Acknowledgment & Dedication: Runadaemon for beta-reading. Thank you for staying with this story to the very end.
Kuon Hizuri woke up with a start.
He blankly stared at the ceiling for a few minutes, trying to invite back sleep because it had been a while since he dreamt about little Kyoko-chan. He wondered why he'd dream about her after so long and couldn't figure out why the setting wasn't in the woods in Kyoto like it usually was.
He looked around the familiar surroundings of his bedroom in his parents' home. The window showed a picturesque sunny day complete with birds chirping. His body hurt after the long night he had running around town. He reached out across the the bed only to find the 18-year old he brought home last night had snuck out on him before his parents found them out. A sense of depression settled on him by the fact.
"Kuon?" A knock came to his door. It was his mother. "Your father's calling you down for breakfast."
"OK," he called back. He sat up and ruffled his hair before heading to the adjoining bathroom.
Because of their work, it was rare for the family to be together so he hurried or he would never hear the end of it. Meals together with everyone were very important to them, even if he wasn't too fond of food itself.
When he got downstairs, he found his mother stacking up magazines on the coffee table. It was the time of the month when the new ones arrived and she always made sure that the ones that featured family members were at the top of the pile.
Kuon walked up to her and gave her a kiss on the forehead. "Good morning, okaa-san."
"'Morning, baby," she smiled. The mere fact that he towered over her made the statement ridiculous. "You look awful. Everything OK?"
Kuon smiled and didn't want to worry her so he said, "I just had a long day yesterday."
"OK," she nodded. "Just don't tire yourself out. Can you set the table?"
The housekeeper was on vacation and it was one of the few times his mother made requests, so Kuon knew he couldn't refuse. "Sure."
He walked up to the dining table and opened the china cabinet. He mechanically took out plates and silver.
"Ah, Kuon!" His father perked up at the sight of him. He entered from the kitchen door with a dishful of grilled fish on one hand and soft tofu on the other. "I thought you'd sleep in."
"If I did, I would never hear the end of it, would I?" he answered nonchalantly, putting everything back and reached for the Eastern tableware to suit a Japanese breakfast.
His father set the dish on the table and laughed. "That's true." He walked up to him and started ruffling his hair.
"Hey!" he complained as he swatted the hand away.
"But you wook zhoooo cute earwy in the mowning!" Kuu Hizuri, the idiot father, pouted. When all he got was a heated glare from Kuon, he sighed. "Get the rice, would you?" he said unenthusiastically.
That was definitely not something he'd like hearing early in the morning. Most especially from his own father. "Fine."
He opened the kitchen door and his eyes softened and he smiled.
In a cute little apron his father just had to get her, by the stove, stood Kyoko. "The soup'll be done in a minute, oto-" she frantically said, only to stop, look up at him and frown.
"You don't smile like that so early in the morning," she squinted.
"You snuck out on me," he complained as he wrapped his arms around her waist and nuzzled her neck. He looked over the pot. Clear soup today, he mused. The whole breakfast composed of all the things she loved to eat, which the family indulged her.
"I was trying to wake you up, but I couldn't peel you off the bed," she said in a low tone, obviously embarrassed to be overheard by his parents. "Anyway, since you finished work late and had to drive us here late last night, it's OK." Then she wiggled free from him. "Now let me finish this thing or otou-san will fuss about delaying the meal."
Her words proved true when his father called out in a demand "Where's that rice?" from the dining room.
Once they settled into breakfast, Kuon felt himself relax and enjoy himself as everyone started talking about everything from the weather and their work. Even if all his blond hair was still dark and to the world, he was still known as Tsuruga Ren, there was one place in this world where Kuon Hizuri can be himself: in a table where nearly everyone who sat has been called "The Co-Star Killer" at least once in their careers.
If President Takarada ever found out about this secret reunion, all four of them are dead.
It was later that evening. Kuon was pouring coffee in two mugs. With Kyoko's preferences in mind, he reached for and placed the milk and sugar on the tray.
It's been three months since they arrived in America for the Date Hirotaka movie shoot and several months since they started dating. Today was Kyoko's last day before she flew back to Japan for another drama she was starring in. He'll follow soon after for the round of promotions he had to do for the movie he and Kotonami-san shot earlier that year. A month after, he and Kyoko will be flying off to New Zealand for the battle scenes of a movie epic with the Date movie.
With some incoherent excuse to their managers about taking Kyoko on a two-night trip before she left, he took her to his parents' house so they could see her before she left. She was going to meet her manager at the airport for their flight the next evening.
Kuon made his way through the long familiar hallway where he grew up. As he walked, he started thinking back to the events that happened after he found her looking at him with one of her scariest faces across the large hall where the actors were gathering from the press conference.
She really had the worst timing in the world, he wryly thought. They were in America – a place where her being a seventeen-year old was a big criminal deal to someone twenty-one like him. Also, the overwhelming feeling was something he had to endure almost three hours before they were finally able to get themselves alone at the hotel to talk where he convinced her that the one he loved was her, only her, always been here, and will always be her, leaving no room for her to misinterpret things.
It was probably God's way of pulling one last trick before giving him his reward. Thank God, they went back to Japan a week later and she was already eighteen when they came back for the start of the shoot.
She was really angry about the 10 points. She tried to give it back, saying that if he really found something unsatisfying about her work that he just had to deduct it, he shouldn't be giving her charity. However, it proved to be a useful jumping point for him to tell her when and where his feelings for her changed. When she still hesitated to give him an answer because of her trauma, he understood but his heart couldn't take it anymore and started to break. Then she jumped him, knocking them off their feet.
The role she had for the movie was minor compared to the one she auditioned for, but popular in the fanbase for having one of the most epic deaths in the story and appeared frequently in the movie. She didn't tell him about it because she didn't get the job until a few days before the press conference and it seemed like small news to give someone who had a lead villain role.
Kyoko bawled like a baby, just as she did when the director's own son offered her the role of Mio, when Director Date said that she was chosen because no one was more suited than her to play a (literal) vengeance ghoul who followed Ren's character. She kept saying, "I am! I'm a vengeance ghoul who follows Ren around!" over and over. Ren wasn't sure if he should have been happy or sad about that.
Being with Kyoko was not at all what he thought it would be like. If he had a vision of what kind of life he would have with Kyoko, it wasn't anything like what they had.
Apart from the stress of keeping everything between them a secret if they both still wanted to have the kind of privacy they had so they can both concentrate with work and not have to take on the added burden of gossip, she would sometimes jump back in horror and fall off the bed whenever he would smile to greet her in the morning. He would also catch or overhear her talk to someone who was not in the room more times than he could count. She was still prone to misunderstanding a lot of things he teased her about and often accused of him of being a bully. And, they have more fights about his eating habits and her excessive frugality than he cared to remember.
He opened the door to the large den with a screen as big as a movie theater where they were watching a Shingai super-special version of Kismet the director gave them before they left Japan with a note saying he hoped his commentary through out the movie would help them become better actors. They were watching it for the first time because Kyoko will have a similar scene for her upcoming drama and wanted a reference, especially with Director Shingai's elaborate insights.
…it was all worth it, he finished the thought as he set down the tray, placed his hand on Kyoko's head and turned to her to tell her the coffee was ready. He wouldn't change a thing for all the world, even if the two of them are very clumsy with love.
He was surprised and taken aback when she was blankly staring far away in her thoughts. "Kyoko?"
His voice pulled her back to the present, but she only responded by blinking at him.
"What?" he asked in an exasperated tone.
Kyoko opened her mouth, but no sound came out. Then she raised the remote to rewind and stopped at a specific scene Kuon remembered as the kiss scene they had in Hong Kong. "There!" she cried in outrage. Kuon's eyes widened as the scene ran the first take they had in the kiss scene.
"This was in the special cut?"
"No, it's the additional NG commentary section." She assured him. Then she worriedly looked up at him. "I didn't really kiss you like that, didn't I?"
Kuon looked down at her face. It was filled with so much defensive indignation that he had to laugh. That was it?! He settled back beside her and answered, "Why did you think I ended up kissing you back?"
"Ugh!" Kyoko looked horrified. "So unprofessional!"
Kuon straightened up and raised an eyebrow. "Are you talking about me?"
"No!" she whined. She slouched and covered her face with her hands. "Me!" When her fingers relaxed, Kuon saw obsession glint in her eyes. "I knew Chiaki was supposed to be desperate in that scene, but not depraved! No wonder Director Shingai called for a cut. In front of so many people too! I was like a crazed anteater siphoning bait off your mouth! And I just threw in my tongue…"
Kyoko continued to rant on and Kuon let out a smile. Right, he wouldn't change a thing for the world.
"…I certainly hope I'm not like this in the other kiss scenes I had!" Kyoko continued. "People will think I'm some kind of kissing monster!"
She looked so distressed and indignant that he had a hard time keeping a straight face. He had to anyway, to make his point. "I certainly hope not, but it seems like you're forgetting one important thing…"
He wasn't really sure what expression he had on when he said it, but Kyoko froze and looked at him with wide eyes.
He reached out, pulled her close and wrapped an arm around her. He tipped her head so it leaned against his shoulder and started stroking her hair. "You were in character that time," he pointed out. "I don't know what you had subconsciously in your head when you did it, but you know that's how things go when you seriously get into character,"
"What I was subconsciously thinking was that I didn't want to screw up the scene because I never got to ask you about it so I had to do the best I could," she grumbled as she reached for a mug and held it out for him before she mixed her milk and sugar into the other mug of black coffee.
"Well," he chuckled. "You certainly did 'your best'," he teased.
"Kuon!" she cried out, softly hitting him on the shoulder. Then she smugly added, "At least, I knew what I wanted even if it was subconscious. The two times you initiated a kiss before we started dating, you kissed me like a girl - tight-lipped and all."
"Oh really?" Kuon's eye glinted at the challenge and she instantly recognized it.
She jumped back to the other end of the couch looking at him cautiously. "Kuon, I'm sorry..." she said with a small voice. "I didn't mean that."
"I didn't mean to question your masculinity," she expounded in a more harried tone and looked at him. "You really are very, very manly. There is no one else like you. And even if there's anything that was wrong with you, I'm the one who has to live with it so I'll take you however you are."
"What do you mean, you're 'the one who has to live with it'???" Really... she still says the most outrageous things. The only thing that made it OK was that she thought that he belonged to her. Still... "You make it sound I'm someone you just put up with." And after months of being together taught him, he knew she could never resist... He crinkled his eyebrows, gave her sad and sorrowful eyes, and pouted. "That... really hurt."
He knew he won when her eyes perked, but resisted. Then she sighed and snuggled against him as they continued to watch the movie. She was going to get it later.
"You didn't leave anything in the apartment, did you?" he asked a couple of minutes later, thinking of the hell of a time Kyoko had packing because of the back-and-forth they had staying over at each other's places.
"No, I'm sure taisho and the okami-san packed everything up," she answered as she drank from her mug, talking about her apartment in Japan while he was talking about the apartment in America they individually lived in with their managers arranged for them by LME. "I really need to give them a special treat to thank them for looking after my things, especially on the one day a month they close the Daruma-ya, just so I won't have problems moving into your place."
When the toll of keeping their relationship a secret with their packed schedules hindered their time together caused a short fight in his car, he casually mentioned that she should just move in. The next week, Kyoko surprised him when she took a big chunk of her movie advance and brought a one-bedroom apartment in his building. After she complained that he didn't seem all that enthusiastic about it, Kuon didn't want to trample on the fact that the apartment was bought with her hard-earned money and didn't talk about moving in until recently.
"Our place," he emphasized. "It's our place, remember?"
"Yeah, yeah," she answered. Then she turned to him. "Is it OK if I stayed at the Daruma-ya while you're still here? The okami-san said that the taisho was really sad when I moved out so abruptly and didn't spend much time with them before flying them off here."
No... 'sad' wasn't the word he would use to describe how the taisho saw their relationship. 'Murderous' was what he saw when Kyoko announced that she was moving out of her room at the Daruma-ya for her new apartment and the old couple mistook it for moving in with him. It was still better than the 'horrifying' look he had the morning he brought Kyoko home after the first time she spent the night at his place in his apartment as his girlfriend.
"Sure," Kuon smiled. Anyway, Kuon himself wasn't looking forward to coming home to an empty apartment so he understood why Kyoko would want to spend time with people when she can. "Just move back in by the time I get there."
"Unless Maria-chan curses me, I'll be there."
"Huh?" He looked down at her.
"Oh, didn't you know?" Kyoko looked up at him, her chin on his arm. "When I get back I'm going to have to face a nine-year old who's very determined to marry you on the day she turns sixteen and will kill anyone who gets in her way. I mean…" she raised left hand and stared at the ring finger and narrowed her eyes. "How the hell do you explain THIS to a nine-year old? Otou-san almost had a nervous breakdown when we told him."
Kuon suddenly had the unpleasant memory of his father ranting on about how lucky he was that he was the one who's marrying Kyoko. At least because she was going to marry into the Hizuri family, Kuon was spared death because Kyoko's potential will definitely not go to waste. After that, he started making outrageous demands like three grandchildren by next year, having the wedding in the family home in Kyoto, criticized the ring for being pink which Kuon chose to match the Princess Rosa and fussed about who will give Kyoko away.
Thank God his mother was there... until she got close enough to be in hugging distance of her. Then she turned into a hyperactive mother-of-the-bride/future-mother-in-law/wedding coordinator.
"Stop looking at it like it's cursed!" Kuon scolded when her eyes were growing more and more suspicious the longer she looked at the ring. He was already going to have twisted memories as an old man when he reminisced about the time he proposed to the girl he loves and how she answered with a suspicious-toned "Why?" while looking at him as though he was a scam marriage broker.
"Ah!" Kyoko caught herself.
He really was… going to have a lot of funny memories to reminisce about.
They cuddled as they continued to watch the movie, their fingers linked between them. When it premiered, critics praised their acting because they seemed so in love. Kuon wanted to laugh - if they only knew what happened behind the scenes.
Kyoko suddenly turned to him and softly said, "Kuon?"
Primly, she said, "Don't cheat, OK?"
"Eh?" Kuon was astounded. He never thought that he showed any inclination of being the type to cheat. He always thought that they have a mutual understanding about the nature of their work. It wasn't his fault that his co-stars were pretty and he never gave off them an impression that their relationship was anything but professional. Besides, she was also surrounded by suspiciously too good-looking co-stars. More importantly, where did this sudden bout of insecurity come from? "And why would I do something stupid like that? The last guy who cheated you, you swore revenge on." he answered, gleefully thinking about that loser Fuwa who was shocked and furious that he actually 'took her away to America.'
Kyoko blinked. "Because you love me?"
"Well, yes," he sighed. "And also, you're actually very scary."
"I'm not scary!" Kyoko cried out defensively. "Anyway," she crossed her arms, "You got it all wrong! I'm talking about cheating on your meals! What kind of cheating were you talking about?"
- Nobody seemed satisfied with the way I ended the last chapter. Sulks. Good thing I had an epilogue planned. I decided to use this style at the start because I really went all-out on the last chapter and didn't know how to top it. I wanted to stop it at the Hizuri breakfast, but I thought I should elaborate it some more on what happened after the 10 points bit. It became a little sneak peek on how corny Ren and Kyoko became after they became a couple - if I wrote it. I doubt anyone wants to read Kyoko having more self-doubt and hesitations while Ren unsuccessfully reassures her.
- Anyway, sorry to anyone who's expecting Kyoko to be cured of her weirdness and become a Yamato Nadeshiko. I firmly believe that her quirks are the things that Ren loves about her and probably what keeps him interested.
- And before anyone comments how Kyoko cannot marry Ren at 18 because Japan does not allow anyone 16 above/under 20 to marry without parents' consent, they're only engaged up to this point. And I never said they're getting married in Japan. There's a reason why people run away to other places to elope.
- Thanks to everyone who read the story! Reading roughly 150,000 words is no easy feat. Especially for those who have been following this from the very beginning, those you favorited and alerted. I'd enumerate everyone, but I'll end up adding 876 words to the word count. So you know who you are. Thank you thank you. I really appreciate.