by J Luc Pitard
A Skip Beat! Manga fan fic.
Disclaimer: Skip Beat! belongs to Nakamura Yoshiki and not myself. Please buy the manga, available from Viz and watch the upcoming anime, to be released in Japan/Taiwan in October 2008.
Spoiler Disclaimer: I've read the manga scans online and incorporated details through chapter 128.
Lights dazzled, the audience roared and the show was officially underway. Bridge Rock's variety show 'Totally Wild Rock' had been a success ever since the live debut that Kyoko and Kotonami had been assigned to support. Kyoko ended up on their main cast as Bo, the show's mascot and while she appreciated the work, it was hard at times to accept that she was relegated to being a person in a large, round, yellow chicken costume.
She closed the stage door, effectively cutting off the sound of the band and their screaming fans. With the "squeak squeak" of oversized bird feet, she began the long walk. Shotaro Fuwa was still miles above her on the mountain of success. Kyoko hadn't even debuted, although there was a good buzz starting to circulate around her as an actor. It wasn't enough! Too soon she stopped at his dressing room door. The little star on the door and the name plaque that read Sho Fuwa mocked her.
Kyoko knocked, secretly hoping that he'd chosen to stay home and watch TV. Maybe he'd overslept? No such luck. A beautiful, big busted blonde opened the door. "Yes?" she asked. "Oh, how cute! Sho, you've got to come see this!"
Bo carried a white board on which "he" wrote things down, such as 'Please follow me,' or 'What the hell did that kiss mean?' or 'Die and go to Hell.' Okay, not the last two, but "he" really wanted to. She waited at the door while Shoko disappeared and the man she wasn't ready to see came smirking into view. Except he stopped smirking when he saw her. For a second, she recognized his guilty face, the one he didn't show very often. Why? One heart breaking second later, it was gone and he tossed his golden mane, letting it flutter back around his face into almost the exact position it had started in.
"So you have to come and get me? Isn't that an assistant's job?" his voice was layered with sarcasm and smarm. He seemed to be trying to peer beyond the painted eyes of the costume and Kyoko was glad she'd taken the precaution of installing snaps on the headpiece of the costume tonight. Let him wonder if it was her. He'd suspected last time; she would take no chances tonight!
His manager looked at him in confusion. Shoko knew she should give up trying to understand the young man. He really was a child in private, but his public persona was of a cool operator and it always shocked her when the the baby came out in front of a complete stranger.
Bo jumped and flapped his wings, flashing the sign once more before turning to walk them to the set.
"Wait!" Sho shouted. "You don't have to keep up that act around me!"
Kyoko froze briefly, but then Bo shook himself and turned, waving a chubby wing to them before walking backwards down the hall. She watched Shotaro fume for a second while Shoko touched his arm. Could he really know, she wondered. Tonight she'd been ready to throw out her need for revenge just to make it through the show without Ren learning her identity, but what about Shotaro? Inside the suit she sweated bullets. There wasn't a way to wipe her face without taking off her head, so she suffered in silence and led them to the door. She looked in the small window, then poked her beak in.
Sho looked at Bo as the chicken walked around the back stage. He was ninety-nine percent certain it was Kyoko. He'd asked the guys earlier if the same girl was playing the chicken as a year ago and they'd been happy to talk about Mogami. Especially the lead singer, which pissed Sho off to no end, but he'd tried to play it off. It's not like an idol would care about the girl mascot or anything. Not with a studio full of screaming fan girls available. He'd calmed himself with that thought so he wouldn't lose his cool in front of the hosts. Of course, Sho himself went for the more mature types. Well endowed and well placed to further his career? So much the better! Speaking of which... as Shoko was telling him she'd be in the control room for the taping, he reached over and pulled her into a loose hug. She nearly squeaked with surprise, but as always, her warm body was compliant.
"Mmm," she murmured in a sexy voice, winding her arms around his neck. "What's gotten into you?" She noticed him looking over her shoulder at the person in the chicken costume before he graced her with a passionate kiss. He wasn't usually affectionate and certainly not in front of others, but Shoko let him find whatever it was he needed in her.
He pulled back, his mouth not fulling leaving hers, but changing from a deep kiss to light nipping around her mouth. She began to breathe heavily at his teasing. "S-stop," she whispered, then became more insistent as he moved down her throat and began kissing along her neck. "Not here!"
"No," he answered and parted her hair to stare at Kyoko. The chicken seemed at first to react to his show, but then turned toward the door and wrote something on it's whiteboard. He maneuvered his kisses lower, keeping an eye on what Bo was up to.
Shoko knew Fuwa still had the school boy need to "mark" her with love bites and she'd rather not have the low cut sweater she was wearing reveal everything to the world as they left so she pushed him off when nothing else worked. "Honestly!" she said. Only then did she see the way her charge was staring at the large chicken's back. It held up its message board over its shoulder. A large heart and nothing else was drawn on it. That was rather sweet, considering, Shoko thought. She looked at Sho who seemed to regain his composure quickly. "We'll talk about this later," she said sharply before turning like a model on the catwalk and heading for the relative sanity of a television control room.
Shotaro and Kyoko were suddenly alone in the back; the whiteboard with the heart dangled from a feathered hand. She thought she'd recovered well, but it was a shock to see him sucking on the woman. Wasn't she at least thirty? Kyoko nearly shook with rage when she thought about the year he'd toyed with her while sleeping with his manager and- even worse- going to high school without telling her! No! She told herself. Don't let this ruffle your feathers. Keep to the plan.
A man came out to wave to them just as Sho Fuwa opened his mouth. "Did you like what you saw," he taunted in a low voice. Kyoko pushed down her anger. She bit back her immediate response. The audience was screaming even louder than normal. Once upon a time, she also would've screamed to be his.
Luckily the assistant director came up to them. "We've got a video going now from the first show when you two were doing that funny thing. So you guys head out there holding these," he said handing them badminton rackets and a white shuttlecock. "We'll dissolve the video to you. Just go with it. Have fun. Fuwa, that was hysterical last time!"
Bo hung "his" head briefly. Through the costume, Kyoko saw a glint of mischief in Sho's eyes as he looked at her.
"Ready for another go?" he asked.
Bring it, Bo wrote on the board.
At the cue, they ran on stage, rackets held high. The light was blinding and the noise incredible, even inside her padded costume. With cameras rolling, Sho aimed a shot at her headpiece.
From inside the control room, the producer was having a minor nervous breakdown. "Not again," he kept murmuring. The staff ignored him as they continued to change angles and ready shots. Finally, the chicken slammed a shot back at Fuwa that he couldn't return. "At least let the guest win," the unhappy man wailed. The staff obediently ordered the shot redone. Thank God the show wasn't live anymore, the producer thought. He apologized to Sho Fuwa's manager as the crowd went crazy once again at their entrance.
Shoko kept her eyes on the wall of monitors. What was Sho Fuwa thinking, she wondered for the millionth time in the past three days. Ever since Asami joined them for dinner the other night, he'd been by turns: needy, cold, depressed and manic. Yesterday he'd had her cancel a practice so he could sit alone in the studio plinking on his guitar. She'd played it off to everyone as a burst of writing creativity, but it felt more like a moody child sulking. Shoko stood with her arms crossed as she watched the second badminton match end in his favor. Bo had written the word 'howl' on his board and flashed it to the audience as they cut to the question and answer part of the show.
Kyoko thought she'd never get off stage! Shotaro had an interview segment now, then a performance to do. As much as it tore her up, a tiny part of her was proud of him for not giving up when he was challenged by a thrown together glam-band. After carefully taking off her costume's head, she wiped her brow. The first part of her job was done, but there was still Ren to deal with. She sighed and snapped herself together again.
Yukihito Yashiro stood in the secondary dressing room with a very tired Ren Tsuruga. He'd bought the actor a light dinner, but most of it went uneaten. If this went on, the stomach excuse from yesterday would become fully true. The previous two variety shows had gone well, from the manager's perspective, but they'd clearly worn Ren out. Smap Smap was a high energy show and though the main focus had been on his new show, there had been an undercurrent of curiosity to contend with. Ren sat in a folding chair with his head in his hands. It only took a knock at the door to bring the actor back to life. Ren stood up as if all was well. It was an act, but Yashiro was almost fooled and he imagined the audience would be.
Kyoko stood nervously outside the dressing room. She'd written, Welcome, my friend Tsuruga. Would he mind the familiarity? They had a skit to do together first thing, then there would be a question and answer part that she wasn't in once she delivered the questions. She wasn't needed at all after that until the very end of the show. If she could, she'd sneak out before anyone noticed. Normally she'd chat with the guys and turn down their offers of going out partying. Didn't they know her age?
Ren opened the door and a cheerful yellow beak greeted him. A smile came unbidden to his lips, more than relieved to see this odd friend of his. "Hello, Bo."
The person in the chicken costume was the ideal stranger for him. Their friendship formed fast and he was able to talk to the beaked mask easier than he could to anyone he really knew. Sometimes Kyoko came close but, when she wasn't hating him, she idolized him too much. He couldn't let her down by showing her his real self. Bo's face was painted on, but the unchanging eyes were often a comfort.
Yashiro watched the two at the door with a tilted head. Ren was usually reserved and whole runs of shows could end without one true friend having been made, yet Yashiro had seen that strange chicken costumed person draw genuine smiles out of the actor with just a few interactions. To protect his charge, he'd tried to find out who the person inside of it was. The staff were tight lipped and even at LME, which provided most of the personnel for Totally Wild Rock, he hadn't gotten anywhere. That made him even more curious, but he didn't dare hurt Ren's odd feathered friend.
Yashiro cleared his throat. "Ahem, well. I'll just go wait out the show with the staff." Staring at the mask, a surreal experience in itself, Yashiro walked as close as he could without bumping into the large stuffed costume. He sized up the man inside based off his own height. Whoever it was couldn't be that tall, he thought and the one time he'd heard its voice, it sounded young.
Ren and Bo both watched Yashiro go down the hall before turning back to each other. Ren invited her into the dressing room. Kyoko felt bold, based on his earlier smile. She altered her voice slightly, "I see you're in the news."
Ren looked ashamed, almost giving an 'aw shucks' reaction, but stopping himself. Not that he'd hide such a thing from Bo, but it wouldn't be understood culturally. "Yeah," he said softly. "I've ruined it with her."
Silence stretched between them. Kyoko was used to this. He seemed to need time to sort through his thoughts. She thought of the many questions she wanted answered. This was an ideal time to ask, since she couldn't as Kyoko. It had shocked her that Mimori was part of Ren's life at all. She hadn't seemed to know the actor back when they filmed the PV and that was only seven months ago or so. "How did you meet her?" she asked, finally breaking the silence.
Ren smiled distantly, not looking at her as he leaned into the dressing room counter. Kyoko took the chance to sit on a stool. It wasn't easy to get comfortable in normal chairs.
"I met her when I was about twelve." In his memory, the little girl smiled through her tears, amused by his antics. They met up almost everyday of his vacation. Their sadness drew them together- it was her secret place to cry and he found the same spot out of his own loneliness- but he loved to see her smile. For many years, her smile kept him going. He had never expected he'd meet her again. He never expected he'd fall in love with her either. Remembering his audience, he finally spoke again, "My father took us home to Japan on occasion. He's from Kyoto."
Her face hidden, she frowned. Had he misspoken? "Your father's home is in Kyoto?" He'd once teased her about her being from Kyoto herself and never said where he was from.
"No, part of his family's was," he said, shaking his head and pulling himself out of his memories at the same time. There were very few people who knew his secrets and he while he didn't want to say too much, he never bothered hiding behind lies with Bo. "We were just there for a few weeks."
"So," she ventured. "Now she knows how you feel for her?"
The air grew heavier suddenly. Ren looked away. Hundreds of chickens were reflected in the mirrors, all looking cheerfully expectant. "I couldn't. Even when I had the chance. And now..."
"Oh," Kyoko rushed on, the mood change was too much for her. "But good for you! You got to kiss her anyway. She didn't seem to hate it." She'd heard Mimori beg Sho for kisses and on the internet video with Ren she seemed quite enthusiastic.
Silence fell. Ren looked at the costumed face with a stunned, almost stricken look. Kyoko didn't know what she said wrong. It was almost the same thing she'd said this afternoon, more or less.
"How would you know?" he growled
"I saw you," she answered honestly. "I was there."
"What?" Ren's throat constricted and for the second time since he'd known this person, he wanted to tear the headpiece off and see who was inside. There was only himself and Kyoko. Unless... He relaxed. Bo must've meant last night.
Wings went up to protect her mask. She'd seen that look in his eye before! "At the restaurant?" her voice was rising, even above its normal range and she couldn't seem to stop it.
"Bo!" a production assistant shouted from somewhere in the hallway close by. "We need the two of you on. We're in the bumper now, but you guys are next." This was the time when they did any set changes and the first guest would leave. The PA's demeanor changed as he poked his head in the doorway. "Welcome, Mr. Tsuruga. We're happy to have you on the show. Sorry it was so sudden or we could've given you more time."
Kyoko turned to see Tsuruga's genial smile appear and the assistant bought the act without ever looking deeper. Why did no one ever notice? Even if they did see him in his full Demon Lord look, they seemed not to think it was anything but his acting. Why was he only mean to her?
For his part, Ren began to moved to follow the assistant and only looked back when the squeaking of Bo's chicken feet weren't immediately behind him.
"Shall we?" he asked.
Kyoko nodded her head quickly, then regretted it. The headpiece was too heavy. She took the moment to get herself back into being Bo. The rooster was the comic relief of the show and she had a strained pride in having created a mute, but forceful character, the mascot who was almost as popular as the hosts.
Together they walked through the sound stage door as a video showing the band on various wacky adventures with their fans was wrapping up. Yuusei and Shin'ichi were laughing over something on the monitor as the camera and mics went live. Hikaru had a difficult time talking over their laughter and the audience's reaction to their antics.
"I'm very pleased to announce our next guest. Kind of a surprise guest, but I suppose some surprises are what our fans are used to here. So, to keep things lively, please welcome Ren Tsuruga." He had to pause for the huge reaction. Most of the audience wore Sho Fuwa merchandise and held banners or placards with his name on them, but they needed no encouragement from the wranglers to scream and shout for Ren as well. He'd been an acting and modeling star for the past five years, so his fan base overlapped quite easily with a singing idol who'd debuted just a year before.
Bo led the way out with Ren following at his easy pace. For him, being under the lights didn't cause any reaction beyond the greeting he gave to both the clapping women in the audience in front of him and the four men on stage standing and reaching to shake his hand. As he inclined his head or shook their hands, he noted that one of them seemed openly hostile. Sho Fuwa had remained after his song had ended. Usually, the first guest would've gone back to his dressing room. Ren smiled at him. He hoped it would remind the young man in the glittery goth finery that openly challenging the gentleman, 'Ren Tsuruga,' wouldn't work.
Kyoko thought she'd die when Shotaro and Ren stared each other down. It didn't bode well. Neither did the deviation from the stated plan of the show This was Tsuruga's time, not Shotaro's! In the improv section, she and Ren would take audience suggestions, written down during the show, and create a little comedic scene out of them.
Hikaru, the fearless leader of Bridge Rock, announced the sketch time and Ren looked unflappable as Bo picked up the hat with scraps of paper flowing out the top. Instead of the plan, with Ren taking out the random skit ideas, Sho Fuwa stepped up.
Without waiting, he reached in, knocking squares out as he grabbed something from the bottom. He read the writing, then announced, "A love scene." Over the guffaws of the other guys on the stage with him and the shocked giggles of the women in the audience, he continued, "A husband arriving home after another long business trip to find his wife leaving him." Had anyone double checked the paper he crumpled in his hand, they'd find 'A farm scene in the morning with the farmer finding only the rooster- the chickens are missing' written there instead. He'd been thinking all evening about a way to embarrass them both.
Ren calmly turned to the chicken next to him. "Would you like to be the husband or the wife?"
The audience was beside themselves again with peals of laughter ringing out before their encouraging applause. Ren smiled. Bo flashed the audience "his" whiteboard on which was written- I'll be your wife. The audience murmured support.
Kyoko was again saved by the hugely overweight costume because no one had to see the deep red blush on her face. Most people thought the actor inside the rooster was male, since roosters are and it took a lot of stamina even to walk in it. Tsuruga had actually given her the choice! Someone brought out a large pink apron they'd used for Bo in a cooking segment a few months ago. She pushed all other thoughts out of her head as a few other props were brought out and they took their places on what was usually the band's stage.
Ren Tsuruga was a man trudging home after a long trip. It was a role he was certainly well acquainted with. He turned the imaginary handle of his door and set down his luggage only to be greeted by the sight of his beloved wife setting down her own set of luggage.
"I'm home," he said, slightly confused. His wife stared at him with her big chicken eyes. "Are we going out somewhere, a trip?"
No, Bo wrote. We're not going anywhere. I am.
"Oh?" He noted the stiff way his wife was holding herself. Her luggage was on the floor next to her, but she didn't move to pick it up again. Was there hope? He looked into her eyes, ignoring the nervous titters of the audience. He only had moments to convince her, to seduce her again. He had to keep her with him at all costs, even his pride could be trashed, as long as he could win her love again. He walked inside, closing the door behind him. Now he stood between her and a lifetime of loneliness. "Darling?" Ren reached for her hand.
Kyoko tried to pull her hand away from his. His grip wasn't tight, but the feel of his hand, even through the polyester costume fabric, was warm and she didn't want to lose it right away. As Bo, she was speechless so long as he held her writing hand.
"Is it the trips?" he asked, his voice catching with emotion.
Bo nodded. By now the audience was nearly silent. No matter how queer it looked for a grown man to be holding hands with a large rooster wearing a pink apron, no one could giggle through the lumps in their throats.
"I do it for you," he said. "All of it."
Bo nodded again. She needed her hand back to write something or Tsuruga would run away with this scene, yet she still couldn't do it. This was just a little skit, but the emotions he was showing and the emotions he seemed to be holding back were breaking her heart. For a moment she really was a frustrated housewife who'd made up her mind to leave her hardworking husband and now doubted the reason why. She turned her face from him, looking out over the captivated audience. They could see each character's face on large screens over the stage as well as the two of them together on stage. Kyoko noticed the hush, even from the people backstage. Ren had them all eating out of his hands and he was manipulating her as well! She pulled her hand back with a new determination.
I don't want it, she wrote, making sure the cameras and audience could see it. I'd rather be homeless. She put a wing over her face and enjoyed the laughter that came from some in the audience.
"But, don't you like our little nest?" He gestured at the air around them. "How can I take care of you if I don't do my job?" Ren felt his character's pain. He imagined that even in the distant future, when he had reached the height of his career in Japan, he could face a similar split from the woman he loved- if she ever loved him back. The force of the realization took his character to his knees. "Would you consider coming with me on my trips in the future?"
Yes, Bo wrote and Ren's character nearly wept with joy. His wife didn't want to leave him. She wanted more time with him! Some in the audience were bawling loudly. Bo wiped the board and held her arms out to Ren. He stood, stepping into them and hugging her carefully around her costume. He didn't press into the hug and stepped back quickly, after whispering a quick word of praise to her. Many in the audience were nodding their head and scattered applause seemed to be waking people from their daze.
Hearing the words made Kyoko stiffen slightly. She'd tried to change things up, to surprise him with her acting, but she'd played into his plan again. Kyoko wanted to yell at him, but settled for the stinger joke she'd just thought of instead. Bo wrote, Now please take my old luggage to the steps for charity pickup.
Ren and the audience seemed to read it at the same pace because the whole house busted out with laughter at the exact same moment. Bridge Rock came running out to slap backs and shake hands with an amused Ren just as the program went to commercial break.
Kyoko did a quick dance for the audience as Tsuruga was taken backstage for a touch up. Having to pass by the main set's couch when she was done, she tried to skirt everyone and head back. Sho stood and grabbed her arm.
"Why?" he hissed.
Why what, she wondered. The pressure on her arm was lessened by the padding in the wing, but she still felt it. She pulled her arm away and wrote, Because he's a friend of mine. That should cover anything and not give her away. She held her rooster head high and walked back off stage.
The last segment started out with a completely different feeling than the high note the previous skit had ended on. Hikaru tried to jolly up the conversation, but Sho Fuwa had once more refused to leave and since the audience was made up of many members of his fan club, he got to stay. "As usual for this part of the show, we have some questions for you from the audience," the host told Ren.
Shin'ichi took the basket of eggs from Bo and opened the first egg. "To be frank," he read. "You aren't usually in the tabloids, but now your name is associated with a young actress. What can you tell us?"
The atmosphere tensed up even more and Kyoko thanked her stars that she could leave the set without listening to the answer.
In the control room, Shoko was watching Yashiro as he stared at the monitors. Even the emotional producer was quiet as they waited to see how the actor would answer. A slight sheen of sweat on the manager's brow was the only sign of the stress he was under. Shoko shook her head during the evasive non-answer the actor gave. They'd been lucky that Mimori lost interest in Sho once it looked like his star was falling. Another idol came along at just the right time and she'd opted for him instead. Now the unapproachable Ren Tsuruga was her target? She and Sho had laughed about it earlier in the day, so why was Sho Fuwa jumping in on the discussion?
On the monitor they heard him say, "You can't just waltz in and take my place with her." His attitude was cool, but his voice strained.
The director called for reaction shots and confusion seemed unanimous until Hikaru jumped in.
"Ah, I remember that you were seen at an awards dinner with her as well, Mr. Sho. That was last Fall, right?"
Sho ignored the comment, saying, "You kissed her. So what? I know her better than you do." He sent a look of challenge to Ren as he spoke. The challenge didn't go unnoticed in the control room.
"No," Yashiro whispered. "Don't do it." He didn't understand Ren. Sometimes he thought he did, but then the young man would do something out of character and he'd be confused again. Of course, Kyoko was the root of his most recent deviations. Shit! He realized that both men weren't talking about Nanokura at all. He walked over to the show's producer as Ren was saying, "...longer. Still, you did throw her away."
"Can we reshoot this portion? Perhaps Fuwa can be asked again to leave," he said to the producer who shushed him and pointed to the monitor as Sho repeated.
"... You can't think to take my place."
"It's not your place I want," Ren's cool exterior hid a seething anger. His smile was radiant! Girls in the front two rows of the audience began to faint.
"This is incredible!" the producer gushed.
Yashiro put his head in his hands. How could they contradict Nanokura's assertions tomorrow if this went out as it was! He felt a hand on his arm. Shoko, Fuwa's manager seemed just as upset as he was.
"I'll try to get him off the stage," she said and moved to talk to the producer. It wouldn't do either idol's public image any good to be seen bickering over a girl whose enhanced chest was her only redeeming feature.
Yashiro nodded, glued again to the monitor. It really was compelling television. He could see why the producer was enthralled. The director called for a new shot as Yuusei, the quieter of the three hosts, took control of the situation on the set.
"Yes, so it's like that," he said. "You're showing a new side on your show as well. And we have some footage of that don't we?"
The video rolled, showing Ren Tsuruga as BJ, the bad guy on a police drama. For months BJ was shown only in shadows, in this scene Ren's face was revealed for the first time in a stunning shot as he stepped out of darkness and looked down on the unconscious body of the hero. His face is in a close up, handsome and cruel, lit only by the lighter he uses for his cigarette. He takes a drag and sneers, walking over the detective before drawing out the villain's tagline, "That's enough out of you."
The director called for a shot of Yuusei as they came out of the clip. A quick survey of the cameras showed all of the hosts sported shocked looks, as did most of the audience, but Ren kept a smooth smile. He seemed grateful for the change of topic, if nothing else.
Hikaru was the first of the hosts to recover. "Wow. So cool! We have a toy gun here, could you do a pose for us?" He handed over the prop gun and cigarette. Even knowing the gun was fake, there was a certain amount of awe in the handling.
Ren took them easily, standing and pointing the toy directly at Sho Fuwa's forehead. The unlit smoke dangled dangerously from his lips. "That's enough out of you," he drawled.
The audience, apparently more aware of the new show than Fuwa was, broke out into applause. The singer broke out into sweat. A glint in Ren Tsuruga's eye was all that showed how deadly serious he was.
Shoko by now was yelling at the producer and Yashiro took this moment to slip out of the control room. He leaned against the wall, hanging his head. His emotions were stretched to the limit and he wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry at what he'd seen. Something white and yellow caught his eye and he looked up to see a large rooster putting its head on as it came out of a room labeled 'costume storage.' The squeaking of chicken feet heading away from him down the hall meant that the person inside the costume hadn't seen him. But he'd seen her. After Yashiro picked his jaw up off the floor, he started to form a plan.
The taping was taking forever, Kyoko thought. She watched from backstage as Ren answered polite questions. He looked as calm as ever, but the hosts were strangely jumpy. Apparently she'd missed Sho leaving, but that was no real loss in her book. For a bit there, she'd worried he would find a way to cause her problems tonight but he probably had his own image to worry about. Who cared about embarrassing a chicken mascot? Dammit! She had so far to go even to get up to his level. Revenge wasn't her only motivation anymore, but it was still there. She tried to push away thoughts of her childhood friend and watched the set again.
Colored lights beat down on the couch he was sitting on as Ren smiled his gentle smile. Responding to a question about Miss Mimori, he answered, "She is a very lovely young woman and I hope her career does well, but it was not as it looked."
"Isn't she your girlfriend?" Hikaru asked, blinking in surprise.
He shook his head, almost sadly. "I regret my misbehavior immensely, but she isn't the one."
"So there is one?" the host immediately asked.
For a second, Ren hesitated. Kyoko's heart leaped to her throat. Mimori wasn't it? Then what had she seen? What had everyone seen? She reminded herself that you couldn't trust celebrity answers, but he looked very sincere.
"There's no one, yet," he said enigmatically.
Kyoko put a feathered hand to her chest. Why was the tightness back? In the excitement tonight she'd almost forgotten how much her heart had ached today. She found she'd missed the next few questions by the time she looked back. They were almost to the end where she'd do a little run across the stage and try to take the spotlight from the hosts. It was a little bit of stage business they'd worked out early on and the producer liked her to do it. She opened the headpiece just a bit to wipe away the moisture on her face, then snapped it back and ran out.
Ren blinked, taking in his new surroundings. He wouldn't have thought Yukihito could push that hard, but after the taping he'd practically dragged Ren to a changing room and threw him inside. Since he hadn't expected such a thing, or perhaps due to his exhaustion, here he was. The door behind him wouldn't open, something or someone jammed the other side. He'd tried it first before turning around. The sound of running water came from behind a large curtained area. It was a dressing room but used mainly for storage, judging by the boxes and costumes piled around. Ren stepped around a hanging rack and saw the back of a man shaking the body of the Bo costume as he put it on a cart. Aha!
"It seems odd to be saying hello to you, after knowing you for this long," he said cheerfully.
The man turned. He was an older man and not as small as Ren would've imagined. The man pushed his spectacles up on a pug nose and asked, "Who are you?"
A wrinkle furrowed Ren's brow. The voice was completely wrong. "Sorry, aren't you Bo's actor?"
The man laughed loudly and pointed quickly at the curtain before saying, "Couldn't catch me dead in this! Do you fancy trying it on?" He thrust the sweaty headpiece at him.
Ren smiled and shook his head as the man chuckled and walked to the door with the cart, Bo's eyes looking ahead blindly. The door opened easily for him and Ren almost followed when he heard the shower stop. This was his chance to meet his friend, face to face. Would meeting ruin their strange relationship? He debated a second too long and the door slammed shut.
"Oh! Mr. Sawano, is that you?" a young voice called from the curtains. There was the sound of cloth rustling and again it called, "Mr. Sawano? Wait a sec, I'll be right out to help you."
Ren froze. He should run but, as if in a nightmare, he couldn't move. Kyoko stepped out wearing a track suit, with her wet hair pulled back by a headband and a towel around her shoulders. Time stopped. They stared at one another.
When he could trust his voice, Ren asked, "You?"
Kyoko blushed, her hands shaking. She looked around for Bo's head, as if it would protect her, but the costume was long gone. What would her mentor do to her?
"Umm, it's not as it looks?" she tried with a half smile. She was one step from prostrating herself and begging his forgiveness. Demons stood at the ready, but this was her fault. She'd deceived him.
"You," he repeated. How much had he unknowingly revealed to her? How many things had he said about her?! "Why?" he whispered. Why had she kept it hidden? Why had she pretended? The stress of the past few days rolled over him until something inside him snapped. What had she done wrong? She had kept his secrets and helped him without fail. He felt a sense of freedom, a sense of joy. Kyoko was Bo! Ren ran his hands through his hair and a smile crept across his face.
Oh Shit! He was smiling! Kyoko fell, hiding her head in a groveling bow and asking that he let her live. She felt a hand cover one of hers and looked up in shock as he knelt in front of her, an angelic smile on his face. Oh, it was that smile? She'd expected his evil smile, the one that came with its own satanic aura. His eyes were gentle and soft and looking... right into hers?
"Kyoko," he said.
As if a robot were assigned to do a child's jigsaw puzzle, she felt pieces being moved into place. Her mind whirred and clanked as it fit first the edge pieces, then the hard to find ones into middle of the mystery that was Ren Tsuruga. The high school girl? Click-whir. The willingness to be called at anytime of the day or night? Click-whir. Anger, no was that jealousy over Shotaro? Click-whir. The kisses? Click-bzzt. Her brain short circuited as his hands lifted her face closer to his.
"I'm sorry," she said softly, tearing her eyes from his. She felt like a rag doll. His warmth was so near, she couldn't keep the memory of his kisses out of her mind. Large hands tenderly traced the sides of her face.
Ren wasn't going to let this play itself out like last time. He'd spent the week since tearing himself up over pushing her, reminding himself again and again that he couldn't be with her no matter whether it was because of her age, her past trauma or any of the other perfectly legitimate issues. Like his 'Katsuki' in Dark Moon, he'd made very wrong choices as a result of repressing his feelings. There was no one he could ever look at like this, no one he could ever want like this, no one he could ever love like this.
"Don't be sorry," he whispered, his lips only inches from hers. "You're my best friend. I would never hurt you."
Tiny angels snuck out from the receding darkness. They could've stepped on the demons that writhed under the killing power of his sweet smile, but instead they scooped them up, quietly and tenderly carrying them back inside Kyoko's unlocked heart. "I am?"
Ren's hands lost themselves in her hair and he pulled her close, tucking her head against his chest. He cradled her body, pulling her into his lap. He was half hoping she could hear how his heart was pounding, how nervous he felt. "Kyoko," he called again softly. "I love you."
A foreign warmth was spreading through her body, but she didn't dare welcome it. The missing emotion? It couldn't be. Love was always one sided with her. Was this some kind of joke? Was this a punishment? Would he laugh and throw her away? She tried to pull back, but he held her tightly. Finally, she relaxed against him. This was Ren. She felt their hearts beating time together. Cautiously, she moved her arms around his broad chest, resting them on his back. She felt him release a shaky breath. They sat on the floor a while longer before she could look up at him. Was it all true?
Her wet hair rubbed his chin as she tilted her head back. All of his hopes were pinned on her chocolate brown eyes. He braced himself for an onslaught of the questions he saw there. When he heard her ask for his real name, his hopes plunged. He'd hoped to put that one off. There were many secrets, some she had clues to, some she didn't, but he'd hoped for more time to break this one to her. "Kuon Hizuri."
"Your father?" she asked.
Ren nodded. "Kuu Hizuri." He could've explained more, but she seemed to need time to absorb this. He braced himself for rejection. His father had made a large impact on her, even to the point of her calling him 'father' in public. She'd been used by his father and Takarada to get to him and he in turn used her to get his feelings across to his father. Her anger would be justified once she realized this.
She seemed to study him a while before the smile that he usually saw only in his dreams graced her lips. Kyoko reached a hand up to his face, tracing the contours of his features with soft fingertips. "I love you too, Kuon" she said. Effortlessly, she drew his face closer, surprising them both with her boldness. Ren's eyes were wide as she pull him into her kiss, as if it were he now waiting for some hidden joke.
The touch of her lips against his drove all worry from his mind. Tomorrow, he promised himself, he'd think about right and wrong tomorrow. Here and now she was warm against him. He responded to the searching sweetness of her kisses. His hands moved along her back, caressing her through the thick material. Closeness was the key to their pleasure and without rushing they explored each other's faces with fingers and lips. Butterfly kisses on her eyelids made Kyoko gasp. She never knew there were so many ways to experience bliss. He brushed a hand across her mouth and she kissed his fingertips then playfully nipped at them. She stopped at the strange groan he made, eyes half closed. Those eyes were familiar and slightly unnerving.
"Sorry," she mumbled, not quite willing to stop, but not sure how much more she could handle.
Ren watched her mouth hungrily as her teeth left his fingers. He moved nearer her ear and hummed lightly into it before asking her to open her mouth for him. He smiled as she overdid his request and was amused to note she didn't have many fillings. Ren loved how earnestly Kyoko did everything. With a finger, he lifted her chin up a little and sealed his mouth over hers. Slowly he brushed his tongue along her lips, first above, then below. She shuddered, but didn't close up or pull away. He noticed anxious breathing through her nose so he moved away, kissing her lightly to show her she could relax.
"I'm sorry," she said breathlessly. She pulled back. "I don't know..."
Ren gathered her in his arms again. Stroking a hand down her hair, he reassured her, "There's nothing to be sorry for. Nothing at all. Be patient. I'm your teacher, aren't I?" He smiled at her. "And we have lots of time."
Even the Emperor of the Night wasn't so scary anymore, Kyoko thought as she snuggled into his hold. There was plenty for each of them to learn.