Hello my lovelies! New or returning. Sho or Ren shippers. Welcome to the MAIN EVENT! Now before you delve in, let's discuss three things. You can either:
A) Wait for the final chapter if you want to read everything without the pesky last cliffhanger. What's another month or two wait after the previous 16, ne? *dodges tomatoes*
B) Read my "brief" synopsis below before delving into this chapter.
C) Kill several hours and start from the beginning. I tried to weave what was going to happen throughout this story since the beginning, and it may seem more coherent if you start over.
The story thus far:
Tsuruga Ren is asked if he's a homosexual on live television. Unfortunately, he's unable to respond before the show ends. The gossip world goes crazy with the story. Next day, after running into each other backstage of Bridge Rock, Sho challenges Ren to win over Kyoko in one week to prove he's not gay, otherwise he has to admit the rumor is true. Ren agrees to the bet, dictating that if he wins, Sho has to apologize to Kyoko for all the trouble he caused her.
Each day, Ren and Kyoko grow closer (with occasional help from Yashiro) while Ren's media presence starts to feel the weight of the rumor. Halfway through the week, Sho realizes (with help from Shoko) what he's actually done by challenging Ren to win Kyoko's heart and President Takarada gives Ren a stern warning. Near the end of the week, Ren decides to call off the bet, knowing how much it would hurt Kyoko if she were to find out.
Before being able to officially call it off, Kanae finds out about the conspiracy between the two men, and with the help of Shoko, confronts Kyoko on the truth of Ren's sudden interest. Jealous at Kyoko's reaction, Sho lashes out at Kyoko, reminding her of her mother and her uselessness without someone to follow. Kyoko, obviously hurt, leaves without another word.
Ren & Sho both realize how much they've hurt Kyoko and the extent of their feelings towards her. Sho swears to make it up by completing his part of the bet by apologizing the best way he knows how, through his music. After a night of searching, and a call to the President, Ren realizes that Kyoko's gone and there's likely no way to reach her.
Yashiro and Ren devise a plan to act out the gossip, in order to assure Kyoko will be watching once he goes back on Bridge Rock. He plans to quit acting publically, in order to show his sincerity. Sho apologizes in song before the show, and faces off with Ren, calling the bet complete. Ren refuses to accept Sho's version of an apology. Each man confesses their love of Kyoko to each other, right before Bridge Rock starts.
Gosh…it sounds so boring when I write it out like that. Anyways…ON WITH THE SHOW! [End A/N]
"Kyoko, I don't understand." Kanae said confusedly, as she tried to force herself into the rooster suit she abhorred the first moment she saw it. The suit was just a tad too short for her, but she would make it work for whatever Kyoko had planned. "Why should we stop him? He should embarrass himself in front of the country! Look at the things he did! I don't care if it was for the sake of love!"
"I can't let him quit." Kyoko replied in a rush, quickly running around the storage closet for an appropriate change of clothing. "Tsuruga Ren shouldn't quit his entire career for one person. He came all the way from California to act. I can't let him end it over this." A small set of hands held up a sparkling stunning gray dress. Relieved, Kyoko grabbed at it and began to make the swap between her LoveMe uniform to the smoky crushed velvet one piece.
"But he hurt you, Kyoko! You told the president you were going to quit acting. You shouldn't lift a finger to defend him." Kanae lifted the rooster head over her own and twisted the cap in place. "Why do you want me to postpone his announcement? Why do you want to take my place?"
Kyoko hiked the beautiful dress to her knees and opened boxes for the right wig to wear. Any girlfriend of Tsuruga Ren would have to be beyond strikingly beautiful to catch his heart, or it would never fool the audience. Kyoko never wished she were more of a natural beauty more than she did now.
"You're too good of an actress to be swept up Moko-san!" Kyoko combed through old stage pieces and dusty boxes. "Even now, Ren-san knows how to win over novices who works with him. I…know that it can work on me if I can look convincing. I know how to be in love..."
"Kyoko…what are you sayi-?"
The same set of small hands held up a wig, which again Kyoko took with a satisfied glance. Straight and wind swept at the bangs, it fell in midnight black waves from her ears down, and looked like something fit for Princess Rosa. The wig color matched Kyoko's original dark locks, and it surprisingly fit like a glove.
"She's saying that Bo-san better make his way to the stage soon." Catching them by surprise, the tiny make-up witch smiled and entered the storage room as well, wheeling her usual bag of magical tricks. "Otherwise it may be too late. Fuwa-san won't be on the stage forever."
"Fuwa's here?" Kotonami asked surprised, glancing at Kyoko. Kyoko barely acknowledged Jerry's words as she tried to situate her own hair under the hairpiece properly. Taking a deep sigh, releasing her pride as well as her breath, she looked straight at Kyoko through the wide eyes of Bo the Bridge Rock rooster.
"Are you sure Kyo…"
Kyoko paused as she looked at her best friend, seeing the rooster that her mentor had depended on to the very end.
They both stood there, staring at each other, thinking of each other's predicament. Kanae bit her lip lightly under the costume, but nodded and turned towards the door. Jerry pulled Kyoko onto a chest of props, and diligently began to work on her foundation.
Pausing at the door, Kanae muttered over her shoulder. Obviously not thrilled, her voice still sounded resolved and determined. "I'm not sure how long I can keep Tsuruga from being an idiot, so hurry up."
"Hai!" Kyoko called back, appreciation and love spilling into her voice.
"Don't worry Kyoko." Jerry whispered, giggling lightly as the door shut, leaving them in the dim light of the room. "Darling has a plan too…"
"Look at the clock!"
"Try not to gawk!"
"Knock off your socks!
"It's Bridge Rock!" "It's Bridge Rock!" "It's Bridge Rock!"
The three famous hosts of Bridge Rock, Ishibashi Hikaru, Ishibashi Shin'ichi and Ishibashi Yuusei (no relation) all waved to the cameras and the audience as they opened their variety show in their customary way, each posed at the left, right, and center of their mini-platforms respectively. Three mounted televisions behind them flashed shots of the Bridge Rock logo and the packed house spectators. Stage lights rolled around the floor, occasionally freezing on one of the three leaders of the idol group, before again plunging them in darkness.
Well, almost customary. Ishibashi Hikaru wasn't used to having singers perform before the show had even started, but the director had agreed to the manager's plan before it was fully out of her mouth. Imagine, a Fuwa Sho surprise single release before the main event. If Sho wasn't the #1 singer in Japan before, Hikaru was sure he was now.
The three men met in the middle of the platform, near the edge of the drop and continued to wave. Even now, so soon after the commercial break and the unofficial celebrity opening of Bridge Rock, the crowd had returned to their usual TV audience behavior. Loud clapping, with a few more rowdy cheers than usual. It was to be expected, when you knew your viewers likely consist of more than 70% of the Japanese public.
"Welcome everyone, to Bridge Rock!" Hikaru called, over the crowd of clapping. He held the microphone close to his lips just to get his voice to register over the sound of the energetic audience. At his introduction, the crowd grew even louder, more excited and nervous at the countdown to the main attraction.
"We know what you're all here for!" Shin laughed, bringing his hands down to signal to the audience to quiet down in his customary charismatic technique. Everything he did was relaxed and laid back.
"Don't worry." Yuusei grinned roguishly, his constantly changing cap and his black spikes gave him a Yankee edge that was always confident and appealing in its own way. "I'll always be here for all you ladies." As he winked at the crowd, a small round of chuckling started.
"I doubt that they're here for you." Hikaru deadpanned, bringing the chuckles to laughter. Yuu laughed too, and slapped an arm around Hikaru's shoulder. The funny thing about Bridge Rock was how they acted off the stage was the exact same way they acted on the stage. Their same last name and brotherly like familiarity seemed to relax crowds for fun episodes.
"Oh don't be jealous, Chibi-kun." Yuu chuckled easily, squeezing his shoulder. Although I wish he'd leave that part off. Hikaru openly glowered at his co-host, elbowing him not-so-sharply into the gut.
"No fighting before the guests." Shin called, breaking up the following scuffle, all to the amusement of the crowd. "Thank you for being here everyone, to this special Bridge Rock event!" The roar of claps and screams that followed rivaled the opening of the show.
"Talking about guests…"
"Here's the man of the hour."
Ren seemed to enjoy the way the stage's warm light glowed over his face, catching him from every angle as he emerged from the heavy curtains of the guest entrance. He enjoyed the crowd's attention, smiling gentlemanly and waving to the audience graciously.
Placated by the customary gentlemanly Tsuruga Ren, rather than the rumoured Tsuruga Ren, the audience clapped, cheered and screamed his name. Almost as if everything was back to normal. If Hikaru was perfectly honest with himself, the actor looked like he was determined to enjoy tonight like it was the last time he'd be stage; the last time the world would experience Tsuruga Ren and love him as Japan's largest actor and model.
"Long time no see, Tsuruga." Offering his fist, Yuu and Ren bumped knuckles, followed by a handshake with Hikaru and a bow to Shin.
Hikaru guided his arm to the guest loveseat, as he and his fellow leaders sat in their designated single chairs. From the corner of his eye, he saw how the camera focused on the elevated stage, and the flushed actor most of all.
"Now Tsuruga-san, I know you were here just about a week ago, but am I right in saying that a lot has changed since then?" Shin smiled, shifting himself to face more towards his guest.
"Most would say that's quite the understatement." The edges of Ren's lips turned up in a ghost of a smile. Polite laughter followed.
"Mind telling us about it?" Yuu invited, relaxing back into his host chair. "I'm sure it's been quite an interesting ordeal for you."
"I would think your audience would have had enough of hearing about my week." Their guest replied politely, driving Hikaru and Shin to grin at each other and Yuu to snort.
"I'll have to disagree there Tsuruga-san." Hikaru smiled first at the actor, then to the audience. "In fact, I'd say our audience is here to hear about you and only you tonight, ne?" He swore he could hear the cries from the outside the building, in addition to the deafening agreement in the studios. What surprised him more though, was the faint tinges of pink their guest was portraying. Almost like if he were really embarrassed. That Tsuruga was truly quite the actor.
"Don't worry Tsuruga." Shin's look was almost mischievous, which matched the look of his other hosts. "For those who haven't been following the news…" "Crawl out from under your rock…" "Thanks Yuu…" Shin gave him a quick look, as Hikaru hit him jovially. "…we've made a montage."
Keeping a straight face as he watched his humiliation of a week cut into a five minute reel was probably the hardest thing Tsuruga had to sit through during an interview. The embarrassing interview that had started the whole week was easily eclipsed by the weak rebuttals he gave to the public, the various over the top reactions of his fan clubs, and to top it off, the looks of "innocent admiration" his manager managed to pull off with secret cameras filming their day in complete detail.
Reflecting back on the week as a silent outside observer, he could have seen why the President had been so determined to have him date and flirt openly with women after a few days of the rumor-mill, and was adamant in having him on the show tonight. The gossip world had been eating him alive, and if he had wanted to continue his career, he would've had to rebuild at least two years' worth of respect…It was almost lucky that he was withdrawing from the career by choice.
At least his manager had a future career as an actor. Who knew Yuki was a diamond in the rough? Ren rolled this thought in his head as the scene of the infamous cream at the dessert shop rolled past. Maybe he could be his manager. A fitting sort of revenge. A manager was meant to meddle. And Ren had learned from the best.
As the lights faded in, the cameras' red light flickered back on and refocused, showing that they were back in action and rolling again. They all captured the vaguely sad smile covering the face of the most famous actor in Japan, along with the three quiet hosts. A surprising hush filled the large auditorium, as his eyes fell and turned to his hosts.
"There are plenty of talented, wonderful people in the business, heterosexual and not." Tsuruga started slowly, his face a look of utter seriousness.
The three hosts nodded in agreement, swallowing simultaneously.
"Their sexual orientation has nothing to do with their job and their ability to do it."
The air seemed to crackle with a trapped unsure energy, as more nodded to his words.
"And the way people have reacted to this story is a shame of this day and age. What if other talented people were gay? Hidehito Kijima or Fuwa Sho? Would that change their talent?"
Yuu leaned in and spoke, reading the mind of everyone in the room. "And you?"
"Me?" A group inhale almost sucked the room of air, as the pause hung in the vacuum. "I'm not gay."
As the casual flippancy of the comment washed over the audience, there was a sudden group exhale, a cry of triumph, and sudden bursts of ecstatic tears ran through the crowd. If he hadn't been mistaken, he might have heard a group of relived fireworks, all going off at the same time.
Ren watched in silence as the news digested, rolling around the whispers of the crowds, the sounds of text messages and e-mails being typed feverishly, sent out to gob smacked recipients and back to equally dazed friends. The hosts paused as well, letting the audience's noise slowly calm to a low continuous mumble. Once it had, Hikaru finally asked the next logical question. The one Ren waited all night for.
"Then why, Tsuruga-san?"
Ren leaned his head down, rubbing his forehead and closing his eyes. If it were to be anytime, it had to be now. "...For love Ishibashi-san. For love."
Hikaru knew that the moment he said it, there would be pandemonium. And there was. It definitely was the sort of chaos that screamed of an end of the world scenario. Where things got so bad no one could react. Everything, and everyone froze. So utterly complete that it almost looked like the audience was fabricated. Cardboard cutouts snapped together in rigid rows of frozen women. He almost felt bad. From a relieved ecstasy to an unexpected crash of fan-girl dreams.
"It's almost funny Ishibashi-san. I didn't realize I was being eaten up by it. I didn't realize I was so weak until I went against this." Ren looked almost lost, as he pulled his head up and ran a nervous hand through his hair.
He kept his eyes on Ren, nodding for him to continue. For now, while the audience took in the information, the actor would have to talk to him like they were confidants, and there weren't millions of dumbfounded followers glued to their televisions.
"I always thought I had to be alone. Until I became the best person I could be. Until I could shine bright enough to wash away my sins and be worthy of the love people showed me. But each day I worked, I buried myself deeper into that goal. I had to become a better actor. I had to expand on my trade. To meet and exceed directors' expectations. To bring happiness to all those fans who've supported me, while I destroyed the person I once was with the person I thought I should have always been. For my family and its name."
He looked up at the cluster of fans and admirers, a bittersweet smile shushing any form of response.
"But she…she watched me fail. And collapse. And dragged me back. She held me to expectations I had to reach for. She didn't allow me to fall for longer and didn't coddle me like I had always been. If I could rise to the occasion, she coaxed me. When I couldn't escape the trap I had cocooned myself in, she broke those walls, marked me as hers, and filled a soul that only seemed to drain happiness."
Ren gritted his teeth and clenched his fist. Hikaru watched him closely, as if he were remembering a fond memory that had somehow become tainted. Scarred and destroyed by his doing. There was a mixture of resentment and fury, mixed with internal agony and poignant longing for a thing that was far away.
His dark eyes jumped up to the hosts, then to the camera. He gazed so hard into the lens Hikaru wasn't sure if he were looking at the camera, but at the person behind it. "That's why I'm here. To confess. I may not deserve love, but I can't let go without apologizing for how much I failed them as a person, and how I would love them no matter how they felt about me."
"Say no more Tsuruga-san." Shin smiled, struck at how heartfelt the actor's words were. Yuusei was just as swept up, as Hikaru sat there, stunned. Tsuruga Ren was obviously the king in the acting business, but when it came to his love life, or even his few romantic roles, the number one man never seemed this open, or convincing. The words of devotion from their idol were vague enough to sound like he could be confessing to each and every member of the audience individually. Like he played the world's sweetest music. Made the county's sweetest dessert. All lulled into a sort of blissful waking dream.
Well, it was show time.
"Would all of you like to meet Tsuruga-san's special one!?" Yuusei yelled, punching his fist up to energize the audience. They met his questions with waking cheers.
"There's no way we could let him not introduce us, especially after all that." Shin followed, grinning slyly at the taken-aback performer.
Hikaru too felt almost sluggish, almost punch-drunk in the blanket of feelings their guest unwrapped with his deepest confession. And he was surprised at Ren's surprise, as Ren's eyebrows rose and his face became almost a full shade paler. But he too was a professional, and he had another guest to introduce. He stood up from his couch, followed by the others, and swept his arm to the entrance area.
"Welcome!" "Welcome!" "Welcome!"
Kanae held onto its…his…her…whatever's head as she walked onto stage. Tumbling awkwardly from the stage opening, four pairs of eyebrows raised as the clumsy mascot half walked, half dragged on stage, almost as if it were weighed down.
How was she ever able to move in this costume, much less act as energetic as she had?
"Bo?" The shortest host exclaimed, jumping to his feet in surprise. He was probably expecting her to come out, to save that love-struck actor from himself. And instead…well, they did get Kotonami Kanae…in a way.
As she tried to stagger her way to the stage, the rooster's tail got stuck within the curtains, pulling the drapes down threateningly.
"Bo, stop!" The blond host shouted, standing up and motioning for their old mascot to stop. The rooster did, allowing the stage crew to carefully free the bird from its risky position, and the crowd to snicker.
Kanae glanced back in the suit, and realized what she had almost done. If she had brought the stage down, this tightrope would collapse, and whatever Kyoko was planning in the back would all be for naught. She realized that she had to play this better, if she really were to buy the time her best friend needed.
"I thought all roosters were boys." The blond host said to the shorter one, causing the shorter one to shrug. "Bo?" Yuu (she was pretty sure that was him) asked, looking at her.
Lifting a finger to his beak, Bo made a shushing motion that obviously meant it was a secret. The host smiled in his own stage approval, as the crowd giggled again.
"Tsuruga-san?" Shin asked jovially, sounding half accusing and half in jest. "I didn't know you felt that strongly about chicken."
"I'm more of a seafood person actually." Ren smiled, setting the crowd into more laughter.
The happy go lucky mascot quickly ran to the edge of the stage, where the apoplectic director shook his fist at the cock. Bo quickly began dragging out the under-utilized box of props.
Humming eccentrically and waving his tail feathers at the camera, Bo pulled out a man sized fish and ceremonially threw it over his back.
Then Bo turned back to Ren, almost looking like he was waggling his eyebrows. "NOW do you want me?" Bo's entire stance seemed to convey. Ren truly smiled at the Rooster's antics before giving a dramatic sigh. "I'm sorry Bo." Ren walked across the stage, down the steps and took Bo's feathered hand that wasn't holding the fish. "While we may be lifelong friends, I can never truly love you in the manner you want. My heart is committed to another."
It better be…with the embarrassment you're both making me go through. Kotonami gritted her teeth within the costume, but knew it was pointless. She couldn't be unprofessional now.
Bo crumpled to the ground and as the fish fell uselessly to the floor, he produced a wig out of nowhere (or the prop box).
Placing the bright blond hairpiece over the rooster's head, the actor just shook his head in continued confirmation.
An oversized ring box. A badminton racket. A black bow tie. An gigantic sack with the yen symbol stamped on it (which Kanae could barely lift up, much less carry.) She dropped that one at the actor's feet.
Each prop drew the chicken deeper and deeper into despair, somehow wringing out the despair from audience.
Finally Bo pulled out a single long rose, which Tsuruga could only shake his head at. He patted the bird, and returned quickly to his seat, while Bo cried out in his own silent way. Reaching out for him. Yuu wiped away a tear of mirth as he watched Bo lament under his blue light. Holding the rose into the air, some genius crew members made it look like snow was falling on the heartbroken bird, while the shouts of encouragement rang out from the crowd.
Shin gave a small laugh, and looked at Hikaru for guidance. Despite his height, Hikaru really was the leader of their trio, and had the best grasp of television. "Time?" Shin whispered. Hikaru nodded in response, keeping his TV smile up. "Bo's not responding to our stops."
Blocking the microphone to muffle his stage whisper, Yuu leaned into the others. "Think Kyoko's forgotten the cue?" Yuu mouthed to the others, just loud enough for the four of them to hear. "We have to stop her."
Those five words hung like a cloud in the air, as Ren slowly absorbed their meaning.
"Think Kyoko's forgotten the cue?"
Ren watched in widening shock as the rooster began to croon to the crowd, causing the audience to laugh harder and jokingly push the mascot away when it got within holding distance.
Bo…Kyoko…the rooster was Kyoko?
You might be able to fool all of Japan with that sweet smile of yours, but not me!(i)
Standing almost as quickly as he sat, the actor practically jumped the few steps down to the level stage below.
Maybe you're being negative about your feelings because she's a high school student?(ii)
The crowd's sudden eagerness at the mascot began to swiftly evaporate as they caught sight of their idol's emotional face. Bo, the oblivious rooster played on with the audience member's that hadn't caught on to the quickly changing atmosphere.
She had supported his pursuance of the high school girl. She had laughed at him, hated him, yet helped him the first time they had met under her disguise of Bo. And she had deliberately gone to search for him while he was having trouble as Katsuki.
"Tsuruga?" Shin asked quizzically, standing up.
Really…a rooster head on a duck body. Was he really that blind?
He could remember the rooster's deep laughter, suddenly realizing how familiar it seemed.
The last oblivious members of the audience caught the sight of the actor's face, and pulled back almost immediately, fading back into the larger whispering crowd. Bo's chickeny whine slowly faded, as she felt the long actor's shadow fall over the large mascot's costume.
He had confessed it all to her. Already. Even before the whole show started.
Spinning the rooster by the tail, Ren squeezed both shoulders as he stared intensely into the black eyes of the mask that covered the very person he had been searching for for the last twenty-four hours.
He could feel the thin feminine arm beneath the costume start to shake; she was trying to pull away. She probably knew he knew now. Could read the surprise and turmoil in his face. She probably thought she was mad at him, knowing her. But he couldn't let her run now. Not again.
"You can't pretend to care for people when you don't! What if they fall for it! Don't make believe to care for someone when you love someone else! What about them…what if the other falls for it…"
Kyoko would never believe it if he didn't say it directly to her. For her, now that he could finally say it face to face.
Stupid Tsuruga! Why are you staring at me like that? ...Oh…Oh no…
Kanae recognized that face, still visible through the mesh of the costume's eyes. That was the face of a final school confession on the last day of the spring semester. A lover's tender gaze in the glow of Christmas lights. The final look of the President's infamous romance simulations…
And he was looking at the wrong LoveMe member.
No…Not now! You can't realize that Bo's Kyoko now! Not when I'm here!
Without a second thought, Tsuruga Ren reached for the head, and began to pull it off. She lunged for the head herself, and pulled the head down with all her might. She had to stop him. Not only for Kyoko, but for own pride and career.
"Nooooooooooo!" The rooster gave a howl and held the head as firmly as her feathers would let her.
"Don't do it Tsuruga!" Still, the actor pulled and tugged. Just as determined to see her face as she was to hide it. "I'm not her! I'm not her!"
"No. I am."
(i) Chapter 23 pg 6
(ii) Chapter 67 pg 15-16
Sorry Runa – the best, most patient beta ever. (Everyone, make sure you thank her.) I wanted to get this part out at least before the New Year. But with a small romance road block, I figured I could make this the second to last chapter instead. Save all that "love" for the last part.
For everyone else, the last chapter is coming up next. And I already have about three pages left into it. I told myself I'd finish this before the end of the year…but considering that's two days away…I hope to have it done before Valentine's Day. That'll be my gift to one and all who's stuck to it.