Author's Note: I will say more at the end of the story for those that wonder what I'll be up to now that this story is done, but for now I'd like to say thank you to everyone who has helped me shape this story. First to the readers, for being all around awesome at life. To the reviewers, whether all you did was drop a simple line or write me a novel, I appreciate every single one of you. Best people ever. To Runadaemon, who Beta Read a good chunk of this story and helped considerably. I've loved every minute of writing this story and I can only hope that you have had a fraction of the same enjoyment reading it. With thanks said, have at it!
Chapter Fourteen: Light At the End of the Tunnel
Ren's gut was telling him to run. To cut his losses, leave the country, take up a new name, and start a new life somewhere else. With no small amount of difficulty he squashed those feelings down and swallowed. For although nearly every fiber of his being screamed at him to flee, at least one small part of him told him to stay and face the truth. He was in love with Kyouko and there was no way around it anymore.
He started counting in his head to pass the time until Kyouko opened the door. "One… two… three…" She hadn't uttered a single word. "Thirty-four… thirty-five…"
Slowly the door cracked open and smidge by smidge her face appeared in the gap. There were red rings around her eyes. Ren froze for a moment, then said, "I made you cry… I'm sorry."
The silence hung thick between them. A moment or two passed before Kyouko backed away, clearly allowing him space to enter the room. He stared at her for a few seconds, but she didn't say a word.
He had nothing to lose anymore. He went inside.
There was absolutely nothing of interest in the plain dressing room that Ren could divert his gaze to and his eyes inevitably fell upon Kyouko. She seemed utterly fascinated by the floor and her head tilted downward away from him in a sad, plaintive sort of way. The quiet suffocated him for a moment and he feared that he would not be able to speak at all, but his throat cleared and taking a deep breath he said, "Kyouko?"
She looked up briefly. Her eyes pierced through to his soul and disarmed him. Ren grappled for something to say. Everything had flown from his mind.
"I, uh, could we sit?" he asked, stalling for time.
Wordlessly, Kyouko wandered over to the couch and a second or two later Ren sat down beside her. "I'm sorry for what I've put you through lately. It wasn't fair of me and I didn't mean to play with your feelings. I have been… so afraid of hurting you that… that I—" He broke off, unable to go on. Kyouko was so quiet it scared him.
He had been studying the fingers folded in his lap for the last minute or so, but now he looked up trying to meet Kyouko's eyes. As is sensing the shift in him, Kyouko's slowly lifted her head. Even ringed in red and wet, her eyes gleamed at him like gems and instead of breaking him down, now her gaze built him up.
"I love you, Kyouko. I've tried so hard not to. I… I just felt that you deserved someone better than me." He could see confusion pouring into her features, but he continued, "Someone more whole than I am. But it's impossible. I have loved you since the day I met you."
Kyouko opened her mouth to say that when she and Ren had first met he had made it abundantly clear that he disliked her, but Ren interrupted her before she could say anything other than, "But you—"
"No, not at LME," he said softly. "I never told you that we met about twelve years ago in Kyoto…" he smiled "… when we were kids."
"I don't…." Kyouko strained her eyes at him, trying to place him in her childhood.
His smile curled a little wider. "You thought I was a fairy."
"Kuon, actually." He broke eye contact for the first time in several minutes. "I became Tsuruga Ren years later when I returned to Japan. I'm not proud of the man Kuon became. But I never forgot you. It just took me awhile to realize you were the same girl I fell in love with on a family trip to Kyoto." He paused for a moment, trying to figure out what to say next as he studied the floor.
To his amazement Kyouko had reached out to brush her fingers across his cheek. He looked up to her eyes. "You're really Corn?"
"You lied to me about being a fairy," she accused. Her lips pulled into a tiny pout of frustration.
Her expression was so serious that Ren wanted to burst out laughing. He settled for a less offensive chuckle and replied, "You mistook me for one all those years ago. You seemed so thrilled by the prospect that I couldn't bear to tell you the truth. Not when you came to me in tears so many times."
Kyouko nodded numbly, staring down at her fingers as if she could not believe she had actually reached out and touched Ren. "And you," she began. She seemed to be struggling to form the sentence in her mind. She tried again. "You—"
She was interrupted by a knock on her door. It opened to reveal a short girl that Kyouko thought she might have seen among the lighting crew at one point or another. Apparently the girl didn't seem to think she was interrupting anything. "Kyouko-san, they need you down at make-up and wardrobe right now. Director Hakimori says that the light won't last very long."
Kyouko looked startled but didn't move.
"Right now, Kyouko-san," the girl repeated, intent on seeing Kyouko get up and leave the dressing room immediately.
She glanced briefly at Ren before getting up and following the impatient crew girl out of her dressing without so much as a word to Ren. She had only stopped to mutter, "Alright, I'm coming," to appease the interloper.
Kyouko threw one last lingering and frustratingly inscrutable glance in Ren's direction before closing the door slowly and disappearing from sight.
Ren stared at the shiny doorknob for several minutes, slowly building a deep hatred for the unsuspecting inanimate object. An agonizing pain washed over him as his mind began to process the idea that he had laid his heart out like an open book before Kyouko and she had been unable to respond to him.
Rather audibly, he cursed the sun and Director Hakimori's dramatic flair for the arts. Perhaps passing actors and actresses in the corridors wondered why Kyouko was swearing so loudly (and in a deep voice), but that was the last thing on Ren's mind as he got up and wandered off miserably to his own dressing room to prepare for his next performance. He could only hope that he and Kyouko would hold themselves together for the scene.
It was going to be difficult. The scene took place several weeks after Lieutenant Akio, Ren's character, arrived at the base. Time had passed and he was starting to develop a tender affection for the wounded Moyami Rin—Kyouko's character—who, though she was unaware of it, seemed to finally be recovering her old vigor for life that had died with Lieutenant Ichirou. But disaster struck, as rather dramatically Wantanbe Emi, an Army Medical Nurse, arrived to serve in the medic corps and revealed herself to be Ichirou's fiancée. To make matters worse, it also happened to be Ichirou's birthday.
When he thought about it, it was almost cliché how Rin's vulnerability and confusion led her to kiss Akio and then panic. The stage directions were uncomfortably similar to Ren's mistake at the wedding. He could only hope that that sad fact didn't weigh too heavily on Kyouko's mind as she was surely contemplating what had transpired while she was having her make-up done.
Watching the make-up artist work never failed to fascinate Kyouko. Layers of foundation and blush gave her skin a divine glow that she could never hope to achieve on her own, no matter how hard she tried. Then, the artist dusted false dirt and grime on her face since the military base was supposed to be rather dusty and clouds of the red grit were kicked up into the air with each passing jeep and convoy.
With expert finesse, the artist traced jagged tear stains down Kyouko's cheeks and proclaimed her finished. The smile on Kyouko's face didn't last long as she got up and made her way over to wardrobe. She had been distracted by the make-up for quite awhile, but reality came crashing down on her with its usual bitter harshness.
She was having an enormous amount of difficulty processing the fact that Ren loved her. Kyouko kept trying to work it out in her head. Maybe she had misheard him? But, no, it had been far too quiet in her dressing room for that to be plausible. The only logical conclusion was that he had said it and that he had meant it, but….
Kyouko bit down and chewed on her cheek with consternation. If Ren had confessed to her then the next step in the process would be to come up with some sort of reply. The only problem was she wasn't exactly sure what that reply was. She was about as confused as a football player at an anime convention.
On the one hand she had sworn off love. On the other hand the purpose of the Love Me section and all her efforts in acting were to regain that very missing emotion.
On the one hand she had been terribly hurt and had no desire to repeat those experiences all over again. On the other hand she respected Ren and, to put it bluntly, idolized him.
On the one hand she wasn't sure if what she felt for Ren qualified as love. On the other hand her feelings and attraction were almost impossible to ignore.
In all this confusion there were two things that were most definitely certain. Kyouko couldn't leave Ren hanging. She had to come up with something to tell him. And the second thing she knew for sure was that she had to make up her mind before they started the scene because they would fail if she was still conflicted.
A sharp pain arced up her right leg and made her gasp in surprise. She looked down to see one of the wardrobe assistants tugging the laces of her combat boots. "Ahhh, too tight," Kyouko said, wincing slightly. The assistant cast her an apologetic look and set about loosening the boots. "Better."
There was no time to talk before shooting started up again. Ren and Kyouko were caught up doing the solo shots that led up to their scene together. Ren had to do a bit of panicked running as Lieutenant Akio searched the compound desperately for Rin and Kyouko was occupied with forlorn gazing as the camera zoomed in on her from a distance when Akio finally spotted Rin.
These shots moved quickly with few retakes as Hakimori hurried them for time. The cry of "Part Three, Scene Ten, Take One" came much sooner than either Ren or Kyouko expected, but they took it in stride.
Still running and rather uncharacteristically out-of-breath Akio came to a screeching halt next to Rin. Panting, he called out her name. "Moyami-chan!"
Slowly, her eyes brimming with the leftovers of tears that she hadn't exactly managed to brush away in time, she looked up at him with derision and sarcasm written all over her face. Not sparing much more than a second or two, she looked away again. Rin spoke in a choked and strangled voice. "Leave me be, sir."
Akio stood unmoving as a statue. Her eyes swept over her and he didn't do much else for quite some time until suddenly he spoke again, "Nobody knew he was engaged." The silence stretched delicately between them like bubblegum. "I know what day it is. His birthday," he added.
Her response was faster and louder than he might have expected. "Stop talking, sir. I don't want to listen. I don't want to talk. I don't… want to do anything." What had started off strong dissolved into halting sentences. She sniffed loudly, a dark red blush creeping up her cheeks as a result.
Making his first move since he had arrived, Akio sat down next to her and stared off into the distance where the sun had just set. A dull glow hovered over the edge of the horizon.
"Then I won't talk," Akio told her. "And you don't have to talk. We don't have to do anything. We'll just sit here," he concluded.
Rin opened her mouth to speak, but closed it again rather quickly. Time passed silently. Hakimori had told them that since they had planned carefully they should wait until the last embers of the setting sun had disappeared before picking up with the script again. The Director wanted to shoot the scene in real time if he could.
A dark cobalt color started to spread across the sky like split ink and Rin cast a furtive glance at Akio and spoke, "He would have been twenty-two. It's my fault he didn't live past twenty-one. What kind of life is that?"
Akio seemed to be choosing his words carefully as he replied. "The life of a solider. People die, Moyami-chan. I could die. You could die. Tenshou-san could die—"
"Tenshou won't die," Rin interrupted. "People like him never die."
Akio couldn't resist smiling just a little bit. He couldn't help but feel glad that Rin's eyes looked significantly drier now. Still, he added soberly, "But we could all die."
"Don't," Rin said. She sounded almost like a child.
"Don't what?" Akio asked.
"Say that you could die."
"There are a lot of things I would never do, Moyami-chan," he said solemly. "I wouldn't forget to mention I was engaged. I wouldn't lie. And… and I wouldn't die."
She turned sharply to look him in the eye, quite possibly for the very first time.
"There are few things in this world that a man can promise," Akio continued, aware of Rin's piercing gaze but determined to finish what he had to say. "I can promise that I will not die on you… Rin…"
Their faces had gotten rather close without them really taking note of it, but now they seemed rather astonished by the proximity. Rin leaned closer, pressing her lips against his. Akio returned the gesture, albeit hesitantly at first. In no time at all, it had become quite passionate.
Ren's fingers had worked their way into Kyouko's hair. It wasn't quite what the script called for, but it felt right to him. Speaking of the script, Kyouko ought to be breaking away from him any minute now. As much as he was enjoying himself, it was about to end soon. Ren braced himself for an impact that didn't come.
Instead of breaking away from him and declaring "I can't get involved again. I can't do this," Kyouko was pushing him backwards onto the ground, which though pleasant was utterly confusing.
Wasn't she supposed to run off so he could gaze after her and muse, "Maybe I should let her run…."
Distantly he could hear Director Hakimori shouting something along the lines of, "Cut! Cut! What the hell? Don't make me throw water on you!"
Finally catching on, Ren realized that Kyouko had ventured off the script intentionally. Under most circumstances, Ren might have scolded her for it, but he felt that in this case, he would make an exception.
Three months later…
"Ren, for the last time, get off the phone and come eat. You need a decent meal before we go."
"Sorry," Ren told his father. "Just a minute." Even though he covered the mouth piece with his hand, Kuu could still make out the conversation between his son and his girlfriend.
"Kyouko, you know they give us dinner there, right?" he replied exasperatedly.
"Yes, and you won't eat nearly enough of it. I can't force you to eat at an event that will be televised live, but I can sure as hell make you eat before we go." The tone of her voice brokered no argument.
"Alright," Ren said. "Just a minute then." He returned to the phone. "Sorry about that," he said graciously.
"You should listen to Kyouko-chan more," Kuu told him.
Ren barely managed to contain a groan.
"So have you proposed yet? Do you need any help planning how to do it? You are going to marry her, right?" Kuu added suspiciously.
"You, know what," Ren replied, "I really shouldn't keep Kyouko waiting much longer. I'll talk to you next week. Bye."
Kuu gazed at the telephone as he hung it back up on the cradle. He was still for a few moments; then he broke out into a wide grin of pure glee. "He's totally got a ring for her!" he declared to no one in particular and waltzed off to the kitchen whistling tunelessly.
The Last Author's Note: Hello again! So now here's where I tell you what I'll be up to now that this story is finished at last. I will be moving in to college in less than a week, so I will most likely have much less time than usual. I don't plan on starting anything long just yet. Instead I'll probably be focusing on my drabble series (mostly in other fandoms, though you might see some Skip Beat oneshots if I have ideas). As far as longer stories go, I do have some ideas for Skip Beat. The first to get done (and there are still no promises that I'll write any of these yet) would be a companion fic to A Wink... that focuses on the YashiroxKanae relationship. I purposely didn't include too much of them because some readers felt weird about the age gap. However, others of you support the ship like I do and I would like to write the story if I can. The other Skip Beat idea I have is a future fic when Maria grows up (sort of). That one's an even bigger maybe, but any news on these stories can be found in my profile when I've made up my mind about it. My other internet project would be finishing the script of Duty Binds Us, which if that happens I may post on my fictionpress account (link's in the profile!). But that's it for my internet writing. Thanks for making this story such a great experience! Until next time _Madness