Always with you

Disclaimer: I do not own SkipBeat or any of its characters.

Chapter 1 – Commercial impact

Imada Kure, President of Kamisaka Enterprises, Inc., leaned back in his expensive leather office chair and looked his guest squarely in the eye. "Director Kurosaki, the whole marketing department insists that Kotonami Kanae would be a better fit for this role."

Kurosaki leaned back, sprawled in the comfortable chair with his legs crossed in front of him. He decided not to revisit his arguments. One of his rules for taking on projects was that he had the final say for choosing talents. He chose to wait silently for the executives next words.

Kurosaki might look like a hoodlum to the elderly corporate president, but his reputation as a marketing genius was indisputable. The older man cleared his throat, "This will be the largest and most expensive commercial campaign that this company has ever attempted. We want the Kamisaka name on every tongue. I chose you to take on this project because you make commercials that people remember.

"Are you sure about this girl? All she's played in the last year are bad girl roles." Kurosaki nodded, but remained silent. He met the older man's eyes with confidence. Imada paused for a moment longer, "All right, then. If you say that this girl is the best choice, then I will trust your decision. Just don't disappoint me, Kurosaki-san."

Kurosaki uncrossed his legs and stood to his full height before bowing respectfully, "Thank you, sir. I can guarantee you that you won't be disappointed."

He smiled to himself as he walked purposefully down the busy halls of the huge company. He didn't even notice the people who moved to the walls to avoid the dangerous looking character. Now we'll see how much she's grown in the last year and a half.

[Flashback to the Curara audition:

He saw her face drop. He heard her words: "I-It's the same. Just then, giving the Curara to the other person to drink... My idea…" He watched as the confident girl of only a few minutes ago tried to explain to her bewildered partner.

It can't be… He remembered seeing the arrogant rich girl, Kouenji Erika, hovering outside of the break room where Kyoko was practicing. He remembered how strange girl in her loud pink overalls had explained her decision to use Curara to him .

They've been copied!

He decided to intervene, "What's wrong with you two? You haven't decided what to do? Hmm… If you haven't decided, I'm afraid…

"We're ready." The short-haired girl straightened out of her dejected slump and met the director's eyes fiercely, "Excuse me, can I also borrow some Curara?"

Two minutes later, Kurosaki watched in fascination as Kyoko turned away from her still-confused partner and waited for the signal to begin.

In the next sixty seconds the pink duo completely captivated the room for the second time that day. First the blond raised everyone's tension level as she squirted the can of Curara all over her compatriot. The audience felt the temperature of the room drop as she glared at her partner and said, "that's for slapping me." The room felt surprise when she smiled and said, "just kidding." The pair left everyone laughing as the beautiful raven-haired girl tried to squirt Kyoko back, only to have the bottle foam over her hands. And finally, the raven-haired girl made everyone sigh with relief when she realized that she was forgiven and said a soft, "arigato."

A complete range of feelings in just sixty seconds; and she had planned the whole thing, without talking to her partner, in just a matter of seconds.

After the pink duo was awarded the job, Kurosaki pulled Kyoko aside and asked her if she had calculated for the can and bottle to behave as they did. Her polite reply was, "Of course. Everyone knows how a can and bottle spurt differently, don't they?"

He was amazed at her abilities. She might just be the real deal.

End of flashback]

Since that day, Kurosaki had followed Kyoko's career carefully.

Truthfully, he didn't have much patience for actresses, especially young ones. Based on his observations, young actresses were usually self-centered, whining, waspish, conniving, back-stabbing brats. They were difficult to work with and even harder to direct. He tolerated them only because he needed them for his commercial projects. Outside of work, he tried to forget them completely.

But Mogami Kyoko was different somehow. He couldn't help but be fascinated with her. He had watched her in Fuwa Sho's Prisoner PV dozens of times. He never watched dramas, but he found himself in front of the television whenever Dark Moon came on. Now he had started watching Box-R as well. In every character that the young actress portrayed, she completely became the character. She was a different person each time and her characters were totally believable.

As much as he was becoming fascinated with her acting, it was her reputation for professionalism that had Kurosaki's attention. Rumor had it that she was always on time, ready to perform, and willing to take direction. The only difficulty that he had heard about her was her tendency to "become" the character so completely that she sometimes scared her fellow cast members. All-in-all, she had the sterling reputation of a professional. That made her the perfect person to star in his new project. He had insisted on her because he really wanted to see what she could do with the character.

At least that is what he kept telling himself.

* * *

Amamiya Chiori never knew what to think of Kyoko from day to day.

Take now, for instance: only an hour ago the short-haired girl had been prancing around the LoveMe room in ecstasy. Dark Moon had just reached 41% viewership in its time-slot. Even though the original had enjoyed an even higher number, that had been in a time when there were less shows to choose from. Kyoko had been annoyingly giddy, talking about how happy Director Ogata must be.

And then Kyoko met with Sawara-san to discuss new job offers. The offers were all for bad-girl and bully roles. Kyoko returned to the LoveMe room under a cloud of despair. If Chiori had "the eye," she would have been able to observe a cloud of demons swirling around Kyoko. As it was she gave the short-haired girl one corner of the room for herself. She understood the girl's depression and she wished she could help.

Chiori knew what it was to be typecast. After her own successful role as Akari in Scarlet Dice the directors and producers would never consider her for normal "cute girl" roles. She had started hating the world of acting. She had become so full of hatred and jealousy that it was eating her up inside. In fact, she had only taken the role of Yumika in Box-R to get her name recognized.

It was Kyoko, acting as Natsu in Box-R, who changed that. Chiori had thought, at first, that Kyoko was trying to destroy her after Chiori had pushed her down a flight of stairs in a fit of jealousy. When Kyoko returned to the set after her "fall," Chiori had expected to be exposed. When Natsu had made Yumika the main bully in the next major scene, Chiori had thought that the girl was trying to destroy her career. Instead Chiori, as Yumika, had become Natsu's de-facto right hand. More importantly, because of Kyoko's forgiveness, Chiori had finally been able to see how her own hatred and jealousy was destroying her. Chiori has closely observed Kyoko over the next few days. Finally Chiori approached LME President Takarada and became the first volunteer LoveMe member. Whatever it was that happened to Kyoko in that section, Chiori now wanted a part of it.

And the LoveMe Section was interesting, even without the ugly pink jumpsuits. Oh sure, much of the work was menial, dull, and uninteresting. But the things that happened there were fascinating and amusing to watch.

Kotonami Kanae's behavior, for instance: she pretended to disdain her "best friend" status with Kyoko. But whenever their acting schedules kept them away from each other for any length of time, they were on the phone together. She was so beautiful that several of the younger male LME talents had stopped by in the hopes of catching her attention. She had proven adept at shutting them down coldly and quickly. She had no interest in letting relationships interfere with her goal of becoming the most famous actress in Japan. But she always seemed to have time for Kyoko. Kyoko had clearly never told Kanae about the assault, because Kanae had opened up to Chiori now as well.

There was also LME President Takarada Lory: Many LME actors and actresses went months without even seeing the flamboyant head of one of Japan's largest talent agencies. But the LoveMe Section was his personal brainchild (or was it love child?). He followed the lives and careers of the two, now three girls, very closely. He often stepped in to visit, and he occasionally called them to his capacious office for talks. While he kept close tabs on Kanae and Chiori, he seemed to have a special interest in Kyoko.

Then there was Takarada Maria, the granddaughter of the president: On the outside she was a very cute and girly elementary school kid. Under the surface she could be a terrifying and diabolical practitioner in the occult. Chiori couldn't understand half of what she and Kyoko talked about; she wasn't sure if she wanted to. Maria had been the demoness of LME, harassing actresses and causing problems until Kyoko had befriended her. Now she would often show up in the LoveMe room after school and on weekends, helping the girls with their work and having a good time. She was absolutely devoted to Kyoko, who she called "Onee-sama," but she was also deeply infatuated with Tsuruga Ren. Whenever she perceived that an actress was making a play for Tsuruga-san her claws (and her voodoo dolls) came out. In fact she didn't open up to Chiori until she was convinced that the young actress didn't have designs on the tall actor. Maria's continued devotion to Kyoko really surprised Chiori because of what she perceived to be the budding relationship between the older girl and Tsuruga Ren.

The man in question, Tsuruga Ren, was LME's biggest star and currently Japan's top male celebrity. He was tall, lanky, soft-spoken and unnaturally handsome. He was also, if Kyoko was to be believed, an incredible actor. Kyoko called the twenty-one year old man "sempai" and listened carefully to every word that he said. Despite his reputation as a taciturn man, he talked often to Kyoko. Even though he was supposedly one of the busiest actors in LME he still found time to visit the LoveMe section; or more specifically, Kyoko. Chiori had seen the unguarded face that Tsuruga-san sometimes showed when he was around Kyoko. At first she had doubted her perception; why would Japan's most sought-after male choose such an odd teen girl? But months of observation had convinced her that the tall actor was in love with Kyoko.

Kyoko was oblivious to this. She didn't even consider herself to be a desirable female. Chiori was not surprised. Half the male cast and crew, along with the young director, drooled whenever Natsu spoke to them, but she never noticed. Oh sure, she played the young and not so young men like a violin when she was in the character of Natsu. But whenever she reverted back to Kyoko she was as sweet and innocent as a person could be. It was as if Kyoko and Natsu were two completely different girls.

It was the same with Mio. Chiori had spent a few days assisting on the set of Dark Moon as one of her LoveMe tasks. Kyoko played a completely different type of bad-girl role as Mio. Her character was so convincing that it made people, Chiori included, shiver at times. But then the director would call "Ok, cut!" and Kyoko would reappear. This was even more disconcerting because Kyoko would walk around the set with Mio's prominent scar on display. It seemed like different people operating in the same body.

Maybe that was why Kyoko was still so humble. She separated herself from her characters and gave them all of the credit. Despite the fact that she was seen as a rising star and "the talent to watch for" by the Japanese entertainment press, Kyoko still behaved as if she just walked into LME yesterday. She was never arrogant or conceited and she never looked down on others who were not as successful. She was a consummate professional in matters of dedication and promptitude. In fact, she was much like Tsuruga Ren. Maybe that's why he likes her.

But, despite her success and her promising future, there Kyoko was, huddled in a corner and mumbling incoherently to herself about princesses and ojou-samas. At least this time she hadn't pulled out the Tsuruga Ren doll that she sometimes talked to (Chiori hadn't decided what to think about that yet).

Chiori heard the door open and turned to see Kanae walking in. The beautiful long-haired girl scanned the room with her cool eyes and spotted Kyoko in the corner. "Mo! What is it now, Kyoko-chan?"

Kyoko looked up slowly with sorrowful puppy-dog eyes. But before she had a chance to speak, Sawara-san's voice came over the intercom, "Mogami Kyoko-san, please come to the Talent office right away."



I have read up to chapter 143 of the SkipBeat! manga. At this point in the real story no explanation has been provided for Chiori becoming a LoveMe member. I have therefore taken the liberty of adding my own spin.

If anyone cares: the carbonated drink product in Kyoko's first commercial is spelled Kyurara in the manga translation and Curara in my anime translation. Curara was easier to type, so I went with that.

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