Disclaimer: This belongs to Yoshiki Nakamura, I'm just borrowing the characters for a little storytelling!

Note: This has no connection to my two previous Skip Beat fics.

AU Explanation: This is written with a different premise than the actual manga/anime world. Characterization is relative to the situation that the Ren/Kyoko have experienced within this universe, but hopefully not unrealistically divergent.

THE TIES THAT BIND
By Yih

"Mogami-san?" Ren squinted at Kyoko as she stood near the window, the sunlight framing her silhouette.

"Good morning, Tsuruga-san!" Kyoko exclaimed with a cheerful smile as she held up a tray of food. "I've made you breakfast. Is traditional Japanese all right?"

Ren rubbed his eyes, trying to get rid of the sleepiness. "You know I like anything you cook."

"That's good!"

Kyoko set the tray next to him on the bed and she handed him a spoon for the miso soup as she dug out her little notebook where she wrote the schedule for the day. Whenever Ren saw that little pink book, he wanted to throw it away in the trash bin, but he never satisfied that urge because it would probably make Kyoko cry.

"You have a busy day today," she remarked. "I've already prepared a bento for you because there isn't much time for a lunch break. You have a photo shoot with Company T, which should take all morning, then you have an interview with a magazine, and after that you have a talk show to tape."

Ren was used to having a busy schedule, and he honestly didn't mind it because he always had Kyoko by his side. He actually preferred being busy enough that she didn't have a chance to go to her apartment. The last few days, she had been staying at his penthouse because the days started so early and ended so late. Ren stared at her, jotting down notes in her notebook, looking especially cute when she stuck her pen in her bun and started digging in her bag for her cell phone.

He lost track of how long he had been watching her when Kyoko finally turned her gaze to him and frantically waved at the food. "Please eat!" she exclaimed. "We have to leave in fifteen minutes if we don't want to be late!"

Ren sighed and sipped at the miso soup, which was now lukewarm. He set the spoon down and picked up his chopsticks. He ate a few pieces of vegetables and tofu, some seaweed, but mostly he watched Kyoko rumage through the closet for his outfit. Ren would put another piece of food in his mouth whenever Kyoko looked in his direction, not wanting to unduly distress her any more this morning.

"How about this?" Kyoko asked, holding up some dark jeans and a simple black button up shirt.

Ren didn't particularly care what he wore as long as Kyoko picked it out for him, although luckily for him her tastes ran into simple, clean-cut clothes that actually suited him very well. He nodded at her selection and purposely smiled that dazzling smile of his at her that he knew would make her blush. She was so cute, so adorable that he didn't dare smile at her in public like that lest anyone else discover her charm.

"Oh!" Kyoko said as she looked at her beeping cell phone. "We need to go now, Tsuruga-san!"

Ren stood up and reached for the clothes. "I'll get dressed then."

Kyoko nodded, grabbing her bag and notebook. "I'll be downstairs waiting for you!"

He sighed as he watched her run out of the bedroom, his gaze not leaving her until she was gone. Ren looked down at the shirt and jeans she had picked out for him and he chuckled at himself, at her, and at the situation.

Would Kyoko ever realize his feelings for her?

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

She was exhausted and Ren must feel even more tired than she did. Kyoko glanced over at him as he drove them from the photo shoot to the magazine interview. It was unfortunate that he also had to tape a talk show after the interview. It would have been nice if he could have had the evening off, but who knew how long Ren would be a top model?

This industry was quite fickle, although Ren had remained a top model for the last two years! It was incredible that he was even more in demand now than he ever had been… and Kyoko knew it was because there was this mysteriousness about him. There was a look in his eyes that said he had a secret and he wouldn't tell.

He was beautiful, she thought, and he didn't look the least bit worn out even though he must be. How could he not? Neither of them got more than six hours of sleep and Ren didn't eat as well as he should.

What should she cook tonight to tempt his appetite?

If she asked him, he would just say an onigiri or ramen was good enough. Kyoko sighed and gazed out the window, not noticing the passing scenery or bystanders. It was always a challenge with Ren, she thought, to be a good agent to him – to take care of him.

"Is something the matter?" Ren asked, startling Kyoko out of her thoughts.

"No, no," she said quickly. "Why do you say that?"

Ren shrugged. "Just wondering."

Kyoko stared at him, thinking he looked a little worried underneath the smile that he was using to hide his apprehension. She had always been able to read his facial expression, intuitively knowing when his smiles were genuine and when they were meant to be a mask for what he was truly feeling. She supposed that was why he was such a great model. He could hide anything underneath a dazzling smile – pain, sadness, anxiety – and do it well enough to deceive almost anyone.

"The photo shoot was beautiful," Kyoko remarked, trying to break the stagnant silence. Usually it was comfortable, the quietness, but at this moment it was suffocating. "Your poses are truly inspiring."

"I merely followed the photographer's direction."

"It's more than that," she murmured. "I could never do what you do. After all, you're not the top model for nothing! You always do your best and it shows."

When Ren glanced over at her, Kyoko smiled brightly and raised her fists up. "Keep fighting hard, Tsuruga-san!"

The smile that graced Ren's face was truly something else.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

"Tsuruga-san," a beautiful older woman said as she smiled in greeting, "I am Aki Shoko and I'll be conducting your interview today for Magazine G."

Ren took her hand and noted her firm, strong grip. "Nice to meet you," he responded, smiling in return.

Shoko didn't look the least bit dazzled by his smile, which a lot of women tended to be. He had heard that she had a reputatation of being able to get actors and models to open up about themselves whether they wanted to or not. As he was part of the latter group, he would need to make sure he didn't say anything that would pique her interest. He was going to keep this short and straightforward.

"I heard you had a photo shoot with Company T, how did that go?" Shoko asked.

Ren answered her question easily and the next several ones as they were all somehow connected mostly to his work and he never really had an issue with talking about his job. Modeling was something he had always wanted to go into because it gave him the freedom to express himself and it didn't hurt that being a model also gave him the chance to meet Kyoko. When things were rough in the beginning, when he lost more jobs than he won… she was always there to cheer him on and fight along beside him. If it wasn't for Kyoko, he never would have made it as far as he had.

"What inspires you?" she inquired. "You are in another league as a model, always finding new ways to reinvent yourself… where do you find that constant creativity?"

Ren was careful not to allow his gaze to drift toward where Kyoko was sitting, suddenly aware that he was rambling more than normal because of Shoko's easy questions. She had probably been doing that so he would open up more than he otherwise would. Shoko was good at what she did, he mused.

"I can hardly give away my secret, can I?" Ren answered.

"Ah," Shoko said, a glint in her eyes, "I suppose you can't." She looked down at her notepad and then flipped the page. "Well, I must ask you this question because everyone always asks and you never do answer."

Ren already knew exactly the question she was going to ask because what Shoko said was absolutely true. He always refused to answer this particular question and because he did that, it made it the question to ask every time he was interviewed.

"Go ahead," he said, making sure to put a charming, indulgent smile on his face.

Shoko smiled back, clearly playing along. "Do you have a girlfriend, Tsuruga-san?"

Ren had answered this question many times in the past and his response of 'no comment' was on the tip of his tongue and he was about to say it when out of the corner of his eye he saw Kyoko jump to her feet suddenly and rush out of the room. He didn't know what possessed him, but he was on his feet in an instant, following after her.

Vaguely he remembered Shoko calling after him, yet all he was aware of was Kyoko – nothing else because nothing else mattered.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Kyoko was aware that she was crying and that she was being held by someone. She clutched the person… a man, her face buried against his shirt. She was too sad, in too much pain to be embarrassed about the situation. Right now, at this moment, she needed someone to lean on.

"Tell me what's wrong."

She almost jerked away when she realized whose voice it was… Tsuruga Ren's! But instead of pulling herself together, she clung to him instead. There was something strangely reassuring to know that he was holding her. Maybe it was because they had spent the last several years together, practically living together. The sad thing was that she only had him to rely on. No one else wanted her.

No one loved her, not even her own mother.

And yet she had refused to give up searching for her mother, believing that when she found her, she would finally be able to find someone who would truly love her. Obviously, she was being ridiculous. Obviously, there was a reason she had grown up in an orphanage. Obviously, she was unwanted and unlovable.

Obviously! Obviously! Obviously!

"Kyoko," Ren murmured, his hands rubbing her back gently, "please don't cry."

She was mortified at her behavior and yet she couldn't stop her shoulders from shaking or her tears from falling. It seemed like it was never going to end, but gradually she could feel her tears subsiding, her shoulders slowly stopped shaking. Kyoko rubbed her running nose against the back of her hand and awkwardly pushed herself away from Ren.

"Sorry," she said in a choked up voice. "I'm sorry."

"You didn't do anything wrong," Ren murmured, reaching for her again to pull her into his arms.

Kyoko was too stunned by the tenderness in his voice, the strange glint in his eyes to resist the comfort he was offering. She allowed herself to sink into the sensation of leaning on someone. It wasn't like it was just anyway. It was Tsuruga Ren!

They had been together for three years, partners in crime, and she considered him her very best friend.

"I suppose," she said softly, "I should be saying, thank you."

"That would work."

Kyoko looked up at him and smiled gratefully at him before resting her head against his chest. "You're so good to me."

"Not as good as you are to me."

Ren was silly, Kyoko thought as she relaxed in his embrace and listened to his steady heart beat, and absolutely wonderful.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Someday, but not today, Ren vowed as he held her tightly in his arms, he would tell Kyoko exactly how much he loved her.

THE END


Please review as it's your only chance!

A/N: Thanks for reading! I am not sure if I will be doing any further stories within this mini-universe or the other universe ("Tokyo" + "Bento Box"). If you would like to see more Skip Beat! stories please review because that makes my muse churn up more lovely fics for you to read! I really hoped that this universe was enjoyable. I will likely try reversing the situation next time, as the plot bunny has already formed in my head, where Kyoko is the famous entity and Ren is the manager/agent. I also do like Shou and Moko, so they will likely make an appearance in some of my stories at some point (and you certainly can't forget Yashiro!). It's just a bit hard to incorporate and flesh out lots of characters when you're trying to keep your stories as oneshots.