A/N: This is my first fanfic and was written to pass the month away while painfully waiting for the next installment (ch 149) of Skip Beat. So far I've planned for this story to be a short 6-chapter story, though this may change as I go. As I haven't properly written fiction for a few years and I feel that my writing style has become a bit dry, any suggestions, reviews and constructive feedback is welcome. Enjoy =)
Disclaimer: I do not own Skip Beat or any of its characters.
Chapter 1 – Accident
Sitting in the front passenger seat of the car, Yashiro stared unhappily at the convenience-store tuna onigiri in his hands before looking askance at Ren, whose attention was firmly focused on the traffic ahead while absently nibbling at his own tuna onigiri. Disapprovingly, Yashiro watched as the handsome young actor polished off the remnants of his so-called lunch, before disposing of the plastic wrapper in his jacket pocket. Kyouko-chan was right, he thought broodingly, This man's idea of food is definitely not normal. Shaking his head, Yashiro let out a long sigh.
"Ren, I know eating is not your favourite activity, but you should seriously look after your body more," Ren's manager said in frustration, "I can understand having to eat convenience-store-type meals when we're in a hurry, but this time, not to mention the vast majority of your other lunch times during the last few weeks, it's not as if we're in any rush since you finished your previous job early with one-takes again.
"Seriously, we have over an hour to travel to our next shooting location, the car trip to which takes less than fifteen minutes."
Getting no response from the expressionless driver, Yashiro frowned unhappily at him, his expression turning sullen as he complained in a sulky voice, "Really, it hurts my feelings when you don't use the time that I took especial care to allocate for your meals to eat properly."
This last finally caused Ren to heave a long drawn-out sigh of his own. It was not that he was eating less than usual on purpose, it was just that having to concentrate on acting out mysterious actor X and cold-blooded murderer BJ while at the same time trying to keep up the gentlemanly facade of Ren Tsuruga was proving to be much more taxing than he had anticipated. With each successive time he immersed himself in BJ's character, it became harder and harder for him to change back into his Ren Tsuruga persona. It was as if the darkness in BJ was a dangerous contaminant - the longer he came into contact with it, the more it threatened to seep under his skin, to overwhelm him and revert him back to his former hateful self; and that made him literally want to throw up each time he finally managed to return to being Ren Tsuruga. If not for having to play eccentric actor X, who helped to ease the transition between BJ and Ren Tsuruga, he had no doubt Yashiro would have noted his various uncharacteristic lapses in behaviour. As it was, however, any inconsistencies with his Ren Tsuruga persona was attributed to actor X.
Trying to think of a plausible excuse for not eating properly, Ren belatedly realised that Yashiro was in fact, not quite finished with lecturing him.
"... and besides what will Kyouko-chan say? It's hardly fair when it's me who's going to end up getting half-killed rather than you, the irresponsible guy at the centre of all this! Well? What do you have to say for yourself? A grown man like you not even-"
At Yashiro's mention of Kyouko's name, the manager's unhappy complaints dissolved into background noise as the memory of a short, petite, black-haired girl half-strangling his manager on the Dark Moon set while yelling at him not to let the actor do his own food shopping rose unbidden to Ren's mind, making him smile faintly. Truly, he was blessed and more than grateful to have Kyouko and Yashiro looking out for him like this - even if one of them did happen to be an occasional royal pain in the arse with his shrewd observations and merciless teasing. But he supposed he could live with that given he had figured out that it was his busy-body, albeit highly competent, manager who took care to keep tabs on Kyouko's schedule and find opportunities for him to run into her whenever possible, much to his secret joy. For that, Ren supposed he owed Yashiro an honest explanation for his minimalistic diet. Besides, it may be the only way he could successfully convince Yashiro that forcing him to eat more than he could handle right now was a bad idea.
"-knowing how to take care of your own health. Seriously! What would you do without me. Hey Ren ... Are you even listening to me?!"
"Ah, I'm sorry Yashiro-san," Ren apologised with an unusually quiet air, a faint smile still visible on his handsome face, "It's just that ... playing BJ is proving more of a challenge than I had expected. I mentioned it at the beginning right? That unlike Katsuki who would only occasionally release the darkness within him, BJ himself is like a mass of darkness; and somehow that makes me feel ... physically ill each time I have to act him out. If I had to eat any more than a very light meal, I really feel like I would end up throwing up."
The young actor's soft-spoken admission had startled Yashiro, and for a long moment he was at a loss as to how to respond. Since becoming his manager, this was the first time Ren had openly admitted to him that he was having problems with a role, and he didn't know whether to feel overjoyed to be confided in, or be worried by the uncharacteristic admission by the young actor who had a habit of disappearing off to study his scripts alone, not to mention a reputation of being able to handle just about anything on his own before he had been assigned as his manager. As far as Yashiro knew, the only person Ren had ever confided his acting problems to was the chicken, Bo, whose identity he did not know.
While Yashiro really wanted to ask Ren why BJ's role was causing him so much trouble, given he had done such a good job at acting out the dark Katsuki, he felt that even if he did ask and Ren did answer, he would not be of any help. Since that was the case, the least Yashiro thought he could do to lessen Ren's troubles was to go easy on him for once. After all, Ren did look a little more tired and worn out than usual lately, and it did not help that Kyouko's increasingly busy schedule meant that despite his prowess at rearranging the young actor's schedule, Ren had been forced to survive on only one Love Me section visit per week.
Sighing into the silence that had settled into the car, Yashiro relented reluctantly. "Ah well," he said magnanimously, "I suppose I'll let you get away with it this time, since I don't particularly want the world to see the usually suave and cool Ren Tsuruga throwing up in front of the cast after a shoot, even if he does happen to be disguised as actor X."
"Why, thank you Yashiro-san," Ren half laughed in relief, himself not liking the image that Yashiro's fanciful imagination drew up.
The young actor's attention perked up at the suddenly stern and serious tone of his manager. "What is it Yashiro-san?" he asked, glancing briefly at him before returning his attention to the road.
They had approached a busy intersection between two main roads and seeing the lights turn from green to yellow, Ren watched the car before him speed up to make the long crossing while he himself decelerated the car and parked the handbrake after gradually coming to a stop; from experience, the lights at this particular section took ages to change, which was a bit of an annoyance since at this time of day there never seemed to be much traffic travelling from east to west or west to east while there was plenty going from north to south or south to north. Absently noting the lack of traffic on the east to west lanes, Ren observed peripherally that today was much the same as he listened to what Yashiro had to say.
"Ren, at least promise me you'll try to make up for what you missed at lunch by eating a proper dinner. I don't want you losing weight and turning into a skeleton because of this job."
"Ah… I promise I'll try Yashiro-san," Ren smiled weakly at him, hoping that will be the end of their food-related conversation.
Reassured by his promise since Ren wasn't the type to go back on his word, Yashiro's mood immediately lightened as a happy idea crossed his mind. "Well then, since we have plenty of time, perhaps we should drop by LME and see if we can catch Kyouko-chan on her lunch break before she heads off to shoot Box-R?" Perhaps I'll be able to persuade Kyouko to convince Ren to finally show me his female version of the catwalk! he thought devilishly.
Yashiro's hopes were dashed however, when Ren sighed, "Yashiro-san, don't you think that's rather risky given it is lunch time?"
"Ah … I suppose you're right." Letting out a discontented sigh of his own, Yashiro didn't bother to hide his disappointment as he too turned his attention to the road, trying to determine where they were. Recognising the large intersection, he judged they were only about ten minutes away from their shooting location.
Shaking his head, he wondered what he was meant to do with himself since Ren was likely to disappear to study his scripts again, leaving him with nothing to do for the next hour or so since they were so early.
Meanwhile, distracted by their conversation about lunch and Kyouko, Ren was on automatic pilot as he watched the traffic lights finally turn green. Unparking the handbrake, he placed his foot on the accelerator, not catching the black four-wheel drive at the corner of his vision that had failed to stop at its own red light and was rapidly speeding towards him.
"REN! WATCH OUT!"
Yashiro's warning came too late as the four-wheel drive smashed directly into the driver's compartment at terrifyingly high speed, causing both cars to spin out of control as the sickening sound of screeching tyres, shattering glass and twisting metal filled the air.
From somewhere very distant, Ren heard a familiar, yet panicked voice shouting his name. Mustering what strength he had, he strained to open his eyes only to have his vision swim before him. Blinking, it took a while for the face above him to come into focus.
For some reason, Yashiro had an extremely worried look on his face as he said something about staying awake and that something was coming soon. Why did he look so worried? Did he break his phone again despite having put both of his gloves on? He seemed to be asking him questions, but he couldn't quite make out what he was saying. His voice seemed so far away.
From somewhere in the corner of his mind, Ren dimly noted that Yashiro wasn't actually holding onto his phone, but was holding something that looked like a red-stained cloth which he kept using to wipe away something hot and sticky that kept trickling down his neck. In the meanwhile, his other hand was pressing something forcefully against the right side of his head.
Was that the instant ice compress from the car's first aid kit? Why was he pressing it to his head?
The familiar sensation of something cool against his head caused Ren's disorientated mind to see things as his vision wavered and was replaced by a familiar image of a worried six year old girl with cute twin pony tails placing a wet handkerchief on his head.
Corn! Are you okay?
"Thank you, Kyouko-chan," Ren whispered tiredly at the small figure, trying to reassure her with a smile despite the fierce pain he was beginning to feel in his head. She looked like she was about to cry and he didn't have the heart to tell her that a wet handkerchief might not be enough to help him this time.
Corn! Don't go!
As he felt his remaining strength to stay awake seep away, Ren wished he could have stayed behind to console the crying girl. With her sweet, hardworking nature it was incomprehensible that her mother did not seem to love her, causing her to run to the forest to hide her tears. It really would be unforgivable if he too became another figure in her life who did nothing but make her cry.