Disclaimer: Skip Beat! belongs to Yoshiki Nakamura. No money is being made with this story.

And here is part 2. I just couldn't leave them hanging like this. Please enjoy ^^

Happy Birthday, Ren!

Part II


February 11th


Midnight had come and gone, filling Ren with a strange sense of fulfilment. It was strange because he hadn't fulfilled anything yet … but he planned to.

"How about a cup of coffee, Mogami-san?" he asked when they had eaten the last crumb of the cake. It had been surprisingly delicious. Although it had looked like a solid clump of chocolate on the outside it had been filled with light, fluffy sponge cake, lots of strawberries and a bit of low-fat whipped cream. Much like Taisho's food it had melted on the tongue, teasing his taste buds with its fruity sweetness.

"Oh, yes, I'd like that," she said shyly. "Uhm, but do you have milk and sugar?"

Chuckling, Ren nodded. He knew that she shouldn't drink pure black coffee – otherwise she wouldn't be able to calm down for several hours. He left for the kitchen, taking their plates and cake forks with him.

Brewing the coffee (black for him, milk coffee with milk froth and extra sugar for her) took a few minutes. His machine was very good but a bit on the slow side. He enjoyed the gurgling and hissing the automat issued as much as the heavenly smell; it helped him relax and think about the best approach to the confession he wanted to make.

Somehow he knew that tonight was the night to share all of his secrets with her. It hurt that she still called him by his last name. In that way she was all prim and proper, but he loved her for that, too. In a way it showed her deep respect for him, and that was almost the only thing he was really sure of. He knew that she regarded his advice above all others and thought of him as almost infallible. In truth he was anything but … his own state of mind was testament to that. And yet, it was balsam on his doubts and insecurities. She provoked them, and she soothed them. It was maddening.

When he returned, Kyoko had put her feet under his kotatsu*. The TV was still on but the sound was so quiet that he had to pay attention to be able to hear what was being said.

"Here, your coffee. Sorry that it took so long. My coffee maker is a bit slow." Ren put the cup in front of her. He then sat down as well, occupying not the side of the table across from but next to her.

"It's no problem," she said quietly. Her large, caramel-coloured eyes watched him steadily. "Tsuruga-san, I'd like to speak with you about one of my jobs."

Dang, he thought. Here went his chance to plunge forward and make the best of it. But it obviously troubled her so he pushed his irritation back and schooled his face into its usual calm mask.

"What is it? Do you have problems with a role?"

Nervously, she fumbled with her cup, fixing her eyes onto the small mountain of milk froth.

"Well, not exactly a problem." She took a huge breath and he inevitably wondered what it was that she wanted to tell him. "It's more of a confession, actually …" Kyoko trailed off, looking cautiously at his surprised face.

"A confession?"

She flushed, lowering her eyes even further. "Yes, a confession. I know that you'll be mad at me, but I just have to tell you before I chicken out again and you'll find out from someone else."

It was silent for a few moments. She broke the silence by snorting in laughter, although she didn't seem really amused.

"Why don't you just tell me?" Ren asked. He was getting more bewildered by the second and it made him somewhat irritable.

She nodded. "You see, Tsuruga-san, when I had just started in the LoveMe-Section I got a job at TBM. It was my first real job and I decided to keep it after I was almost fired …" Kyoko sighed dejectedly. "I'm not making any sense, am I? Anyway, I took that job and I think I was rather good at it, but now I have to quit because I'm going away to shoot a movie. I'm not sure if I'll get it back after that ..." She trailed off, seemingly lost in thought.

Ren's worries and curiosity still weren't appeased so he cleared his throat to get her back on track.

Taking another breath, Kyoko sat up straight and looked him directly in the eyes. "Tsuruga-san, what I wanted to confess is that I have been the chicken. I am Bou from Rock Bizarre. I just wanted to tell you in case you wanted to meet him again to talk."

"You … have been Bou?" he asked, dumbfounded. "You?"

He didn't know whether to feel relieved or insulted or angry, but a look at her face showed that she didn't know what to feel either.

"You have been Bou … unbelievable", he muttered to himself. The things he had told her! He had, essentially, told her that he was in love with her, and she didn't get it! It only proved his point that she was as oblivious as they come when she wanted to be!

Against his will laughter bubbled up in his chest and his shoulders started to shake. Worried, Kyoko watched him but he just couldn't help himself. His suppressed giggles shook his entire frame and he needed a minute or three to calm down.

"Huuuuh," he moaned when his fit had finally found an end. His tummy was hurting pleasantly. He couldn't remember when he had last laughed so hard. "Thanks, I needed that."

"But aren't you mad at me?" she asked in that frightened yet demanding voice. He knew that she wanted to be scolded so she could be forgiven eventually.

"No, I'm not. I understand what a predicament it must have been for you." And he did, truly. "In fact, you were rather brave, facing me like this. You had me fooled, and before you beat yourself up about it, that is a compliment."

She still looked at him as if he would take her head off any moment. That pure look of panic reminded him of the one occasion when he had indeed tried to take Bou's head off. He had ripped off his cockscomb instead, and, picturing Bou's scandalized expression, he erupted into laughter again.

Kyoko seemed to remember as well, because she pouted prettily and tried to glare at him.

"Hu-hu-huh," Ren chuckled, clutching his hurting sides and only barely keeping from rolling on the floor. "I'll s-s-say I forg-give you if you s-stop looking at m-me l-l-like that!" He gave up the fight and allowed his laughter to come out. Hiccoughing, he fought for air.

Ren needed a lot more than three minutes to calm himself this time. It was just too funny – one of the best laughs of his life, actually. Looking back he should have known by the way she had acted as Bou, but he had been blind as well.

"You know, I'm really glad that you've forgiven me," she pouted, "but do you have to laugh at me so evilly?" She even crossed her arms in front of her chest, a picture postcard of the verb 'sulk'.

"Sorry, sorry," he said, trying to look earnest and mature. "It's really not that funny." Oh, it was a lie and she knew it but she accepted his effort and relaxed a bit.

Ren finally got himself back under control. He sipped his coffee, strangely amused about how this seemed to be a night of confessions. She was still looking at him so warily. Ren knew that it was time to spill his own secrets now. He owed it to her and also to himself.

"Actually I'm grateful that you brought this up, Mogami-san," Ren said after long, silent minutes. "I really might have gone to talk to Bou some time soon. I have something to tell as well. It's kind of like a sensitive matter and I wanted to speak about it before going public. Since you are him, how about I just tell you and you'll give me your advice in the matter?"

Surprised and alarmed she stared at him. "I-is that really okay, Tsuruga-san? You don't have to since I've been deceiving you so shamefully." She bowed over the table, making herself as flat as a flatfish.

"Your advice was always helpful," said Ren kindly. "Please let me tell you. It's been a great burden to me for several years." He looked at her earnestly, willing her to understand that he was serious now. "This secret affects you too, so please believe me when I say that I never meant to hurt or deceive you. It was necessary for me and … well …" He shrugged, suddenly feeling uncomfortable.

Kyoko, who was always sensitive to others' moods, nodded. Gone was her pout. Now she was as serious as he, trying to prepare for what he had to say and getting ready to help him in whatever way she could.

Ren cleared his throat. He didn't like how it closed up but he chose to ignore it. "I guess it all started with my parents. They are famous people and were the best parents in the world. At least I thought like this until I wanted to get my foot into the showbiz myself. I was hired often enough but most people just saw me as a younger copy of my dad and expected things from me for which an actor would need years of training and experience. That's the reason why I was fired so often, I couldn't fulfil their expectations, no matter how hard I tried."

Ren looked openly at Kyoko. She listened attentively, her face showing a touching mix of concern, misery and determination. So far so good … he took a deep breath, just as she had done mere minutes before.

"To escape his shadow I decided to leave my home country America and came to Japan. I changed my name and started here at LME. Takarada-san is a very good friend of my family and granted me my wish." He took another sip of his coffee, steeling himself for the first of his many confessions he had to make. "My parents were devastated, of course. They wanted to bring me home but Takarada-san made them promise to leave me alone until I was ready. They haven't kept their promise entirely. Last year my father was here, in Tokyo, and he met with me."

"Really? How is he? Is he really that famous?" Kyoko asked, curious and yet determined to dislike him.

"You've met him already," replied Ren calmly. "In fact, you're his adopted son."

Most of the times it was entertaining to read Kyoko's face. She could convey all sorts of feelings with it, not all of them entirely recognizable to normal human beings.

But not tonight. Right now it was scary. Ren swore he could see the cogs working in her brain. He could even pinpoint the exact moment when she comprehended that her beloved O-tou-san was also his father.

He didn't need to hear it from her pale lips that tried to utter the words. "Yes, my father is Kuu Hizuri. My mother is Juliella Hizuri. She's a model, always has been." He smiled ruefully. "You see now why it was so hard getting out of my parents' shadows."

"Y-you are Kuon?" Kyoko blanched even more. "To think that I dared to act as you … I'm so sorry! It must have seemed terribly impudent to you!" She flattened herself against the table again.

"Please don't do that, it makes me feel even worse," he sighed. "I hid that secret for seven long years. Sometimes I really forgot who my parents are. Ren Tsuruga is my alter ego. I created him from scratch to become my own person and tried to shove my true self back. It is no wonder that my father would ask you to play his son. He must have missed me a lot."

Kyoko's pitying, tearful face showed clearly that this was the understatement of the century. He decided to ask her later about that; right now he had more important things to do.

"Actually he was surprised at how well you portrayed me," Ren continued quietly. The first part was out and she had taken it reasonably well.

Kyoko sniffed, wiping her eyes dry.

"And I was, as well." He hesitated, grasping his cup tightly. This would he hard … "Mogami-san, I know why you've been able to act so well as Kuon."

"You do?" she asked, surprised.

Nodding, Ren leaned a bit forward and looked her in the eyes. It was really charming how compassionate she was. "We have met before when we were younger," he said simply. "I know that you still remember me … Kyoko-chan."

Stunned, she stared at Ren. Her mind hurtled, months back in the past when Kuu had first asked her to act as Kuon. She had understood 'Corn', and she had been shocked for a moment. And even as Kuu had affirmed that his American accent might have made it sound like it she hadn't made the connection although it had glared at her. But seeing that she had formed Kuon after 'Corn', her secret childhood friend it had to be true. Why else would both father and son mention on it?

"I'm so stupid," she finally whispered. Her long silence had begun to worry Ren. "I've missed you so much and still I couldn't recognize you, even though I've hoped to see you again."

Horrified, he saw that big tears were tumbling down her cheeks. "Please, I didn't mean to hurt you, I'm sorry," he said, trying to calm her down.

But Kyoko was inconsolable. She hid her face behind her hands and wept like a little girl. "How could I not have recognized you?" she cried. "How could I?"

Ren did the only thing that he could think of. He left his place at the table and went over to her side. Carefully he took her in his arms and pressed her shaking body against his chest.

"It's not your fault," he said calmly. "I'm mad at myself because I waited for so long. I was hiding from the world and it wasn't fair to you." He softly stroked her hair. "Please forgive me for deceiving you. You being Bou is nothing in comparison, do you understand?"

He held her tightly, not allowing her to even think that he would let her go anytime soon. Even though she was so sad it felt like heaven, being able to hold her like this. To comfort her, to feel her slight form against his.

"Kyoko-chan," he murmured when her desperate sobs had finally subsided. "Please forgive me." His own eyes weren't exactly dry but he refused to be weak in a moment when she needed him to be strong.

She wriggled around until she could lift her head. Her moist eyes bore into his and the breath caught in his throat.

"Corn," she said. Her voice was small but the tone … it was so full of awe that he had to struggle to keep from simply kissing her. As if in a trance she snuggled up to him.

"I had hoped you would be angry with me," he said, only half joking. He was still confused about her reaction. He knew that she was unpredictable but he would never have expected for her to not be angry. "I deserve it."

"No, you don't," she said with that small voice. "You were trying to get out of your father's shadow and you did what you had to do. I understand, really." A shudder and a deep, sad sigh ran through her. "Still, I should have recognized you. Even when we were children you were special. You were always kind, and you've been kind to me now, too. You haven't changed at all and I still was too stupid-"

"Hush now." Ren flicked her forehead lightly, just like Kuu would have done. "It's not your fault. Get that in your head, alright? I already feel guilty enough without you trying to blame yourself. It was my decision not to tell you, not your fault for not recognizing me after ten years." He glared at her. "Besides, I don't deserve to be your fairy prince any longer. I broke my promise to you."

Kyoko stopped rubbing her smarting forehead and looked questioningly at him.

Ren sighed. "I promised to never make you cry, didn't I? And now look what I've done." He frowned darkly.

Kyoko wriggled in his arms again, and then she suddenly started to giggle. "I'm sorry," she hiccoughed. "It's just … I'm so happy to have you back! It's like a dream."

"I'm glad, too," Ren sighed. It felt great to have a happy Kyoko in his arms - much better than a weeping one.

"Say," she asked shyly, "if you really come clean with everyone about your past … can I call you Corn again?"

Chuckling, he ruffled her hair. "Of course you can. But only if I can call you Kyoko-chan."

Her answering beaming smile would have made him weak in the knees if he hadn't already been sitting. Even with red, puffy eyes from crying so hard, she was so beautiful to him that he felt restless and anxious.

A few minutes went by. Neither knew what to say but it felt so good to be silent together. The greatest gift Kyoko could have made Ren for his birthday had been her acceptance, and against all hope she really had accepted his apology and forgiven him his deception.

It would have been perfect but there was that last thing that wanted to get out, as well. It wouldn't stay down, no matter how much Ren tried to reason with his inner demons.

Kyoko of course noticed his agitation and promptly asked what was wrong.

"Ah … it's nothing," Ren tried to smile but she saw right through him.

"Tell me," she demanded. "Do you think that you can keep secrets from me after tonight? I dare you!"

Despite his fear a small snicker left his throat. "As you wish. I just hope that you won't think less of me, Kyoko-chan."

"Is it that bad?" she asked, frowning. Her slender arms wound around his own. It was the first time in all their time as acquaintances that she voluntarily embraced him.

"For you it most certainly will be," he said, all good humour leaving him. "Please … just don't run from me." His eyes searched hers in a silent plea.

She looked at him, searching his distraught face. She was so close that it tore at his heart. The warm scent that reached his nose smelled like young, sweet skin and perhaps a tiny bit like vanilla. It just … fit.

"I promise," she said quietly.

Ren gathered all of his courage for this last confession. Some readers may think that this last one is the easiest by comparison, but for Ren it was the only one that truly had the power to define his future. She was so very important to him and he had just reclaimed her as a friend. If she rejected him now he was sure it would break him. Money and titles fade in the face of love, and he felt it acutely.

"Okay … Kyoko-chan," he began, halting and caressing her face with his eyes. "I really, really like you."

In an instant her whole expression changed. Gone was the curious, worried frown. It was replaced with a shocked, disbelieving face. Heat flooded her cheeks only seconds later and even her neck and ears flushed a becoming red.

"When I told Bou that I was in love with a High School girl I meant you," Ren explained. "It may not sound like a compliment, but all this time I've been trying to forget about you. I know that you don't want to love again so you-" He stopped when she began to shake. "Kyoko-chan, I'm sorry. I said too much."

He loosened his arms to give her space but her fingers dug deeper into his skin and kept them around her.

"I don't understand," she whispered. "Why do you like me? I'm nothing special, everyone says so. Shotaro is right, I'm just a boring wallflower." Her almost golden eyes turned up to his, pleading with him to be honest.

"Shotaro," he pronounced the name sharply, "is an idiot. He doesn't deserve you so please don't ever fall for his empty promises again." Feeling encouraged he pressed a soft kiss to her forehead. "You are anything but boring, and you're certainly not a wallflower. People who don't see you for what you are aren't worth your time."

"It really hurt when he left me," she said, her voice faltering with remembered pain. "I don't want to feel that ever again."

"I know," he murmured. "Please don't feel pressured. I just needed to tell you so that I could get it off my chest." Ren tried a smile. "You mean a lot to me, but if you're happier without a boyfriend then I'll accept that."

Kyoko flushed again. "Uhm, y-you mean a lot to me, too, Corn." She looked helplessly at their joined arms. "And I think that I like you, too. Could you just … give me a little time, please?"

Ren couldn't believe his own ears. Holding his breath, he looked at the girl in his arms. She had just said that she liked him too, hadn't she? She hadn't rejected him outright, had she?

"Corn … ?"

She sounded uncertain so he forced himself to respond. "Of course. Anything you want. Besides, I'm not done confessing yet," he said, trying to make it sound like a joke. "Perhaps you'll decide against me, after all."

It spoke of her good sense not to make any hasty promises in that moment. Instead she just regarded him with that all-too knowing look from her solemn eyes.

"Alright, I'll listen," she said finally. Her slender body turned once more and she fought herself into a more upright position. "Thank you for trusting me."

Her soft lips found their place on his left cheek, effectively blowing all coherent thoughts from his mind.

It was very late when they finally fell into Ren's bed. They didn't sleep there together for physical pleasure, or, more precisely, not for erotic pleasure. Still, it had been Kyoko's own wish to share the bed with Ren. He loved that she needed to be close, to touch him after knowing who he really was.

Even after sinking into the soft mattress they stayed awake for a long time. For Ren it was much easier to tell her about his violent teen years during the darkest hours of the night than in broad daylight. That she never let go of his hand was reassuring beyond words. She didn't say much when he paused to gather his thoughts, and it felt nice that she seemed neither too understanding nor too scandalized. Of course he could feel her initial fear when he admitted to having been 'a real bad boy', but she, with her own dark side, also understood that he had matured since then and regretted most of his deeds.

Finally, when he was done confessing his past transgressions, he closed his eyes and sighed deeply. Talking about it in such detail had exhausted him. It would have even without his long work day. She was the first person to ever know about him to such an extent.

A few minutes passed while they tried to process what had happened.

"You know," Kyoko finally said into the darkness, "I think that I can only now really see you." Her small hand gently stroked over Ren's cheek. "It's as if you've always been two-dimensional until now."

Ren's breath hitched. Her touch burned him, but in a good way. He never wanted it to stop.

But Kyoko wasn't done just yet. Her fingertips traced his features, his eyebrows, his nose, his cheekbones and even his lips.

"Even knowing what you've done … and knowing what you're capable of, it somehow feels right." She was silent for a moment. "Does that make sense?"

Ren didn't know what to answer so he just hmmed quietly.

"I like you like this," she concluded, stroking his cheek again. "I really like you, Corn. I like that you're strong and all grown-up. You really finally escaped your father's hand."

"Kyoko-chan," he sighed. "Please don't say such things to me if you don't want to be kissed." Her breath caught and he smiled. "It would be cruel."

"But I want to say them," she said, sounding a bit breathless. "You deserve them."

Ren took that as permission and carefully leaned over her dark form. It wasn't easy to make out her face in this darkness but he didn't let that deter him. Her cheek felt like a doll's in his large hand, so delicate and precious. Slowly, he lowered his head toward her.

Whoever said that in most times the anticipation was better than the kiss itself was a fool – that was Ren's last conscious thought before his lips touched Kyoko's for the very first time.

God, it was so sweet, so perfect. Even though Fuwa had practically raped her mouth it was really this kiss that was her first. Because she wanted it, and because she gave it willingly. If Ren were to apply his own logic to himself, this would be his first real kiss, too. To him, all other kisses, even the wild ones, just didn't compare.

After that first, heavenly contact with her soft, supple lips he retreated, giving her space. Now it was his turn to trace her face, taking all the features in by touch alone. His heart ached but he was able to hold back – for her sake.

Kyoko sighed softly, raising her hand to his head and treading her slender fingers into his hair.

"Thank you," she said shyly.

Ren could practically feel the smile on her lips. Chuckling, he said: "You're welcome, Kyoko-chan."

"You're still a fairy prince, you know?" She yawned cutely.

"And why would you say that?"

"Because you wield your magic like it is nothing," was her sleepy reply. "You just take away all of my bad feelings and make me happy." Her arms wound around his still raised torso as if she were a little monkey. "I hope that you're happy, too."

"More than you'll ever know," he replied softly, kissing her on the forehead.

Carefully, Ren shifted so he could lie beside her and still have her in his arms. It felt wonderful. He was all warm inside, and tingly and all those other annoying things people described when they were in love. Only now did he understand those fools, because he was one of them, and a happy fool at that.

This had to be the best birthday he'd ever had. No material gift could ever outweigh the greatness of Kyoko's trust, her open heart and her first, true kiss.

Relieved (and not a little smug) he closed his eyes and welcomed the soft, gentle darkness. Kyoko's quiet, even breathing lulled him to sleep. It would be his favourite lullaby from now on.

I even look forward to eating breakfast, he thought. Happy Birthday to me …