Ren's Birthday

A/N: New chapter, yay! I got writer's block for about two weeks, but I was able to keep up my writing streak, whew. Next chapter will be... chapter 50. Fifty chapters, that's way more than I originally envisioned... Well, let's hope that fiftieth chapter will come out of my head in a timely manner.

Thank you to everyone who has read, reviewed, followed and favorited his fanfic. You all are the reason I'm anywhere near fifty chapters.

Disclaimer: I do not own Skip Beat! That honor goes to Nakamura Yoshiki sensei. I only own this fanfic and my original characters. I miss them already...

Dedication: To Kyoko and Ren, for being amazing characters that I have fun writing with. May we play together for many long years.

Chapter 49

The rest of the drive was undertaken in complete silence, as if the grim reaper himself would chop off the tongue of any puny human who dared to ruin the mood between them with mere words. It was truly blessed silence.

Without a word, Kyoko and Ren stepped out of the car, the sound of the doors slamming shut echoing loudly in the deserted parking lot.

Without a word, they rode the elevator, Kyoko with her eyes firmly fixed on the floor numbers as the elevator inched its way up the building. Ren, furtively observing Kyoko with hooded eyes, felt his heart slowly sinking towards the pit of his stomach.

They quickly walked to the door of Ren's apartment. A quiet, "after you," as Ren ushered Kyoko into his home finally broke the blessed silence, an awkward silence taking its place.

Without meeting Ren's eyes, Kyoko politely asked, "May I use any brushes you have on hand?"

Ren answered immediately, "Of course, take whatever you need. I'm sure you'll need tools to arm yourself with for the ordeal ahead.

Finally, Kyoko smiled, glancing up at Ren for a brief moment, before hurrying towards the bathroom. "Thank you, Tsuruga san." Kyoko replied, smoothly turning around to bow to Ren before disappearing from sight.

"I'll need a comb, a small bowl to hold water; a round brush for when his hair isn't as tangled might work..." Kyoko muttered to herself as she quickly gathered up the materials she needed, studiously avoiding the memory of their little interlude in the car. Anytime any part of that interlude snuck into her thoughts, Kyoko shook her head fiercely, willing the warmth in her cheeks to die down and her memory to die a swift death. 'I need to concentrate on what I can do to detangle Tsuruga san's matted hair.'

Straightening her shoulders and smoothing a smiling expression into place, Kyoko walked out of the bathroom and placed her tools on a nearby table. "Tsuruga san, please bring a chair over so we can begin."

A small smile settled on Ren's lips, growing wider as Kyoko looked him directly in the eye. Breathing a mental sigh of relief, Ren brought over a sturdy wooden chair, following Kyoko's directions as he made sure there was nothing nearby that could not handle being accidentally sprayed with water. Once finished, Kyoko bade Ren to take a seat.

Kyoko settled a large white towel around Ren's shoulders, letting the ends hang down in front. "Since Tsuruga san doesn't own conditioner, I'll try to see if water will be enough to loosen the tangled knots. If it isn't, I'll run down to the convenience store downstairs to buy some. Would that be okay, Tsuruga san?"

Ren looked up at Kyoko, tipping his head back to meet her eyes. "Of course, I leave myself in your capable hands."

Kyoko immediately turned away from the gentleness she could see in Ren's eyes under the pretense of reaching for the water bowl, discreetly taking a step back from Ren's chair. Several grudge Kyokos swirled sluggishly around her, utterly drained from dealing with Ren's relentless attacks on her heart's security. The smile on Kyoko's face flattened into a grim line as she stared at her reflection in the water. 'This is truly getting dangerous.' Her determination, her will of steel that screamed that she should never give her heart to another man was the only thing standing between her and... A delicate shudder ran through her slight frame, creating ripples in the water that distorted her reflection, until the image reflected was no longer recognizable. 'No. That will not happen. I will never...'

"Kyoko?" A warm hand settled onto her shoulder. "What is it? Will the water not work out after all? If you wish to use conditioner from the beginning, we can always go to the convenience store and be back in less than ten minutes."

Kyoko set down the water bowl and quickly escaped Ren's touch. "The water will work just fine, Tsuruga san." Kyoko held onto her cheerful fa├žade with all her might. "I was just debating whether to wet your entire head first and let the water soak in for a bit, or just to wet your hair as I detangle it so that it doesn't dry out." Kyoko gently pushed Ren down into his seat before moving back over to the water bowl. "Thank you for your concern, Tsuruga san, but don't worry, I'll make this as painless as possible without turning you into a greased pig. If we need a bit of oil to detangle your hair..." Kyoko's face lit up before she slipped away for a moment, reappearing with a bottle filled with a golden liquid, "this olive oil should suffice."

Kyoko flashed Ren a reassuring smile. "It's only for emergency purposes."

Ren eyed the bottle of olive oil curiously. "I don't remember buying olive oil, where did that bottle come from?"

Kyoko blinked innocently. "Your kitchen cabinets."

Ren furrowed his brows for a moment, slightly disconcerted by the fact that unknown cooking condiments were magically appearing out of his kitchen cabinets. With a tiny shrug, Ren shook off his confusion and turned to face forward once more. "Alright. If you have everything you need, shall we get started?"

Taking a deep breath, Kyoko heaved a mental sigh of relief. Moving quickly and efficiently, Kyoko firmly reinforced her own mental defenses as she focused her mind on the task at hand.

The soft sound of water gently splashing against the sides of the small bowl was the only sound to be heard in the silence of the room, as Kyoko tentatively wet Ren's hair. Kyoko deliberately took long, slow breaths to calm her slowly rising heartbeat, her fingers sliding through the dark strands over and over again as she worked her way through the tangled mess bit by bit. The combs and brushes she had so carefully gathered lay abandoned on the counter next to her in favor of using the gentlest method possible.

A quiet sigh, so silent Kyoko felt more than heard the sound, escaped from Ren's lips as his eyelids grew heavy, until he could no longer see anything, until he couldn't help but focus all his senses on the sensation of Kyoko's slender fingers working their magic on him. An unconscious smile curved his lips as a part of his soul, long tortured and restless, grew still and quiet, as if afraid to lose the peaceful warmth that had suddenly surrounded it.

Kyoko felt the tension in Ren's body gradually ease, bringing about a curious melting sensation in her heart which only grew stronger as she worked. Lulled into feeling a sense of security by the comfortable silence, Kyoko forgot what it was she had wanted so desperately to protect herself from the moment she saw the peaceful expression on Ren's face. A silly urge to wave her hand in front of Ren's closed eyes to see if he was asleep or awake swept through her, her fingers briefly tightening on the tangle she was tackling as Kyoko fought the urge down, silently laughing in embarrassment at her train of thought.

Ren's eyes suddenly snapped open. Faced with Ren's upward gaze all of a sudden, Kyoko jumped back as if burned, almost knocking over the small bowl of water at her side as she let out a surprised cry. "T-T-Tsuruga san, I th-thought you were a-asleep." Kyoko stared up at Ren as he reached out a hand to pull her up from her sprawled position on the floor. 'Ah, I really doused his hair with a lot of water, didn't I?' Water droplets quivering on the ends of Ren's damp hair fell onto Kyoko's face one after another. 'A wet Tsuruga san is poison to the eyes of women. His looks really should be outlawed...'

Tentatively taking Ren's hand, Kyoko scrambled to her feet with Ren's help. "Thank you for helping me, Tsuruga san." 'How did Tsuruga san get over here so fast anyways? The speed at which Tsuruga san moves at times is inhuman.'

"I didn't mean to startle you, Kyoko. Are you alright?" Ren reluctantly let Kyoko's hand slip from his grasp, loneliness welling up inside his heart at the loss of her touch. Pushing aside the irrational feeling, he focused his full attention on Kyoko... whose attention was now on the floor.

"Oh, no!" Kyoko gasped with dismay, hurrying into the kitchen to grab a few paper towels. "Tsuruga san, please sit back in the chair and wrap the towel around your neck again. The water is dripping onto the floor!"

Moving so fast the wood under her feet groaned as she skidded back into the living room, Kyoko immediately got on her hands and knees and began furiously wiping up the water before it could soak in and leave a stain. A few minutes and a spotless floor later, Kyoko sat back on her heels and admired her handiwork. "Much better."

"Kyoko?" Ren's soft murmur snapped Kyoko out of her satisfaction-induced trance.

Kyoko stood up and walked over to Ren, who was sitting quietly in his chair, towel and all, his head turned to the side to watch Kyoko's progress as she made her way over to his side. "Please wait just a little longer, Tsuruga san. I'll be right back after I wash my hands."

Ren inclined his head, "Alright," he murmured, before turning to face forward.

Running as fast as she could to the bathroom, Kyoko broke out laughing the moment she turned on the faucet, the sound of running water drowning out any other sounds that would have found their way over to Ren in the living room. The thought of Ren sitting quietly in his chair, waiting for her like a good little boy, elicited one last giggle before Kyoko shut off the water and dried her hands, her eyes lighting upon the hair dryer on the upper-most shelf above her.

Running back to Ren's side moments later, prize in hand, Kyoko carefully laid the hair dryer on the counter and moved to stand behind Ren once more. "Sorry for the wait, Tsuruga san." This time, Kyoko confidently threaded her fingers through Ren's hair to find the tangle she had been working on earlier.

The feel of her fingers suddenly ruffling through his hair sent a jolt of longing down Ren's spine. A tiny shiver shook his body as he firmly clasped his arms together, forcefully tamping down the need to hold her and be the one to explore how her hair would feel in his hands instead.

Ren felt Kyoko's fingers still as she leaned over to look down at Ren. "Are you feeling cold, Tsuruga san? You're hugging your arms to your body and shivering." Kyoko's concerned gaze drifted down to where Ren's hands were wrapped tightly around his arms. Without waiting for a reply, Kyoko fussed with the towel until it rested nice and snug tucked around Ren's neck, making sure to wipe away any excess moisture on his skin.

"Not at all. I feel just fine." Ren replied easily. Smiling up at Kyoko, Ren deliberately relaxed, releasing the tension in his body. "How is the detangling coming along? I'm amazed at how easily you're able to painlessly disentangle so many knots with your fingers alone."

Kyoko blushed furiously, taken aback by the sudden compliment. "I was the person who turned your hair into a disheveled mess, of course I would untangle Tsuruga san's hair as painlessly as possible. I'm almost done. The knots aren't as bad as they look, otherwise untangling them with my fingers alone would be impossible." Combing her fingers through the now untangled knot, Kyoko stated firmly, "If Tsuruga san does feel at all cold, please let me know. It would be terrible if Tsuruga san caught a cold from sitting out here with wet hair for so long."

A derisive huff caught Kyoko's attention as she went to work on a particularly nasty knot. "I won't catch cold just from having wet hair for a while."

Kyoko glared at the tenacious knot that was rendering her efforts futile. "Tsuruga san, staying warm is one way to stay healthy. It never hurts to be careful. The last time you caught a cold, standing in the rain made your fever much worse. It's never a good idea to be wet and cold for a prolonged period of time." Her fingers brushed past the sensitive skin behind his ear over and over again as she slowly began making headway in gently teasing the stubborn knot apart.

"I might be wet, but I'm certainly not cold." The sudden huskiness in Ren's voice set off alarm bells in Kyoko's mind, shrieking a shrill warning of danger.

Unconsciously, Kyoko wrapped Ren's hair around her fingers, as if needing an anchor to calm the building storm raging in her mind. Her gaze drifted away from the sight of her fingers tangled in Ren's wet hair, to the mesmerizing look in Ren's eyes. Unable to look away, Kyoko started when she felt the warm brush of Ren's fingers as he lightly stroked her cheek with the back of his hand.

"I'm warm, don't you think?" The feel of Kyoko's soft skin fed the deep longing growing inside him as his fingers traced the light pink tinge staining her cheeks. 'Ah, I could stay like this forever...'

A/N: Writing this chapter was an interesting experience. I don't think I've ever changed as much as I did going from draft to draft as I did this time. I'm much happier with this version compared to what I had a few days ago. Yes, very happy indeed, so I hope that all of you are happy with this chapter as well, haha.

Thank you to everyone who has read, reviewed, followed and favorited this chapter, my fellow shippers of Kyoko and Ren, may fanfiction tide us over until the next chapter of Skip Beat comes out.