Disclaimer: Nothing of Skip Beat belongs to me, only the original parts of the plot for this fanfiction.

Warnings: Implied m/m, but nothing bad. I hope. ;-)

The Harem Flower

Part XIV

August 2010

"I can't believe you!" a tall, young man fairly screamed through the entrance hall of LME.

"And I can't believe that you dare to show your stupid face here!" a beautiful young woman screamed right back.

Bewildered, Kyoko looked back and forth between Sho and Kanae. They were drawing a crowd already and it embarrassed her that Sho had caused a ruckus because of her … again.

"How could you decline my offer and accept his?" Sho's face was red as he raged at Kyoko, completely disregarding the livid Kanae. "They're a no-name band! I bet they paid you with groceries because they don't earn anything with the crap they call music!"

"Would you please listen to yourself for a second?" Kanae hissed back before Kyoko even had the chance to say anything. "You're the most air-headed, shallow bimbo I've ever had the misfortune of knowing, and that's saying something! Move your bony butt out of here before security will make you leave!"

Groaning, Kyoko covered her face with her hands. She wondered how she had deserved this on a Friday morning. She also wondered how Sho had found out so quickly about her and Kanae's new job. It was not that she was not happy about Kanae's hot temper but after this there would be gossip about them, and she really did not need that.

Fortunately, her agony was short-lived. Seemingly out of nowhere Sebastian, Takarada Lory's assistant, appeared next to her. His face gave nothing away as he greeted her cordially as usual. Today he was dressed like a gentleman from the 18th century, an uncommon look because he seemed to prefer his Berber costume that masked him almost completely. Kyoko had only ever seen him once in a truly normal suit, though, so she was not overly surprised.

"Good morning, Mogami-san. Is there a problem?" he asked calmly.

She bowed to him and then nodded. "He just showed up here five minutes ago and decided to tell the world what he thinks about Moko-san and I taking the other job."

Sebastian knew the story, so he just nodded in understanding. "I see. The president has given specific orders, should this happen." He allowed a small smirk to curve his lips. "And he has proven his foresight yet again."

"Kyoko-chan! Kyoko-chan, wait!" Sho's manager, Aki Shoko, hurriedly came up to them. She was out of breath and looked terribly sorry. "I apologize for Sho, he just left without telling anyone where he'd go. With your permission I'll take him back now."

Sebastian nodded once, but his eyes were still gleaming. "I'd advise you to tell your charge to behave better but I know how futile that would be. He's not the kind to listen carefully."

Shoko was taken aback by this blunt assessment but did not argue. A few feet away from them, Sho and Kanae were still having their shouting match, and by now people had taken out their mobile phones and were filming them unabashedly.

"I don't mean to be rude, but it would be good if you could leave soon," Sebastian suggested. "Otherwise I will be forced to call security."

"Alright," Shoko said, still looking frazzled and very much annoyed. "Sho!" she hollered. "Stop this nonsense at once!"

Sho whirled around as if slapped and stared at his manager in shock. "What are you doing here?" he demanded hotly.

"I could ask the same," Shoko bit back. "Now, would you please say your goodbyes? You have an appointment at nine and we'll be late if you keep behaving like a four year old!"

"Yeah right, take her side!" he growled, pointing at the poor Kyoko, who still had not said a word in this fight. "You always liked her better, didn't you?"

Shoko's hair seemed to bristle with her anger. "Don't be ridiculous! Now come, or I'll have to drag you by the ear!"

"You wouldn't dare," he said haughtily, standing up to his full heigth and crossing his arms. "You couldn't reach!"

"Oh, watch me!" Shoko was clearly at the end of her rope. In one swift move she grabbed Sho's ear and then proceeded to drag him out of the building. She ignored his pleas for mercy and the wildly laughing people around them. "And now stop whining, you baby, you deserve all of it! And if their videos are all over Youtube this afternoon it's your own fault! I won't help you with this!"

Sho did not stop complaining on his way out. Only the sliding doors that let people get in and out cut him off.

Kyoko turned to Sebastian who stood next to her like a guardian. "I'm very sorry, Sebastian-san. Had I known that he would come here I'd have talked to him outside."

"Don't worry, Mogami-san," he replied. "The president figured that Fuwa-san wouldn't be silent once he found out about your new engagement. It's certainly not your fault."

"I should hope not," Kanae groused. She flicked a strand of her long hair back and glared at Sebastian. "It's his fault, after all, isn't it?"

"That's the reason why the president wants to speak with you, if you have a minute, Mogami-san." He nodded shortly in Kanae's direction. "You can begin without her. Mogami-san will be back soon."

Kanae uttered a cold "Hmpf!" and stalked off, leaving a scared Kyoko alone in the hallway, where a lot of people were loitering and gawking at her.

The way up to president Takarada's office seemed like the walk to the gallows, at least in her opinion. Uneasily, she followed Sebastian into the elevator, but at least it was silent there. The noise had been overwhelming, really, and it was only seven o'clock in the morning.

"Ah, there you are, Mogami-kun!" Lory Takarada greeted as soon as Sebastian had pushed a panicking Kyoko into his office. A second later the door slammed shut, leaving her alone with the president. "When I saw the commotion via security cam I sent Sebastian. I hope all is well?"

"Uhm, yes, thank you," Kyoko stammered. "Sir, aren't you angry?"

At this, Lory actually laughed out loud. "No, of course not! There's nothing better than a little drama first thing in the morning! It gets the blood boiling and lets the imagination run wild. Wonderful, isn't it?"

Blushing, Kyoko lowered her eyes. The president was dressed like Baron Münchhausen, complete with a huge cannonball that was currently being used as coffee table. How that was possible she did not know, but it made her feel somewhat at ease.

"I can see that you still don't understand the value of gossip," he said jovially, motioning to the chair in front of his huge desk. "Let me explain it to you." He poured her a cup of tea and offered a cookie. "You see, the first strike was your refusal of Fuwa-kun's offer. Few people refuse such a star as him and it was bound to get people talking."

Kyoko scowled at the mentioning of her childhood friend, her bewilderment instantly giving way to gloom.

Lory only winked at her. "The next part in this was your getting a new job right after refusing him. The tabloids have already caught on to that info. Harry-kun and his little friends are a rising punk band sensation and when it became known that you'd play a part in their first PV, public interest promptly skyrocketed. You should see the fan reactions in the internet forums! Fuwa's fans say that you're a deserter, and Harry-kun's fans say that you've come to your senses and did the right thing."

"I-I don't understand," Kyoko admitted, snapping out of her mood and cowering a little. "That's bad, isn't it? A lot of people hate me now, don't they?"

Lory's amusement lessened, although it did not vanish completely. "No, they don't hate you. They might be a bit miffed that you spurned Fuwa-kun's offer, but when his new PV comes out they'll have forgotten all about your refusal. What's more important is that you're one of Japan's hot topics, and that's good for your career. Oh, and by the way, I've seen the raws for your PV already."

"You did?" Surprised, Kyoko looked at him. "I didn't think they'd have anything ready yet."

Smugly, Lory leaned back in his chair. "Well, I have my ways. But that aside, I'm satisfied with your and Kotonami-kun's performance. Your payment has already reached us, so the other side is satisfied as well. Since you already paid for this month's schooling I wanted to know if I should put the money in your trust fund."

At this, Kyoko smiled. It was rare that she had any money to spare since she still had to pay for acting school. Saving up for the coming possible expenses was second nature to her, so she agreed wholeheartedly.

Lory smiled. "Very good. And now run along, I'm certain that Kotonami-kun is already waiting. Just remember that people are interested in you and will probably follow you everywhere. Don't give any interviews, send the people to LME. The same goes for new job offers. School starts again next Monday, so don't take on too much work."

"I won't. Thank you very much, Takarada-san." Kyoko got up and bowed. "Have a nice day, sir."

"Oh, I will. Thank you, Mogami-kun." Lory smiled and Kyoko was dismissed.

O – o - o

Kyoko was surprised at how Takarada-san always seemed to estimate people's reaction correctly. First he had suspected that Sho would cause a scene, and then he had predicted a new level of attention for Kyoko.

Truthfully, the first weekend had been bad. The press had stalked her like a pack of mangy dogs, shoving microphones under her nose at every opportunity. Kyoko had told them countless times that they should contact LME for an interview, but they never seemed to listen. In addition to that, she also worried quite a bit about her training. She did not want those people to follow her to Maeda-sensei's dojo; she could not do that to her esteemed teachers. From the way people were following her everywhere it quickly became impossible to go by bike, or, god forbid, public transportation.

On Saturday, Maeda-sensei had collected her with his car, but it was apparent that it could not continue like this. It was actually Maeda-sensei himself who called Lory Takarada while Kyoko was changing in her tiny locker room. She only caught the last bit of their conversation when she emerged a few minutes later.

"… no, it's not necessary to engage a professional," he said impatiently. "You know that I've worked with security before. Alimah won't mind, I'm sure."

Cowed, Kyoko stopped in her tracks and waited by the entrance to the dojo. Maeda-sensei looked put out, almost angry. She did not want him to think that she was listening in on purpose after he already had to get her here.

"Do you think I do it because I want to get paid more?" he growled after a longer pause. "Well, you're damn right about the payment, but I tell you it's necessary … yes. Yes. I'll come by on Monday." He turned at looked at Kyoko, who stood as far from him as possible. "My girl's waiting for our training to begin. We'll talk later."

As soon as he had hung up, Kyoko bowed deeply.

"I'm sorry, sensei, I didn't want to disturb your conversation."

"Don't worry about it. You'll only think about the training now, or I'll keep you for an extra hour. Understood?"

Bowing again, Kyoko said: "Yes, sir!"

Smirking, Maeda-sensei then ordered her onto the crosstrainer for half an hour and after that onto the stepper for another ten. While doing her exercises, Kyoko almost forgot about his agitation. When they came to their actual training, however, she quickly realized that he was still rather irritated because he pushed her harder than he had before. They went through all the early exercises and he dedicated another hour to a few basic self defence moves before they moved on to kicks and jumps.

Kyoko was puzzled, how could she not, but she did not mind the extra work. Self defence was something President Takarada wanted her to do anyway so she did not complain. Instead she felt strangely safe, knowing that so many people wanted her to be able to defend herself.

When Maeda-sensei finally released her it was already five in the afternoon. Alimah had brought water and juice for them and now made sure that Kyoko was stretching carefully.

"Tetsu worked you too hard," she admonished. Frowning, she watched as Kyoko bit back several whimpers of pain. "We'll take it easy today. You just try the shimmy, yes? And after that, I'll give you a massage. Poor thing."

Kyoko pulled through but nearly wept with relief when her dancing lesson was over. As fun as it usually was, after Maeda-sensei's drill she was barely able to move. She ached everywhere and she wanted nothing more than a hot bath and then sleep for a whole day. Alimah had made sure that she did her best, though.

She then led Kyoko into the house and to a small room that was obviously being used for relaxation and massages. Kyoko collapsed onto the massaging bed in the middle of the room and closed her eyes as soon as Alimah had wrestled the clothes from her. She rather felt like a rubber girl, so weak and uncoordinated. She did not even feel embarrassed for lying there only in her underwear.

"Just relax, I'm careful," Alimah said gently.

She started beautiful, calm oriental music and then poured lightly scented oil onto Kyoko's heated skin. After the first few touches she let out a disapproving snort. "You're hard as stone, Kyoko-chan. You need more massages, no?"

"Mmh," Kyoko replied drowsily. Even those probing strokes felt so good on her sore muscles.

"I'll tell Lory-kun that he has to take better care of you," Alimah muttered. "How you will survive Tetsu's training I don't know. You must be more like cat, not like rock."

"Mmmh," Kyoko agreed, drifting off into a light slumber.

It was a strange experience to be coddled like this. Alimah's wonderful hands stroked and pulled and pinched until Kyoko felt like little more than a puddle of goo. Since every part of her hurt, Alimah massaged not only her back but also her arms and legs and even her feet … it was heaven on earth.

"Okay, now you're good," Alimah said proudly when she was finished. "Stay here for a while, I'll go and talk to Tetsu. We'll take you home, okay?"

But Kyoko barely heard her. A pleasant sleepiness had taken hold of her. She did not even notice when Alimah put a blanket over her.

Half an hour later Alimah shook Kyoko awake. Murmuring drowsily, Kyoko dressed and then shuffled to the car that Maeda-sensei had already parked in front of the house.

"Oh boy, I was too hard on you!" he laughed when he saw her struggle with the car door. "You'll get used to it ... eventually."

"Mmh," Kyoko hummed, already nodding off again.

"Maybe you should slow down," Alimah said, frowning. "She hasn't said anything but 'mmmh' for the last two hours."

"She'll get used to it," Maeda-sensei repeated with a laugh. "And if she's clever she'll get used to it fast."

September 2010

As it turned out, Kyoko really had to get used to it. School had started again and in between classes, acting school and odd LoveMe jobs she had to make the most of the free time she had. It was so hectic that she could not find the time to contact Asami Haruki for snippets of her shooting. The reporters had not given up; in fact they hounded her worse than before because they wanted the story of her and Sho directly from the source. So far, nobody had talked and apparently it was driving them crazy.

But not only reporters were after her. At school, Kyoko's class members stared at her and talked behind her back. Mimori, Fuwa Sho's most ardent fan, rose to new heights to mob the poor girl, but at least the teachers now saw what was going on and were able to keep most of the students in line.

"I know I'm repeating myself," groused Kanae when Kyoko called her one week later, "but how are you doing it? How do you make people go stir-crazy? No offence, but you're neither a spectacular beauty nor some miraculous prodigy that came out of nowhere. You have to work your way up like everybody else. I just don't understand, and it's driving me mad!"

Despite those blunt words that would have easily hurt any other person, Kyoko felt immense relief. She had known that Kanae would not understand this madness either, and she was glad that at least one person was on her side.

"Thank you, Moko-san," Kyoko whispered. She sat huddled on the roof of the school building, illegally talking to her best friend over the phone and feeling happy about being chewed out. While business calls were no problem in her class, the general use of mobile phone was strictly prohibited at school.

"Argh, don't thank me for saying such things!" the other girl cried indignantly. "It's not your fault that you're so damn lucky. It's just hard not to begrudge you your good fortune."

"Good fortune … ? I don't think I understand, Moko-san …" Kyoko trailed off, pressing the small phone anxiously against her ear.

"I have to spell it out, don't I?" An irritated sigh rushed through the connection. "It's not that hard, really. First you befriend Tsuruga Ren like it's nothing, and then you're getting a recommendation for a drama from one of the best producers in the country, and then you catch another controverse role and master it, and then you accidentally snatch a job right after declining one of the best paid offers for a PV I've ever seen. And now don't tell me you're not feeling lucky!"

"But I am feeling lucky!" Kyoko protested. "I have work, and I have met you and Maria-chan and all the other people."

"Ugh, spare me. You're too dim to get what I'm trying to say." Kanae sighed again. "Well, I probably should let you go back to class. Don't let those idiots bother you, they're not worth it."

"Yes, Moko-san. Thank you so much for listening."

"Mo, just don't make it a habit!" And with that, Kanae hung up.

Kyoko smiled at her phone. Her best friend was a harsh girl, but she would rather be without her than trying to change her. Most of the times she gave good advice, too, and that mattered more than sweet words of ever-lasting friendship. Having experienced being strung along in the past, Kyoko did not much care for promises anymore. Kanae's actions showed how she felt, and that was enough.

O – o - o

Kyoko frantically searched for her phone when it rang. She had just finished helping in the kitchen and was now ready for bed. The Okami-san had been so happy about her rare free time in the Daruma-ya that Kyoko had stayed longer than intended, and now it was half past eleven.

"Good evening, Kyoko-chan," Ren's calm, dark voice said when she had finally taken the call. "Trouble finding your phone again?"

Blushing, Kyoko admitted it. "Hello, Tsuruga-san. Yes, I lost it in my bag …"

He laughed. "Don't worry, by now I know to wait."

She blushed harder. "I'm sorry!"

"Don't worry about it. I just called to congratulate you on a job well done. You and Kotonami-san are great in your new PV. You look very stylish and cute and the music isn't half bad, either." Ren chuckled. "Your Harry-kun really is something, by the way. Yashiro managed to find the unofficial scenes of your shoot; actually they are all over Youtube. It's hilarious! I really needed a laugh that day, and I think Yashiro actually pulled something, he was laughing so hard."

"Is everything alright in Moscow?" Kyoko asked, worried.

"Filming goes well," Ren reassured her, "but we have a few problems with the Russian extras. It seems that they like to drink just as much as the Japanese, only that they drink during working hours, too, and harder stuff than beer. The director is spitting mad, of course, and the Russian press is having a field day with it."

"As long as you can continue as planned it should be alright, shouldn't it?" Kyoko tried picturing hearing that the shoot had to be extended and it was not pleasant. "Or does someone have a larger role?"

"Thankfully they're all exchangeable." Ren sighed. "And now tell me, how are you holding up? Yashiro is keeping tabs on you and told me that the press is hounding you. It's difficult for you right now, isn't it?"

"Yes," Kyoko admitted quietly, "but I have Moko-san and Chiori-san's support. Besides, it'll only be for a short while. You know how fast this kind of thing blows over."

"True enough," Ren agreed. "Still, if you're in trouble don't hesitate to ask for help. It's the president's job to protect you."

"I know … it's just such an inconvenience for everyone," Kyoko hedged. "I mean, I'm not that well-known yet, it shouldn't be a problem."

"Well, I hope so." Ren sounded stern. "If you shouldn't feel able to deal with it in the future, just say so and I'll take care of it. I mean it, Kyoko-chan."

She nodded shyly, even though Ren could not see it. "Okay, I will. Thank you very much."

"Not for this, Kyoko-chan. And now off to bed, it's late for you, isn't it?"

Sighing, Kyoko admitted that it was. They said their good-byes but to Kyoko it seemed as if Ren was still with her somehow. She felt warm and protected. Safe.

It's great to be his kohai, she thought, smiling happily. And I like having him for a friend.

Still smiling, she snuggled into her futon and soon fell asleep.

End of Part XIV