WoM- Okay, now we're into the home stretch for this one! Once again, I'm grateful for all the support you guys are showing me and my story. I intended to have this one up sooner, but my poor baby needed a new cord first, since the old one died 'pets laptop affectionately.' At any rate, here's chapter six for your reading pleasure! Enjoy!

Stepping Back

She's really cute…

Tsujimoto Akio knew he was staring. He'd been staring since he saw her when they both boarded the train in Tokyo, as a matter of fact. He was vaguely aware that he probably looked like a moron, but he just couldn't help himself. There was something about the girl that called to his eye.

He wasn't the only one who saw it, either. A number of guys kept casting discreet looks in her direction, and a few of the more daring men even sat next to her and tried to initiate conversation, but the girl didn't seem all that open to talking to any of them. Not that she was rude or anything, but clearly she was much more interested in the papers she was trying to read then strange men hitting on her. After the first few failed attempts, most guys took the hint and left the girl alone.

Seeing all that discouraged Akio from making a move himself- he wasn't the best looking guy around, and that second guy looked like he could've just stepped off of a magazine cover, so he didn't think he had much of a shot and didn't want to embarrass himself trying- but for the life of him, he just couldn't tear himself away from watching the girl's face as she read.

I've never seen anybody so expressive before. Akio thought in bemusement as he watched the blonde's face brighten at something, a giggle escaping her lips before her eyes widened with shock and a guilty expression overcame her face. It stayed for a while, until the girl's eyes flashed in defiance, the paper in her hands crumpling as her read on, looking more and more upset as she went. Akio's amusement turned into concern at watching this, then quickly changed into alarm as he watched tears pool in the girl's dark eyes, her shoulder trembling as she tried to suppress the urge to cry.

"Is there a problem?" Akio asked before he could stop himself. The girl jumped at his voice, blinking at Akio for a moment as if she had just come out of a trance. "Are you alright?"

"Eh?" The girl looked confused at the question. "Yes, I'm fine. Why do you ask?"

Why do I-? Akio gaped at the woman in disbelief.

"Well… You're crying." He informed her hesitantly. Looking faintly surprise, the girl reached up to the corner of her eye and found the moisture that had gathered there. Alarm and embarrassment warred across her face as she hastily scrubbed to get rid of the tears.

"Oh!" She said, flushing brightly. "Oh, I didn't even realize- I'm sorry, I'm such an idiot."

"Is there a problem?" Akio asked again, waving off her embarrassed apologies.

"No, I really am fine." The girl assured him with a shy grin as she tucked the papers into her bag, all traces of sorrow gone. "I just have a bad habit of making weird faces when I read. Shin-chan teases me about it all the time. I really should know better than to read things like that in public, but I thought that since I was going to be out of Tokyo for the next few days I might as well they and get as much work done as I can while I have the chance." Akio relaxed a bit at the girl's explanation, though he was still a little confused. So then, those papers were for her job? Then what were all those weird faces for…?

"Anyways, I'm sorry, I was disturbing you…?" The girl trailed off, giving Akio a questioning look. Flushing, all thoughts of the girl's job flew right out of Akio's head as he offered her his hand to shake.

"Ah, sorry! I'm Tsujimoto Akio. I'm a law student at Tokyo U." Akio explained. For a moment, Akio thought he saw the girl freeze and stare at him with a deer-in-headlights expression, but before he could even blink there was a sweet smile on the girl's face as she accepted his hand with her own smaller one.

"Tokyo U, huh? That's incredible!" She said in awe. "You must have worked hard to get into such a prestigious school." Akio puffed up a bit at the pretty girl's praise, grinning widely as confidence began to swell in him.

"Yeah well, I've always done pretty good with my academics." He said casually. "My dad's a lawyer too, you see, so I guess smarts just run in our family."

"Oh?" The girl smiled. "So you've always wanted to be a lawyer?"

"Well… no…" Akio admitted, a little sheepishly. "When I was younger, I was kinda in this band, and I really wanted to be a musician. But things didn't work out with that, so…"

"That's too bad." Sighed the girl sadly.

"Ah, it's life, you know?" Akio shrugged, grinning down at the girl. "I mean, I'm sure you've been there too, right? You wanted something for yourself as a kid, but when you got older you grew out of it?"

…Was it just him, or did the train just get, like, fifty degrees colder?

"'Grew out of it' isn't the words that I would choose, but I guess you're right." The girl said, her tone dark. "We all have mistakes in our past."

"W-well, I wouldn't call my band a mistake. There were some good things that came out of it, but I just wanted something different for myself." Akio said weakly. Granted, pretty much all the good things that came out of it were for the cocky punk lead singer who ditched them to go solo, but that was beside the point. Other than the occasional 'what if' moment, Akio never really thought much about his old garage band with Fuwa Shou.

"Well, I guess things are working out for you, regardless." The girl amended with an honest smile. "It really is impressive that you're attending Tokyo U, after all. Congratulations, Tsujimoto-san."

Congratulations? Akio thought, confusion warring with amusement. It wasn't wrong, but it was weird for a stranger to congratulate someone for getting into a good college. That was more something an old friend you hadn't seen in a while would do. Shaking his head, Akio decided that, while pretty, the blonde girl was definitely a strange one.

But at the same time, she was much easier to talk to then he originally feared.

"Thank you, um…" Akio trailed off with a questioning look, waiting for the girl to give her name. Before she could respond, though, her entire frame started shaking as if she was having a seizure. Akio jumped in alarm until the girl dug around the pocket of her jeans and produced a cell phone, her eyes widening when she took in the number. Jumping to her feet, the girl gave a polite bow, throwing Akio a contrite look.

"I'm terribly sorry, Tsujimoto-san, I have to take this." She explained hurriedly.

"That's fine, I understand." Akio assured her with a smile, mentally groaning at the lousy timing of the caller. Apologizing again, the girl gathered her purse, turned heel and scampered off to take her call in a more private area. Akio sighed as he watched her leave before hesitantly returning to his seat. Hopefully, he'd get a chance to talk to her again later. She was much friendlier then he was expecting, if a little odd. Actually, there was something faintly familiar about the way she spoke, like he'd talked to her before.

Chuckling, Akio shook his head at that thought. Impossible. No way could he ever forget a girl like that…

"Hello? Yasma-san?" Kyouko said as she closed the door behind her. "Is everything alright?"

"Yes, yes. We are fine, Kyouko-chan." Yasma responded, amusement clear in her thickly accented Japanese. "I just wanted to call and see how you were doing. It's not too late for me to call LME and get you a temporary manager, you know…"

"It's fine, Yasma-san, really." Kyouko insisted. "After all, this is supposed to be my vacation. I don't want to trouble the company over something like this."

"But what if you're recognized?" Yasma pointed out.

"I don't think that'll be a problem." The actress giggled, looking over her shoulder at the door she'd just closed. "I just spent the last few minutes talking to a boy who knew me in middle school, and he didn't recognize me at all, as Mogami Kyoko or Kyouko-chan." She hadn't recognized Tsujimoto Akio either until he told her his name though, to be honest.

He's gotten taller, and stopped bleaching his hair. Kyouko noted, bemused. Probably because of his mother, she was the traditional sort who didn't put up with things like that. Shou complained about it constantly when he was a member of Death March, the band he'd formed in middle school which had consisted of himself and three other boys from their school. He, of course, was the lead singer and lead guitar, with Akio playing backup, a well-built boy named Kokubo Takumi on bass and Okuyama Shouta playing drums.

Kyouko remembered Akio with some fondness, despite the fact that she hadn't really talked to him outside of helping the boys out with their band. He was a very sensible guy, easy to talk to and always polite. Shouta was a decent fellow too, though he mostly ignored her unless she brought food for the band during practice or something, but Takumi had been really annoying, always picking on her and making things more difficult the more she tried to help.

What a jerk… Kyouko thought irritably. The only reason I put up with him was because Shou needed him in the band. That thought had a black pool of miasma pooling around her as she recalled all the other crap she put up with for the ungrateful heartbreaker who was Fuwa Shou.

"-rental car is waiting for you at the station." Yasma finished saying, startling Kyouko out of her thoughts.

"I'm sorry? What was that?" The girl asked, flushing as she batted away the hair of her blonde wig. Stupid, stupid stupid! She shouldn't let herself get distracted like that!

"I just wanted to call to let you know Shin has a rental car waiting for you at the station." Yasma repeated, sounding amused for some reason. "He doesn't want you taking a cab without him there to keep an eye on things, and if you even think about trying to walk or bike or accept a ride form a stranger, he swears he'll fly down there and drag you back to Tokyo by the ear, stomach flu or no stomach flu."

"I'm not going to shatter into a million pieces without him here to keep an eye on things, you know." Kyouko giggled. "Is he feeling any better?"

"He's stopped throwing up every five minutes, but he's still really weak and pale as a ghost so I'm keeping him on strict bed rest." Yasma answered with an exasperated sigh. "He's not making it easy, though. I swear the man's jumping up every ten minutes with something else he forgot to tell you."

"Tell Shin-chan I'll be fine and that he should get some rest." Kyouko said with a smile. "I'll be heartbroken if I lose my manager because his wife killed him for driving her crazy while he's sick."

"I'll be sure to pass the message on." Said manager's wife laughed. "Be safe and have a fun trip, okay Kyouko? Call us if anything comes up."

"I will." The actress promised readily. "Please take care of yourself, and of Shin-chan. I'll see you guys in a couple days." Smiling as Yasma said her goodbyes and ended the call, Kyouko couldn't help the warm, fuzzy feeling settling into her stomach at her manager's continued concern.

Shin was supposed to come to Kyoto with her originally, but that plan was derailed when her manager caught a nasty stomach flu that took him out of commission for the trip, leaving Kyouko to her own devices. Since the last time Kyouko had gone out in public without Shin had ended badly enough to result in a kidnapping, car chase and several restraining orders, Kyouko decided to play it safe for this trip and travel in disguise. So far, that had been working out pretty well, but the real test was still ahead, when she actually got to Kyoto.

Once there… Kyouko gulped quietly to herself as wandered further down the train, heading towards the dining car, trying to force that thought back down as she dug through her bag to pull out a small coin purse with a familiar and beloved stone.

It's okay… Kyouko thought, nervously playing with Corn. I can do this. I'll be alright…

With any luck, she might believe that by the time she got to Kyoto.


Kyouko managed to last another hour and a half before she was reduced to a whimpering mass of nerves and depression with her forehead pressed against the steering wheel of her rental car.

I can't do this…! The actress thought with a moan. Why did I ever agree to this in the first place? I was doing just fine! I don't need to be here! I should get right back on the train and head home to Tokyo and forget all about this nonsense. I'm sure Shin-chan could reschedule my work if I hurry…

Coward! Inner Bo's voice scoffed in the back of her mind. Is this really the girl who fought tooth and nail to get into the entertainment industry? What would your sempai say if he could see you now? And Moko-san! You're supposed to be her rival, right? How can you manage that if you can't learn to overcome something like this, huh?

Kyouko groaned at that. She knew the chicken was right, and going back would be admitting defeat, but she just couldn't get her nerves under control.

She'd been fine on the train. After a meal on the dining car, she'd gone back to her car and talked a little more with Akio until the train pulled in at the station. He had asked if he could take her out to dinner sometime during her visit, but Kyouko rejected the offer claiming that she was in Kyoto for important personal reasons. Akio had been dejected, but didn't press the matter, much to Kyouko's relief. They had parted ways at the train station after Akio had given her his phone number in case she changed her mind, and Kyouko had gotten into her rental car and drove off.

That was where the problem started.

Kyouko hadn't realized how intensely the memories would hit her until she was right there seeing things for herself. She swore to herself that she was strong enough to overcome her bad memories and focus on the good things from her past, but it was far harder then she realized. One my one, places passed by, and each one chipped away at Kyouko's courage a little at a time. The park where she used to play with Shou… The street where Kohana had thrown her homework into a muddy puddle, making it impossible to turn in… The coffee shop where she had waited for her mother until she fell asleep on one of the uncomfortable iron chairs and the concerned owner called the police, who brought her into their headquarters until they managed to track down her mother to pick her up…

And the closer she got to her destination, the more intense the memories became. Which was what led to her current position; sitting in the parking lot of the corner store having a mental breakdown and being chewed out by the chicken mascot she used to play on Bridge Rock.

I really am a coward… Kyouko thought miserably as she leaned back into her seat with a sigh. She knew her friends wouldn't think any less of her if she turned tail and ran, since everyone except the president and Shin had thought that her return to Kyoto was a bad idea, but that wasn't important. What was important was that she would think less of herself for it, and the what-ifs would always haunt her until her dying day. She had to do this. Somehow.

As Kyouko tried in vain to gather her courage, the doors to the convenience store opened and a pair stepped out into the parking lot, drawing the actresses gaze and making her eyes widen in surprise at the coincidence.


Before she even realized what she was doing, Kyouko had the car's window open, allowing her to catch the tail end of their conversation.

"-can't believe you left your wallet at home. What kind of big sister are you, anyways?"

"Oh shut up, Naoki! Like you don't forget things like that, too!"

"Watanabi-san?" Kyouko ventured, making the female half of the duo turn, then freeze dead at the sight of the actress, her face going white as a sheet. Oblivious to the girl's strange reaction, Kyouko grinned widely. "Ah, I thought it was you! What a coincidence!"

"M-Mogami-san?" Fumiko croaked out faintly. "You… you're actually here?"

"Yep!" Kyouko beamed. "I just got off the train, actually." Turning her attention to the baffled boy with her former classmate, Kyouko gave a warm smile. "Watanabi-san, is this you're little brother? You were right, he really has grown up a lot since the last time I saw him!" Kyouko giggled slightly as the boy only looked more confused at that statement, turning to grin at Fumiko. The smile slipped away though, when she finally noticed how pale the brunette had turned. "Watanabi-san? Is something wrong?"

"Ah! No! Nothing!" Fumiko assured the actress hastily. "I'm just surprised is all… I know you said you'd come tomorrow, but I was almost sure that you would change your mind…"

"Oh…" Kyouko replied, flinching slightly. Was it really that easy to pick up on her uneasiness? So much for being a convincing actress… "Well, I said I would come, didn't I? I try to honor any agreements that I make, if I can help it. After all, you came all the way to Tokyo to invite me…"

"…Wait, Nee-chan went to Tokyo to see you? What are you talking-?" The rest of Naoki's question was cut off with a cry of pain when Fumiko stomped hard on her brother's foot. Jumping away from the older girl before she could inflict any more pain, Naoki scowled darkly at her. "What was that for?"

"You're being rude, Naoki!" Fumiko hissed, heart hammering in her chest. Her brother couldn't let it slip that she had gone to Tokyo to see Shou! "A-anyways, Mogami-san, yes, this is Naoki. He's a big fan of your show, actually…" Naoki looked baffled at his sister's words for a moment, turning back to the redhead Fumiko was talking to in order to study her more intently. After a few moments of silent scrutiny, realization chased across the teen's face and the boy went deathly still.

"You… you're Kyouko-chan!" Naoki realized, pointing at the actress with a gaping mouth. Fumiko flinched and Kyouko shank back into her car a bit, looking around nervously at the bystanders who were watching curiously after Naoki's outburst.

"Naoki!" Fumiko practically growled out, but the teen paid her no heed, practically leaping to greet the actress with a star-struck look of his face.

"I can't believe you're here! I love Dragon Eye, I watch it all the time! And I've seen Forgotten, like, a million times! And… and Natsu!" Fumiko blushed, horrified at her brother's behavior. God, she hadn't been that bad in Tokyo, had she? Kyouko, though, seemed to take it all in stride, smiling graciously at Naoki.

"Thank you, Naoki-kun!" she said brightly, "It's always great to meet the fans who have supported me throughout my career."

"Mogami-san, are you heading to your hotel?" Fumiko asked when he brother became thoroughly tongue-tied by the actress's smile. Her stomach twisted slightly at the thought. Kyouko was a big name actress, so she was most likely staying at the Grand Kyoto Hotel, where their reunion was being held.

The hotel that Fuwa Shou was checking into in five hours.

"Um, yeah in a little bit." Kyouko said vaguely. "Are you two doing some shopping or something?"

"Yes, actually." Fumiko said awkwardly, shuffling from one foot to the other. "We were picking up a few things for dinner tonight. We should actually probably start walking home now..."

"I can drive you, if you'd like." Kyouko offered generously. Before Fumiko could refuse, Naoki made a strange sound that resembled a dolphin's squeak, startling the girls into silence.

"SHOTGUN!" Naoki claimed, practically teleporting to the passenger side door.

"Naoki!" Fumiko bristled, glowering at her young brother.

"Oh come on, nee-chan!" Naoki scoffed, undaunted at his sister's glare. Smirking, the teen added. "I mean, it's only fair, right? You went all the way to Tokyo to see Kyouko-chan while I stayed here, right?" Fumiko froze at the boy's words.

That… that sneaky brat! Fumiko thought, furious. Naoki's words seemed innocent enough on the outside, but she recognized them for what they really were; a threat. If she didn't let her brother ride home with the actress, he'd spill the beans about why she really went to Tokyo.

Not for the first time, Fumiko wondered why younger siblings weren't illegal.

"…Fine." Fumiko consented grudgingly, sliding into the backseat. "Thank you for your kindness, Mogami-san."

"It's no problem." Kyouko said with a smile and a vague feeling that she'd missed something as she started the car after Fumiko buckled in. "I wanted to bring you the outfits Le'Moire-san made for you, anyways."

"She was serious about that?" Fumiko squawked, alarmed. She didn't think that the famous designer would actually go through with her promise to provide a simple girl like her with a new wardrobe.

"Of course." Kyouko laughed, her smile widening. Le'Moire-san is a very headstrong person. It's… difficult to say no to her."

"Noticed that." Fumiko muttered under her breath, forcing Kyouko to bite back a giggle.

"But she's also one of the nicest people I know, and she takes her word very seriously. She would never break her promise or lie to someone."

The word 'lie' had Fumiko feeling as if she's just been punched in the gut, her deal with Fuwa Shou lingering in the back of her mind like a bad odor. Swallowing thickly, Fumiko found herself unable to respond to the actress. Thankfully, her brother suffered no such problem.

"So Kyouko-chan, how long will you be here in Kyoto?" He asked eagerly. "I can give you a tour if you want, y'know!"

"Thank you for the offer, but I think I'll be alright." Kyouko laughed. "And anyways, I'll be leaving to return to Tokyo in two days. There's still a lot of work I need to finish, and poor Shin-chan is sick now, so-"

"Igami-san is sick?" Fumiko broke in, visibly alarmed. "But then… who will protect you?"

"I have looked after myself on occasions, you know." Kyouko grumbled, a blush rising to her cheeks against her will. Gods, why did everyone assume that an international incident would happen anytime she was left alone for a few hours…?

"Oh, I didn't mean that you can't, Mogami-san!" Fumiko assured her quickly. "It's just well… the other girls from our class…"

"How will that be any different from middle school, Watanabi-san?" Kyouko asked, her tone flat and unfeeling. "I didn't have anyone protecting me back then, either."

Fumiko winced at that, feeling as though she'd been slapped.

"Oh! Turn right up here, then take another right at the next fork." Naoki said to Kyouko, giving his sister a confused frown as the actress did as he asked. So… Kyouko-chan and his sis knew each other when they were kids? Why was this the first time he'd heard of this? He was going to have to pull the whole story out of his sister once they got home…

"Oh, by the way, Naoki-kun." Kyouko said, grinning at the teen. "Your sister says that you want to be a writer someday…"

…If he didn't kill her first.

"Uh, yeah. Someday." Naoki flustered, feeling like an idiot. He half expected his sister to start reciting the stupid play he wrote in the second year of middle school then to embarrass him, but thankfully Fumiko stayed silent. "I'm not very good right now, though. But who knows! Maybe one day you'll be starring in a movie based on one of my books!"

"I'll look forward to that, Naoki-kun!" Kyouko encouraged him with a bright smile, unintentionally tongue-tying the teen.

"Oh! Mogami-san, this is our home right here!" Fumiko broke in quickly when she saw Kyouko had nearly passed their house. Braking fast, Kyouko pulled off to the side of the road to let the Watanabi siblings out.

"Um, before you go…" Naoki hesitated, red-faced. "Can I… Can I get your autograph? I really am a big fan, and I got some stuff…"

"Of course, Naoki-kun!" Kyouko consented with a grin, making the boy take off like a shot to his house to collect anything he thought Kyouko's signature could fit on. Once he was gone, Fumiko watched the actress anxiously as she dug through the trunk of her car for Le'Moire's gift to Fumiko.

"Mogami-san… about how my friends and I treated you in middle school…"

"Watanabi-san, it's fine." Kyouko cut off her apology with the wave of a hand. "You already apologized to me for that, you don't need to do it again."

"I just can't believe you'd want to come back here again after all that…" Fumiko murmured quietly, making Kyouko pause.

"Well…" Kyouko admitted with heaviness in her eyes. "It's been much harder than I thought it would be…" Fumiko felt her hope flicker back to life in that instant.

"If you don't want to stay, I'll understand, Mogami-san!" Fumiko assured Kyouko hastily. "Really, you don't have to force yourself to come to the reunion! It's okay!"

"No." Kyouko said firmly, giving Fumiko a hard look. "I have to stay. I can't let this beat me. I mean, what if I have to shoot on location here someday? I'm not about to let a few bad memories cause problems for my co-workers. Besides… there's a regret that I haven't been able to let go of and… and I don't want to live with it any longer."

"Mogami-san…" Fumiko said quietly, blown away by the actress's strength. Standing up to other people… standing up to yourself… Fumiko had never done anything of the sort. She didn't have the guts to tell Kohana off for the way she treated people, or to look herself in the mirror and actually do something about all the terrible things that stared back at her.

And yet this girl, this friendless, bullied phantom from her past, was now someone so much more then she could ever hope to be.

"Oh! Here we- Watanabi-san?" Kyouko said, dropping the box she intended to give Fumiko in alarm when she turned and found the brunette herself in tears. "Watanabi-san, what's wrong?"

Wailing loudly, Fumiko surged forward to envelope the surprised Kyouko in a hug, making the actress stiffen at the contact at first until she forced herself to relax and try and soothe her former bully's tears enough to find out the cause. This was how Naoki found the two of them five minutes later and, at Kyouko's helpless, pleading look, he ushered the two girls into the privacy of the Watanabi house.

Once inside, Fumiko did what she'd been dying to do since staying with Kyouko in Tokyo. When her tears subsided enough to let her talk, Watanabi Fumiko confessed.

And less than five minutes later, a new battle began.

WoM- DunDunDUUUUUUN! 'giggles' sorry. Got kinda stuck writing this chapter for a bit, but I'm pretty happy with it, overall. I'm pleasantly surprised with how much Fumiko's character has grown on you people, considering all the bad traits she has. She doesn't even like herself all that much, so it's awesome you guys are so fond of her. Sorry for writing Shin-chan out here, but I wanted Kyouko to face all this alone. No manager to use as a meat shield, no love-struck sempai to coddle her since he doesn't want her to feel even the tiniest hint of pain, no overprotective friends to tears apart anyone who even looks at Kyouko funny… Just Kyouko staring down the demons of her past without anything to distract or protect her. Kyouko knows how amazing her friends are, now it's time for her to see that she's pretty cool herself.

Anywho~ reviews help me feed my plunnies and keep the story going, so gimme some why don'tcha?

…Pretty please?

Thanks To-

Lady of the Hunt, piggycat350, bbhelen3162, Crazy Sardines, darkreverie13, Reight, lechat23, suppusan, TsukiHime, Yumia's Fountain Pen, novvy, hentai18ancilla, Ebzenka, theYellowDello, sweetXsunshine, snow white, perfect beauty, zeichnerinaga, Shadowhawk, leavesfallingup, Rutoh-Chan, Ninja Shen, fan girl 666, Jhay, LeprechaunVomitxD, lin Kim, Iris Anthe, SweetSarah8, ash00, Squee, Anne Camp aka Obi-quiet, librarycat9, staidwaters, kyoko minion, Emanuel Black, FreedomsCage, littlesnipper