…and his motives were never innocent.

"Yashiro-san, could you please reschedule my appointments this weekend so that I don't have any work after 9pm?" Ren asked absently, his attention ahead of him. Yashiro looked up at Ren in dismay; if there were going to be drama, Yashiro would want a front-row seat.

"Alright," he agreed reluctantly, and fell back, allowing Ren to hurry ahead to the open locker area, where Kyoko was taking out her extensions one by one and setting them on the top shelf of her locker. Kijima was examining her with his head cocked, as though she were some fascinating new species of bird…and several of the crew were gawking at her as well, as though they had no idea what to make of her.

Ren wanted to talk to her, but couldn't see how to broach the topic he wanted to discuss when there were all of these people around.

Kyoko dropped one of her extensions, muttered something about being clumsy, and bent over to pick it up.

Kijima's eyes widened. Ren's narrowed.

This was an emergency situation.

Kyoko heard Kijima Hidehito's voice calling her name, and looked to her left to answer him, only to see him casting her an alarmed look and shaking his head, scooting off to the side and out of the locker area abruptly. She frowned and turned her attention back to the little mirror at the back of her locker, picking at another extension. It was lucky that director Ogata was so nice and had said that scene 23 could easily be filmed ahead of her scene so that she would have more time to get ready.

"Kyo-" a male voice began, only to trail off suddenly, making Kyoko look up again, only to find that the whole locker area had cleared out, which was strange. It had been busy only a few minutes before, hadn't it? She looked around curiously as she pulled another extension free, and was surprised to see Ren walking toward her, his stride unusually leisurely. He was much closer than she'd expected, and she raised her eyes to his face, looking to judge his motives and mood before she opened her mouth to greet him…and gasped.

His eyes were more heavily lidded than usual as he looked down at her, his expression relaxed, almost indolent. His eyes were dark and burned with a strange intensity that she had come to know and fear. She was looking into the eyes of the Emperor of the Night…and he was standing extremely close to her.

"Can I help you with that, Mogami-san?" he asked, his low voice soft and luxurious. She felt like a plump and juicy bunny that had just unwittingly hopped right into the jaws of a ravenous wolf. Goosebumps ripped along the entire length of her body as she stared up at him in shock.

Wh-what's the Emperor doing here? Why should he be looking at me like that? She squealed even inside her own brain, panicking with all her might. What do I do? I can't handle this guy at all!

"Tsu-Tsuruga-san, I…" she began a desperate attempt to avert this situation…whatever it was and however she had gotten into it.

"Turn around," he spoke again, his tone insistently velvety. He didn't wait for her to obey, and instead put his hands on her shoulders, his fingers wrapping around them almost delicately as he turned her firmly around. Somehow his fingers trailed across her arm as he withdrew his hands again, but she got no chance to be freaked out about it, because it was trumped completely by what he did next.

His fingers slid under her hair at the base of her neck, the backs of them sliding up the back of her neck, to her nape, and into her hair, sinuously weaving over her scalp until they located the first extension, which he removed smoothly. His fingers reached into her hair again, drawing out another extension, and another, his fingers always brushing her neck and scalp in a way that seemed far too deliberate and intimate.

"That's quite the outfit, Mogami-san," he murmured, his breath soft on her ear. Her goosebumps had goosebumps. What do I dooooo? she wondered again, frantically wracking her brain for an answer…but she was paralysed.

"I-it's for the commercial I'm doing for Bridgestone," she squeaked, as if mundane details could insulate her from the surrealism of the situation. "For the ph-phoenix FYT II model."

"Mm," he replied, his finger flicking up over her ear and grazing her cheek as he caught an extension just above her right temple. "You certainly look like some fabulous creature of legend. An outfit like this can't help but command attention. There, that's the last of the extensions. And what about this? Such a thorough job," his thumb stroked up over her temple, removing some of the silky glitter. "And this lip colour? What's that called?" His index finger drew across her lip with slow, excruciating deliberateness. Kyoko's stomach was whirling so hard it was a wonder she was still on her feet…her heart was throbbing at a rate that ought to have sent her unconscious.

"S-s-siren," she gasped, her entire body a fire of embarrassment, anxiety, and some other elusive and horribly confusing emotion that she could neither identify nor describe, and which her mind shied away from completely.

"Well-named," said that seductive voice. "And you came all the way from Studio 10, dressed like this." It was more of a statement than a question. As the Emperor was a creature of unadulterated seduction, it sounded sexy rather than accusatory…but Kyoko felt called upon to defend herself all the same.

"I d-didn't have time to change, Tsuruga-san…I only had twenty minutes to get here." She was about to hyperventilate.

"I can see how that would be difficult. Well, it can't be helped, then, if you draw attention to yourself. Though you should be prepared for men whose self-control falters so that they act on their interest, right Mogami-san?" She could feel the heat of his body hovering against the bare skin of her back. He bent further over her, his mouth dropping level with her earlobe. "But perhaps you don't mind the attention?" he suggested, so close to her that his cheek brushed hers for an instant, just a tingling whisper of skin across skin.

Every alarm bell in Kyoko's mind, body and soul was clattering uproariously.

"Th-that's not it!" she squealed involuntarily. "I was just in such a hurry…I didn't think of…I didn't realize…" she sought desperately for the way out of this situation. "I-I…I'll wear a jacket next time!"

"A jacket?" The Emperor sounded idly intrigued, and Kyoko leapt on this hopefully.

"A l-long jacket with a front tie that will cover the whole thing!" she insisted frantically. "I never thought of bringing it but I have one at home!"

"Oh," the Emperor replied, but he was fast retreating, his personality submerging beneath the calm, laid-back manners of Ren Tsuruga. She glanced backwards with extreme caution, and saw him with his head cocked thoughtfully. He took a casual step backwards, and nodded, smiling. "You know, Mogami-san, that does sound like a good idea. I understand dressing for a job, but wearing the clothing outside of the shoot can give people the wrong idea about the sort of person you are. You have to be careful."

I do, I do, I really, really, really do! Kyoko nodded rapidly in complete agreement.

"I'll definitely bring it next time!" she swore, and meant it. Her pulse was only barely beginning to slow, but she was intensely relieved at the return of her senpai's normal gentlemanly aura.

"I'd hate to see you develop new stalkers, Mogami-san," he smiled gently. "Please do bring it, next time. Well, I have to check on Yashiro-san to see if he was able to rearrange my schedule, so unless you need anything else…?"

"No, no, I'm fine," she fluttered her hand in a negating gesture. "I'll think things through more clearly next time, Tsuruga-san."

"Very good," he nodded, and turned, walking away without any further incident.

Running to the changing area, Kyoko yanked at the laces of her vinyl short-suit as she went, never more eager to get out of a costume in her life. A small, quiet part of her mind wanted very much to know what on earth had just happened…but the majority of her was just so relieved that it was safely over that it told that little part to just shut up and be grateful.

Ren listened to Yashiro recite his newly-adjusted schedule with detachment, watching with mixed feelings as Kyoko came out dressed in Mio's latest costume…a long-sleeved sweater and a nearly ankle-length layered skirt. Some of the men who usually didn't give her a glance were peeking at her covertly…but no one made a move, and the fascination had passed and would likely be forgotten in the busyness of the day. As long as this wasn't a repeat situation, things would return to normal.

Of course, it was obvious by Kyoko's nervous glances in his direction that he now had damage control to do, but…Emergency situations can call for drastic methods, he reminded himself. If pulling out a hidden aspect of his personality would keep her from ever wearing that outfit in public again, it was worth it.

But even though now safely submerged, the Emperor still managed to put forth a final thought. He didn't want her to wear that thing in public again, but…

I wonder if she gets to keep it after the commercial is done.