Love is Bullshit
I realised that this title violates the ffnet guidelines, so on ffnet only this story is archived as Love Is Male Cow Poo. I could have chosen a better word for an alternative title, but I opted for silly words that convey the same meaning. Sorry to everyone who has favourited this, let me know if you have a better alternate title I could use!
Disclaimer: I have no rights here, of course. But if you're the rights holders and are reading this... I ended up buying your comic so that I could write this. This was made in the spirit of loving and supporting canon material, and you'll break my heart if you issue a take-down notice.
Author's Notes: Written as a veeeeeeery overdue giftfic for Yasuhei. Minimal proofreading, so please let me know if you catch any errors or have any thoughts on the story!
The one problem Kyoko hadn't imagined ever arising from her career and vengeance upon Fuwa Sho was the Japanese obsession with dating and romance. Every time one of her characters was in a relationship – hell, every time she was cast alongside an unattached male over the age of thirteen – her TV-spots and interviews and photo-shoots and oh, just... everything! It all came down to rumours about her relationships and interrogations over whether she had found the right man. Whether those nice earrings had been a gift from anyone. Whether she'd gone to the latest romantic cafés with anyone. When she mentioned she was single she'd either get reassured that she'd find someone soon, or get a wise sympathetic nod from a presenter who would go on to bemoan a degradation of romance, gentility, and attractiveness in the young male population of Tokyo. She got invitations to hook-up parties from fans, and love confession letters by the bag from fans.
At least once a week she had to face down Kanae's raucous laughter, when L.M.E got yet another formal request from a dating service. What, precisely, about being single and normal made Kyoko a desirable figurehead for people seeking love? It was utter madness. This obsession with love and pairing off (and then breaking up and starting all over again) in celebrity life disgusted Kyoko. Love was... it was...
Love was bullshit. Wishful thinking and self delusion. It was something that filled you with hormones and neural chemicals and obscured the real person you were with. It was, when you looked at it properly, the least romantic and intimate thing ever. Kyoko preferred to honestly know and care for her friends and family. She couldn't imagine, now, living without any real occupation or passion or community of friends. Kyoko had seen a lot of the selfish and ugly and ignoble in her friends, and it was wonderful.
People weren't happy iconic stereotypes who ran around buying branded drinks and finding true love in a handcream. She knew, because she'd worked in advertising. It was all like Sho's relationship with her; lies and glitter.
She imagined sex would be the same. It was hard to avoid sexuality and sex in the media; she'd even come across a fan-made porn comic about her Dark Moon character, Mio. Which was entirely disgusting, but it did prove the point. There was a lot of hype about sex, when the real truth of it was a bunch of people staring at rose-tinted, soft fuzzy lensed images and hiding their own orgasms from others. Grunting and clenching and relaxing.
So though she'd been curious about sex for a while, she didn't want it. She knew it would be as much if not more of a let-down than Sho had been. Unarousing, unappealing. If Kyoko was immune to love through her common-sense maybe she'd be equally immune to enjoying arousal. She'd be recognising the signs in her partner, and finding the whole thing repulsive.
So for her eighteenth birthday she didn't have anything romantic or seductive planned. She'd been thinking about having two parties: a lunch on set with the crew and her work friends, and then a dinner at the Darumaya with her closest and oldest friends and family. But she hadn't organised anything in advance really, so when Ren had asked if he could take her out to dinner on the day – just something between close friends – Kyoko had smiled, nodded, and decided that she'd just organise a bigger party once she'd finished her current job.
She was working on a film and wasn't the female lead, which meant pretty long exhausting days and unpredictable hours. Exhilarating fun, of course. But busy enough that a quiet dinner just with Ren seemed pretty ideal.
He took her somewhere nice, with a name that she probably should have remembered, but her head had been full of her lines and cues and partly with some ideas for her actual birthday party. The wait staff had been polite and lovely. The food, when it arrived, was so well-made that Kyoko gaped for a second. Ren was really going all-out for this treat!
"Well it is your eighteenth, Kyoko."
She laughed. "You know me to well!" She tasted her entrée before the thought hit her, square between the eyes inside her head.
"Ren? Do you think it sometimes feels like we've known each other longer than we have?"
He froze, cutlery poised over his own plate. "Ah, yes. In a way. A very long time, yes."
He seemed a bit flustered, but at least he was on the same page as her. "Not in a girly, soul-mate way, of course! Ah-hah, no! I meant, you know, just that we have this pretty good friendship and working relationship. It feels like I've known you forever, in that way."
Ren didn't really answer, but there was that soft relaxed calm to the corners of his eyes, and there was no awkwardness at all between them. Slowly their conversation turned towards work, to their current and upcoming projects, and to some of the new recruits and child actors that their agency had taken on.
But then there was dessert, and that changed everything. A platter of delicate looking cakes and chocolates.
"I know it's been hard for you recently," Ren began, "with all of the questions about your relationships and co-stars in the media..."
Kyoko snorted and shook her head. "What? Bah, I am above love and beyond workplace romance! You know that more than anyone, Ren! My heart is rock-solid, stone-cold..."
Ren smiled and held up a hand. "And we know that, and all of your friends know that, but you can't pretend that it's not annoying to deal with in interviews."
Kyoko stole the one chocolate brownie from their platter and closed her eyes to enjoy the warm soft feel of it in her mouth. "Mnn."
"So I have two things I wanted to talk to you about, tonight."
Ren's face was very serious. Kyoko swallowed around her mouthful, throat suddenly dry and painful. "Yes...?"
"First, is a confession. And the second, is probably what you could call a business proposal of sorts."
Kyoko blinked. Her gut was tight and tense, and she didn't like the sound of it at all. Her instinct was to get up and run, to escape whatever Ren was on the cusp of confessing. Instead, she smoothed the napkin on her lap and took a bolstering sip of water from her glass.
"Well, to start with, let's have the business proposal."
Ren nodded solemnly and reached forward. He tried to take one of Kyoko's hands in his own, but she kept them firmly clasped in her lap. Finally he gave up, settled back in his chair and sighed heavily.
"This is the wrong way around, you know? But yes, the proposal. It's mostly for you, to help with those interviews and to maybe get us both some more exposure. Think about it? Scandal, and romance, and all that? It would sell our images like nothing else."
Kyoko really didn't like where this was going. "What would?"
Ren cleared his throat awkwardly. "I think that we should date."
Kyoko bit her lip and glared down at the table. "I don't do that sort of thing, Ren."
"I know." His voice was soft and resigned. "Of all people, Kyoko, of course I know. But that's why we should. We're friends, we see each other all the time anyway. It will give you an excuse in all sorts of situations, and drive up public interest in us as performers. And I don't mean that we should actually do anything, or change how we behave. It would be... for work. A business, not a relationship."
"That makes a disturbing amount of sense." Kyoko agreed. "Aside from annoying all sorts of pests, and making them stay away, I'd be able to cultivate a very good image for myself. I imagine that a lot of other female actresses would be jealous, when they realise that my name is going to be mentioned in passing in nearly every article on the great actor Ren Tsuruga."
Ren nodded. "I knew you'd understand."
It wasn't something that Kyoko would have felt comfortable with even one year ago, faking something like that. But as her eighteenth birthday neared, the gossip regarding her personal relationships and supposed love interests had escalated. She was trying to market herself. And Sho was still making a nuisance of himself intermittently. Though romance was far from her goal in life, dating Ren seemed to make more sense than anything else.
"I hate it, though."
"That in a post-feminist society like this, I still have to be dating someone to get away from all that garbage. That I'm not stable or self-sufficient unless I'm hanging off of someone else's arm."
"Hmn." Ren was putting on a sad face, but he couldn't hide the quirk of a smile in the corner of his lips.
"No offence to your arm, of course. You have nice arms. But, well, you know what I mean. Anyway, so that's settled? We can get Yashiro to set everything up for us, work out scheduling..."
"Kyoko? There was that other thing, too."
Kyoko froze, blinking. "Ah, yes!" She lifted a finger with a smile. "The confession!" Her heart fell as she said the words. "I'm not sure I'm going to like this, am I?"
Ren shook his head slowly and sadly. This time when he reached out for her hands, Kyoko was more than happy to let him take them. He looked so crushed, like he'd lost all hope.
"I... I know you can't reciprocate, but I'm in love with you."
Kyoko couldn't say that she wasn't taken aback or shocked by that statement. Or that a part of her heart hadn't fluttered with fear at the very thought of being loved. But those were the parts of herself that she knew and was comfortable with. She was far more upset by the part of her inside that was pleased by that. It meant that she'd have a chance at maybe even enjoying sex, and having such vile and basic thoughts at a time when her good friend was in emotional turmoil was very disconcerting.
"That's alright," she said finally when she'd gathered her thoughts, "I've had that problem in the past too. Not with you, of course, but with being in love with someone. Now that we're officially a couple, I can help you work on that. There's nothing like dating someone to cure you of love!"
"Kyoko, I'm not sure that..."
She waved a hand dismissively at him. "Trust me, I've got experience at this."
His sigh – he was sighing a lot that night – was long-suffering and tired. Kyoko couldn't help but grin at the sound of it.
At twenty-three years old, Kyoko had gotten a little tired of birthdays. It usually meant film releases and interviews and end-of-year special appearances on television, and having large parties on top of everything else was a bit much. What she really enjoyed about this time of year was knowing how chilly it was outside in the morning, and feeling entirely warm and insulated from it all.
Maybe it was just Ren. She'd been surprised at how much body heat guys created in bed, the first few nights she'd slept over. She'd felt guilty about it at first, as if she was using Ren's infatuation with her as leverage for sex. But they both enjoyed it, and it wasn't as if they'd either of them entered into the relationship with any misconceptions.
Whenever Kyoko did voice her concerns, Ren had just teased her about it all, anyway. She'd gotten over her apprehension about it all a few years ago, and that meant that she could just stay in Ren's apartment and stretch lazily against him, all warm and drowsy and not-quite ready to face the day.
Ren's nose twitched, he sneezed and farted and rolled over away from Kyoko, stealing the sheets. So stifling a laugh Kyoko headed to the shower. There was certainly no romance in their lives, no sir! That fairytale romance that Ren's fans idealised – that Kyoko herself once had – didn't have any space inside for real human nature or biology.
And Ren was far from a chivalrous knight at the best of times. So Kyoko felt no guilt whatsoever when she flopped back down onto the mattress after her shower, letting cooling droplets of water fall onto Ren's face.
When that didn't wake him up, Kyoko simply tugged at the sheets he had clenched to his chest and gave him a little shove, unbalancing him just enough so that if he didn't wake up, he'd fall off the bed.
Ren seemed to have this inbuilt grace; something in him would detect imminent unbalancing and wake him up. That day was no different. Ren braced himself against the headboard, rolled back onto the bed properly, and blearily stared up at Kyoko.
"Muhahhhh?" Ren wasn't always the most articulate of people, first thing.
"Birthday breakfast, doofus! You're taking me out."
Ren sat up beside her, frowning. "I thought that L.M.E. had that party for you last night?"
Kyoko let a slow breath out. "You know, Ren, oh fixture of my life, if I was in this relationship for love, you'd be dealing with a very cranky woman right now."
"No kidding? Good thing you're not, then, and I get to sleep in on my weekend off."
Kyoko watched him re-assemble their bedcovers around himself. "Really? Pah."
Ren snorted into his pillow. "Pah nothing, Kyoko. You always have breakfast at the Darumaya, don't you?"
"They've gone on a holiday to Hawaii, believe it or not. And even if I was going, you'd be dropping me off."
Kyoko stared at Ren's unresponsive lumpy shape on the bed.
He didn't move, so Kyoko poked her tongue out at him and headed into the kitchen to get something to eat. With a hand on the fridge door, she called back over her shoulder. "If you loved me, you'd be taking me out for breakfast!"
"If you didn't love me, you wouldn't be so desperate!" he called back.
Kyoko couldn't keep the silly grin off her face. She loved this, whatever it was, between them. There had been a few awkward false starts, when she'd been dead-set on curing Ren of love and he'd been caught up in that romance and seduction bullcrap. But now they had balance, and had settled into a comfortable pattern of teasing and taking-the-piss that left a warm feeling in Kyoko's stomach. It was real and solid and honest and so much better than love that she really couldn't imagine ever having settled for those fake plastic love-dreams she'd had about Sho.
Then she opened the fridge and instead of leftovers and some vegetables, she saw a very carefully laid-out tray. An eclectic mix of food, to be sure, but they were all dishes that Kyoko could remember ordering or making at special times during the last few years. Onigiri like the ones Yashiro had brought to the set when they'd been in their first "starring opposite" roles on a big film. They'd eaten them together, sitting on a concrete barrier and looking out at the greyish dirty ocean that was their churning backdrop for several scenes, laughing about how the rest of the crew probably thought they were sharing intimate whispers together. They'd only been together for about six months at the time.
There was an Italian-style salad, looking just like the one from their first interview as an official couple, complete with pre-packaged plastic tasteless dressing. One of the oddly textured biscuits that Ren's parents had sent over, on one of the leftover odd-ends of crockery that the Darumaya kept giving to them when they visited. A cold bowl of rice-porridge, with tidy instructions for re-heating.
Kyoko shook her head as she carried the tray over and dutifully followed the instructions beside the pudding.
Ren had, of course, been faking his sleepiness. He got something else out of the fridge and settled himself down in the lounge chair in front of his low table, dropping a light kiss on Kyoko's shoulder as he went past.
"I do know how to use a microwave, you know!"
She braced the tray on her hip as she waited the last thirty seconds for the porridge. "What are you eating, anyway?"
There was a long silence before the response came. Kyoko could barely hear it over the beep of the microwave.
"... wine jelly."
She twisted her mouth as she sat down and surveyed her breakfast, which didn't look anywhere near as appealing as the individual dishes had in the past. Kyoko settled for the onigiri, which seemed as good a place as any to start. "Ren? You do know that you are a complete and utter sap."
He smiled at her, his lips catching around the edges of his spoon. "Well it is our anniversary, dearest, and we have a very big TV spot later today..."
"Oh crap." Kyoko grimaced and wished he hadn't reminded her about that. "Yashiro will kill me if I bail, but it's my Birthday, you know? If I'd known this was going to happen, I'd have put off agreeing to all of this for a month or so. I mean... hell, I started going out with you to avoid awkward questions about romance, not invite them!"
Kyoko stretched her feet out, to feel the carpet squishing against her toes. "And stop rolling your eyes at me, Ren! It's not that I don't know how to spout lovey-dovey meaningless fluff. I just wish that I didn't have to do it today, is all."
As soon as she'd said that, she regretted it. The lightness and happiness was still there a little, but she could see that tell-tale hint of sadness and regret. It wasn't that she would ever take back their years together – Ren was her closest friend, and a very considerate lover – but she did worry about him sometimes. He'd been in love with her. So much more than she'd ever been in love with Sho, because Ren seemed to see Kyoko for who she really was. And he had her, in a sense. But she'd never be able to love him back, and when she tried to talk to Ren Tsuruga (best friend) about her feelings she ended up hurting Ren Tsuruga (heartsick idiot boyfriend).
Knowing she'd feel heavy and gross all day, Kyoko gritted her teeth and focused on forcing every last blobby reheated glop of rice-porridge down her throat. She chewed sternly on her lettuce, and shifted to sit closer beside him until their phones rang with the reminder messages that started their day.
Kyoko caught the train to L.M.E. while Ren and Yashiro went off somewhere, she had no idea where, but she was busy enough to not care. She had some scripts to skim over, and then a very serious discussion with her daily planner over which auditions and casting calls she could answer. She was meeting Maria for lunch, and had to put the finishing touches on a special outfit for a doll for that. She had to check up on Love-Me's activities; she'd gone from being a member to being more or less the mother hen for a bunch of new girls. She had to...
"Ahh, it's Kyoko!" A suited man made his way across the train to her.
She'd missed the morning squeeze, thank goodness, by sleeping in. But there were always stragglers. She put a smile on her face and turned to greet him politely. It wouldn't hurt, and she was only one stop away from her platform anyway.
"Good morning! Or, should I say, Happy Birthday! Fancy seeing someone like you on public transport!"
Kyoko shook her head. "Oh no, I like catching the train. After all, I think an actor who lives in isolation really isn't doing themselves any favours. You have to live life to know how it feels, after all."
The man nodded emphatically, smiling. "Of course, you're such a great actress, so dedicated to your craft!"
The train was slowing, Kyoko could see the platform coming. It wasn't that she didn't like the guy, just that she really had far too much to do already. Not that her smile wavered once; her attitude towards customer satisfaction was second to none.
"I'm so surprised that I ran into someone who knew it was my birthday this early in the day! You must be a real fan! Thank you."
The man blushed slightly, and rubbed the back of his neck in that awkward way that older men seemed to think was endearing or something. "Oh, no, not at all. It's been a pleasure to meet you."
Kyoko inclined her head. "Likewise. Oh, and I'm not sure if it's been announced yet, but check out the L.M.E Christmas special tonight. Ren and I will appear live for an interview, then."
The man nodded emphatically and reassured Kyoko that he would until she made a polite farewell and disembarked. She was glad it had been a male fan, and a not too-pushy one at that. Some of the women could get quite invasive, and some of the men could get quite... ahem, untoward. Having fans in and of itself was a bit confronting. It was a sign of success, to be sure, but it made Kyoko feel guilty and sick inside to think that even just one of the people writing her letters might feel about her the same way she once felt about Sho.
It felt like human culture and society gone wrong. She'd made sure to protect that feeling inside herself, to not let herself get too isolated and big-headed like Sho had, or like some of the other actors and actresses she'd run across. It seemed like such an awful, hateful type of person to become.
She must have looked a little shell-shocked when she arrived at L.M.E., because when she ran into Kanae in the hallway, she found her arms being held gently and her legs being guided into a nearby tea-room.
"Kyoko! You should take better care of yourself, you idiot! What on earth happened? Don't tell me that a big star like yourself is too delicate for a train-ride."
"Oh, no! No, no, no, no, no. I was just thinking, that's all."
"Oh, right." Kanae patted her shoulder and gave her a knowing wink. "Did you have to cut your special time with Ren short this morning? Or worse, did he ask you to participate in some sort of kinky play? Were there toys?"
"What? Oh, ew, no. Moko, that's disgusting!"
"Aha, so you are alive. You didn't seem like yourself when you came in. I must have followed you halfway up that corridor, before I gave up calling your name and just grabbed you."
"Really? Huh. I can't even remember what I was thinking about now."
Kanae gave Kyoko a very careful look. "Anyway, are you doing anything today that's time sensitive? The Love-Me girls have been bugging me about stuff all morning, and I am not being paid to babysit teen talent."
Though Kanae always put on that cold and bored face, Kyoko knew the real truth. "You're just grumpy because you can't hold back your caring family instinct."
"Shows how much you know." Kanae scowled and waited with her arms crossed. She was between Kyoko and the door, and Kyoko found herself more interested in that than in teasing her. For all that she'd grown over the years, Kanae was still very much the same person she always was. A little self-conscious about her home life.
"Moko my dear, did you come looking for me? Did you need me for anything?"
Kanae cast a sidelong look down the hallway. "Nothing really, no..."
"I was just planning on looking through those scripts that were dropped in last week..."
"Ah, really? You should, ah, tell me about them."
Kyoko gave her friend a very careful look. "They do realise that if they make a surprise for me every year, that I'll see it coming?"
"The scripts?" Kanae was a very good actress, but she couldn't seem to be able to keep it in. She laughed softly, and then louder as Kyoko joined her. It took them a few seconds to recover from the hilarity of it all.
"Yeah, the girls asked me to keep you away from that entire floor. And you know how I feel about it all."
"Yeah. It was your eagerness and desperation that started the whole division, so you can damn well suffer whatever they have to throw at you."
Kyoko laughed a little nervously. "Oh come on, it wasn't my idea, you know! And anyway, some of the lessons are pretty important. The skills I learnt in the hospitality industry are very applicable to entertainment."
"Yeah, you've told me. A few times, in fact."
Kyoko stuck her tongue out and leant back against the cupboards. "So when can I go up to be surprised?"
"Whenever I get a message saying they're done. Though it is your birthday. Maybe I should keep you hostage longer while I still can, and nag you about Ren."
Kyoko froze for a second. Kanae hadn't ever given up on trying to push further, or insinuate that there was more between Kyoko and Ren. It made her uncomfortable because Kanae was her friend; she knew the truth about their relationship. Kyoko got enough of the love bullshit from everywhere else, and she didn't like to talk about it with people who should know better.
"Yeah, he's picking me up here later today, and we're doing an early evening interview. Then I guess we'll have dinner together."
"You know that's not what I -"
Kanae's phone rang out loudly and cheerily. Kanae gave Kyoko a look that left no doubt they'd be talking about this all later, as she answered it.
"Yep? Okay, great, yeah." She hung up abruptly and waved magnanimously towards the open doorway. "Your highness, your public awaits!"
Kyoko rolled her eyes but curtsied playfully and made her way upstairs happily enough. She could see, paying enough attention to her surroundings to ignore making eye contact with Kanae, little paper flowers stuck here and there; the girls had brightened up even the corridors she'd be walking down during her working day. It was very sweet of them.
"Down here, they're using their room for it."
When they were a few paces away from the room, Kyoko raised her voice as loud as she dared. "So why did you want me to come here, Moko? I'm confused..."
Kanae rolled her eyes and mouthed something at Kyoko that was probably along the lines of "you sweet idiot!"
Kyoko swung the door open widely and exhaled so that she could take in an appropriately large gasp of excitement. Before her, the five ragtag aspiring actors and actresses spread their arms wide and exclaimed in bright voices, "Surprise!"
"Oh!" Kyoko couldn't force a blush, but she felt one growing warm on her face anyway. She'd only agreed to be in Love-Me because she'd had no other options at the time, because she was desperate and dedicated. She was probably getting way more recognition for the whole thing than she deserved. "Oh wow, you guys! This is just great!"
"You're welcome, by the way." Kanae's voice came from behind her, flat and dry.
Kyoko looked around the room, seeing the fantasy and fairy-tale theme to the decorations. Her daydreams weren't a huge secret, but she could imagine Kanae shepherding the kids into setting up the decorations right. No, not right, it was all...
"It's perfect. It's a credit to all the members of Love-Me," Kyoko turned to grin at Kanae, "past and present!"
In the end, she didn't get any scripts read. She spent the entire rest of the morning thanking people and trying to politely decline any more food. She smiled and nodded and offered up her well-rehearsed answers when anyone asked her about her anniversary with Ren. You'd think they were a married royal couple, the way that everyone seemed to have it ingrained in their minds. She just kept smiling, nodding, thanking, and moving on before they could offer her cake.
She had completely forgotten to work on the present for Maria. In the end, she was crouching in the corner of the lift and sewing the tidiest stitches that she could. She luckily only had a few finishing touches to make, and she was shoving her needles and thread into her handbag as the doors opened to reveal a very prettily dressed Maria.
"Hi, Maria, how are you today?" Maria was quite changed from the person she had been when they'd first met. Even from the first birthday party they'd shared together. She'd grown tall and elegant looking. A real fairy princess. She made Kyoko feel a little awkward and spindly short beside her. With Maria's long flowing hair, Kyoko's short cute cut seemed almost like a boyish child's. And she wasn't even sixteen yet, it was all so unfair!
If Maria hadn't become closer to her father, if she'd still had that childhood crush on Ren, then...
It wasn't really worth thinking about. Except that sometimes Kyoko did think about it. What if she was exploiting Ren? What if he'd really been meant for someone else, like in a grand and wonderful fairy-tale? There wasn't just guilt involved, but this greedy jealous clutching ache inside of Kyoko's chest. She wasn't the one who could give Ren a real romantic loving relationship, but she didn't want to lose him to someone who could, either. The thoughts made her feel ugly and bitter and hideous inside.
"Are you okay, Kyoko?"
"Oh? Yeah, I'm fine. Sorry. I think I'm still a little dazed from all the crowds I've been in these last two days. You held a great party, by the way!"
Maria seemed tickled pink to hear it. "You think so? I just wish that Dad had been able to stay, instead of having to work."
"Ahh, but you get to visit him next week, right?"
Maria nodded, her long hair jostling with the motion. "Indeed I do! He said we'd travel a little, too."
Kyoko put on a sigh and cast her eyes eastwards – or what she thought was east – wistfully. "I had a Dad from America, once. It was a Love-Me assignment."
Maria blinked. "A Dad from America?"
"You know, I had to pander to his needs all week? That big-name star, Kuu...? Ah, I've forgotten it, I think. I had to pretend he was my father for a little bit, and since I'd never had a Dad as such, I really lost something when he went away."
Maria was thinking very hard about it as they walked to a nearby café. "Wait, this was before you started dating Ren?"
"Ahh, yep, sure was." Kyoko was so busy making sure she hadn't creased the clothing in her rush to hide it from sight that she very nearly missed the odd look Maria was giving her.
"I remember Grandpa saying something about Ren's..."
"Ren? Oh, no it was nothing to do with Ren. Seriously, what is it with people today?"
Kyoko felt a bit depressed that Maria hadn't laughed at her silly joke, but there was a waitress and the ordering of drinks and food, and by then it really was time to hand over the present before it was at risk of becoming soiled by their lunch.
"I'm so sorry it wasn't done in time to give to you last night, and it's not wrapped properly, but, well, here..." Kyoko pulled it out and spread the fabric neatly out on the table. The year before she'd given Maria a doll based on a photograph of her mother, something delicate and commemorative now that those old wounds were healing. It had been a bit of a risk, but Maria had loved it. So what else could Kyoko do but make something even better this time? She'd spend months sourcing fabric that was the right colour and texture and then cutting the small pieces.
She'd found a jeweller to make the accessories properly, and worked on all the details so carefully that Ren had joked she'd be needing thick geekish glasses before she was thirty. What an awful thing to have said! But in the end it was perfect; a replica of the rich and elaborate wedding dress that Maria's mother had worn.
"It was probably a bit presumptuous of me, but I just loved it so much in the photographs I used as a reference for last year that I just had to make it."
Maria looked a little teary-eyed as she gazed down at it. She brushed her fingertips against the fine material, and Kyoko felt pride in her workmanship swell in her chest.
"Oh Kyoko, it's incredible, so beautiful!"
Kyoko nodded. "I thought you'd understand! Moko said it'd just be creepy, but what does she know!"
Kyoko got a wordless hug across the table for her efforts, Maria's light young arms surprisingly strong around her neck. Kyoko began forgetting herself, enjoying herself, and the time just rushed past. She lingered over coffee with Maria, and absent-mindedly skimmed her scripts until sometime in the afternoon when her phone rang and her blood turned cold.
She felt a shiver down her spine. She'd almost forgotten that it wasn't just her birthday, but something far more sinister. It was her special Christmas film release and romantic anniversary. She didn't need to look at her phone to know that it was Ren, pulling up outside L.M.E. to pick her up for their interview.
They'd said their greetings when she'd got into the car, but when they were in the elevator heading up to the studio, Ren leant down to press a kiss into her cheek. That in itself wasn't unusual, but the way that he lingered there until the doors opened again was. They logged in at the desk, followed the man that was sent to direct them to their prep room, and were put through the usual. They got wired up, dressed up, made-up, and left to their own devices for a few minutes. Years of practice meant that it was all routine. Once the door had shut behind the last crewmember, Kyoko took a deep breath in and turned to Ren. He looked... tired.
"Are you alright? What on earth did Yashiro have organised for you today?"
Ren gave her an inscrutable look, and Kyoko found herself staring into his eyes, wishing that somehow she'd be able to magically understand what he was thinking.
"Just normal things. Interviews, a meeting with the producers for that new show. And I'm fine, I just..." Ren shook his head and wrapped his tall frame around hers, one arm holding her head against his chest.
It wasn't strange, Ren held her all the time, and spontaneously. But Ren's strange mood was a little catching. Kyoko found herself leaning closer into his embrace.
He shook his head. "Nothing, just thinking."
Kyoko smiled a little though Ren couldn't see it. "I've been doing that today. I blame your strange, strange breakfast."
They stayed quiet and just together for a few seconds. It was Kyoko who broke the moment, remembering that they were about to be called onstage. "So, is there any agenda or setup for tonight? Anything we have to mention or do?"
Every now and then Yashiro liked them to mimic some lines or body language from their films and TV appearances, subtle cross-promotion. Adherence to the more popular standards in language and dress and behaviour did improve their market saturation. Helped to hook in more audience.
"What?" Ren sounded genuinely surprised, though it was a normal enough question. "No, nothing. I was thinking maybe we should just go for honesty."
Kyoko was a little confused by that. "You mean, no real things, but just the basic flirty romance?"
Ren pulled back with a pained smile, and shook his head. "Any. All of it. Don't put on an act, alright? Just be honest. You hate the idea of love, so why don't you help other girls by showing that you can have a good and honest relationship without it?"
Kyoko's eyebrows furrowed and she felt the heady weightless nerves that she often got before live appearances – but different. She felt like she'd been cut adrift and lost, and the feeling terrified her.
"R-Ren? What do you mean by that?"
"I want you to just tell the truth. I'm worried that this facade is destroying you inside, and I..."
Kyoko had been about to interrupt Ren, to tell him that he was the one that should be being worried about, that she'd never suffered at all from being with him, but they were both interrupted by the door opening and their call to the set.
Kyoko felt shuddery, shaky, downright scared as she checked her mic wires and settled into the interview couch. She couldn't see Ren as he sat behind her, but she could hear and feel his arm settling around the back of their chair. He always smelt of this strange sweat when they were under TV lighting together; like sunscreen and chemical burns and too-new clothing. It wasn't helping her relax at all.
The way that it always did when Kyoko needed time to think and prepare, the countdown was over and the female host of the show was leaning forwards, a warm and presentable smile bobbing up and down with her head as she introduced herself.
Kyoko smiled and nodded back, when one of the woman's slender hands waved in her direction.
"...and we're so pleased to have them both here tonight. Especially given what tonight is. This isn't just a promo for their Christmas romance, but also Kyoko's birthday!"
"Aha, yes. And it's a pleasure to share it with all of you." Kyoko couldn't keep her eyes on the hostess, or even facing towards the cameras. She twisted in Ren's arms and glanced up, trying to see him though of course she couldn't, being so short and in such a stupid pose.
Beside them, the hostess continued her introductory spiel. "But it's something else today, too. You see, five years ago was when their relationship began! I don't know how you manage, with Christmas as well!"
Ren laughed, and Kyoko could feel him shift against her as he moved his free arm. He was probably fiddling with his hair, a nervous gesture he'd developed that really seemed to affect his fangirls. "Well, we're used to being busy. It's not so difficult to spend a day occupied like this. Even working today, because of the threefold event I get to spend the entire day focused on our relationship rather than any of the characters we're appearing as currently."
Kyoko found herself nodding at that. "Exactly. It's this one day in each year that we can relax a little, because all the questions aren't about our characters or the work we're doing, but things that are happening in our personal lives."
The hostess nodded thoughtfully. "Though I imagine it might feel a bit invasive? I know some celebrities of your calibre like to guard their privacy very closely..."
"Oh, not at all! I mean, we don't invite people into our home, for example, but, well..." Kyoko felt herself a little flustered. She was losing momentum, as the nervous high faded and Ren's earlier words came back to the front of her mind. Luckily, Ren seemed to notice.
He re-crossed his legs, using the movement to shift closer against her side. "It's nice to think that instead of this idealised image, for one day a year we get to relax and focus on ourselves as people, not actors. So even if we work all day, or if we're separated by smaller jobs for most of it – like we were today – our relationship is still being publicly recognised and celebrated in a way."
The hostess kept smiling, nodding, and being generally presentable. "So in that way, it's a little like an engagement or a marriage, being recognised by everyone? I know you must get asked this a lot, but have you two ever thought of getting married?"
Kyoko's heart froze. There was no way she'd be able to answer this question honestly and not hurt Ren. She kept her smile pasted on, but worried that her panic would show in her eyes, she tilted her head away from the cameras and into Ren's shoulder. It gave her an uncomfortable twist in her spine, but nobody would be able to see that from the front of the set.
Ren's hand brushed against the inside of her arm, and his answer took her entirely by surprise. "Aha, no. Well yes, we have thought about it. But we don't really think it's necessary. Neither of us really have many family obligations, and in the end it really is just a ceremony. I think we've both had enough fake weddings in our line of work that another one seems a little meaningless."
"Oh, my! But what about you, Kyoko! Surely the thought of a romantic and elegant wedding is every woman's dream."
The question came as a bit of a surprise. Hadn't Ren already answered the woman? This was exactly why Kyoko hated these interviews. "Uh, not really, no."
The hostess seemed a little confused, as if she'd been expecting the usual sweet nonsense that most of her guests spouted. That Kyoko herself had come out with in the past, too. To her credit the woman recovered in less than a second and was nodding and smiling as if nothing had happened.
"To have such a trusting and committed relationship, to be beyond worries about marriage or other things like that... you must have had a very romantic and loving beginning?"
Kyoko shifted uneasily, tapping the toe of one shoe against the side of the other. This had the potential to go horribly wrong no matter what she said.
"I don't know if I'd be comfortable using those words. How can I... hmm, it's difficult." Kyoko tilted her head and was very glad to feel Ren's hand sliding down the chair, sitting warm and safe around her waist. He felt less distant than at the start, which helped. It gave her the courage to be honest like he wanted.
Kyoko took a breath and continued. "I didn't have any feelings of romance or infatuation, not like that. But Ren was one of my closest friends, and someone that I felt comfortable around. When people think of reasons to date someone, they think about sexual attraction or romantic infatuation. We started our relationship based on a more personal and emotional attachment."
"Well, you did." Ren's voice was a little strange, echoing through the microphone. Kyoko could feel his chin resting on top of her head. "But I've always been a bit more gullible than you."
Kyoko snorted. "There's an understatement."
The hostess cocked her head curiously. "Gullible?"
"What my dear darling Kyoko means, you see, is that I am a true romantic at heart. She's more of a... hmm..."
Kyoko gave Ren a good-natured jab in the ribs. "I can hear you, you know."
"Well in that case, why don't you help me explain. How do you feel about romance, Kyoko?"
Kyoko could have killed him for that. Really, she could have. She could feel that twist of fury unwinding in her gut. It had faded with age and time, but serious thoughts of romance still brought it back sometimes. She couldn't keep that hateful energy from sneaking into her reply. But really it served Ren right; he was pushing the issue, after their awful conversation in the room backstage. If she came across as a bit rabid, he'd just have to deal with that.
"It's awful! When you think about love, you don't think about the real parts of it. I fight him tooth and nail over who has to clean the bathroom. He nags me about doing too much, and I nag him about that. There are all these conflicts, and then in the middle of it all moments of peace. And we laugh a lot, too."
"At each other." Ren added.
Hearing the warm smile in the edges of his voice just bled all that uneasiness out of Kyoko. She remembered some of the times they'd shared together, and even just the absurd arguments they got into over how to load the dishwasher. And damnit, if Ren hadn't got her feeling all nostalgic and dopey with that one line, she'd have something useful to say. Instead she was just agreeing and smiling and trying to think of something, anything, other than how comfortable life with Ren was.
"Yeah, at each other."
"But to be honest," Kyoko admitted, "this is far more real than any infatuation or love. I've felt those, had that big first crush, and what I have with Ren is different. I could live on after the broken heart I had when I was first dumped by my teenage crush. Even before I was dumped, I could imagine that sense of loss or abandonment. I could imagine breaking up. I honestly can't imagine life without Ren. I feel... like it's impossible, for a world without Ren beside me to be real."
Kyoko felt like something had snapped inside her. Like all the tension had snapped back into place. Nothing was different at all, and everything she had said was completely true, but something had changed inside her at the same time. She'd noticed something about herself, and she couldn't put a finger on it.
"You really are in love with each other, it's so refreshing to see that in a celebrity couple. I'm sure I speak for our entire audience tonight when I say that we've been honoured to have this honest insight into your relationship. Though we're going to have to move on now to a scene from your upcoming film." The hostess rushed through the words, obviously glad to have that segment over and done with.
There was a minute of silence between everyone as the tepid romantic scene played out behind them. It was always odd for Kyoko to see or hear herself like that, especially when Ren was also involved, but for once she hardly noticed it enough to feel uncomfortable. She felt the words echoing round in her head, as her eyes pricked and stung. You really are in love with each other. She wasn't in danger of crying and smudging her makeup – she was too experienced for that – but she knew she would have if she'd been anywhere without cameras.
She clenched her hand tightly around Ren's, and closed her eyes. It wasn't like it was a huge revelation. She'd been carrying the knowledge around inside herself all these years. Her infatuation for Sho hadn't been love. It hadn't been anywhere close. Love had just been a childish label she'd used first to justify her stupid behaviour and then to protect herself from it.
The promo clip was over. They said polite farewells to the hostess and the audience, and then made their way offstage and stripped off their borrowed clothes and wires and were suddenly just there, in the cold concrete back-rooms of the studio, together.
"You knew, didn't you?" She asked finally as they made their way into the carpark and to Ren's car. Kyoko had been holding on tight to his hand, and they paused to pull apart before they went to their respective doors.
"I hoped." Ren said finally, his hair falling forwards to just barely hide his eyes from her line of sight. "I wanted it so much that I was worried I'd tricked myself into thinking it was real, so I only let myself hope."
Kyoko sighed, feeling exhuasted after the day she'd had. "You," she said decisively, "are an idiot. And I am an idiot. We are..."
Kyoko sunk into her chair and slumped so that she could hardly see out through the window. "That too."
Ren seemed to understand the mood she was in. He'd always been wonderful like that, so attuned to her. She'd been taking it all for granted, for so very long. Even her own heart. She'd been assuming she was immune to love, that she'd never stopped to think about what love itself really was.
"Should we go to dinner?"
"Hmn? No, can we just go home?"
Kyoko felt shaken by it all all the way into the parking spot and up to their floor; through the living room and bedroom door. She only felt on solid ground again when she'd grabbed Ren by the hand, and pulled him into bed beside her. Lights off, with the sheets pulled over their heads and the whole world shut out, she found it easier to fight against her years of practice and paranoia.
"I've never done this before, so, um, sorry if it sucks."
Ren laughed gently. She couldn't see much of his eyes, but what she could see looked more relaxed and happy than she'd seen in a while on him. "If what...?"
"Shh." She waggled a finger at him, then realised that neither of them could see it. So she put her hands on either side of his face and gathered up all her courage.
"I love you."
Once she'd said it, it wasn't really a big thing at all. In fact, it was really way simpler than she'd expected. Which entirely made sense. She hadn't just fallen in love with Ren in the last few hours, she'd probably been head over heels for years and just not noticed it due to human error and misconceptions about classifications and emotions.
Even so, the gravity and importance of the moment seemed to have escaped Ren. "... and that's it? You know people usually kiss or, well," he ran a finger down her arm in a way that she'd forbidden outside the bedroom, "other things."
Kyoko poked him sternly in the chest. "I've done all sorts of other things before with you, you know! This is a first-time love confession! I'm validating our entire relationship here, you could be a bit more chivalrous."
He snorted, and she could feel his breath on her cheek. She pressed on, though she couldn't hold herself back from giggling too. "You're a romantic male lead! You've had years of experience of this sort of situation, and you..."
Ren's finger on her lips stopped her right there. "You're wrong," he said, shifting closer to press a warm dry kiss to her forehead, "I've never been in this situation before. Not once."
"Oh." Kyoko supposed he did have a point there, all things considered. She would have said as much, but by then words had really become superfluous to, well, other things.
Kyoko stretched lazily in bed, her arms and legs brushing up against Ren's. He mumbled in his sleep and curled into the covers tighter. She wasn't really ready to get up quite yet, so she wrapped her legs and arms around him and made herself comfortable.
Love was pretty stupid, all things considered. It made absolutely no sense, and was a complete pain in the arse. It was selfish and ugly and often completely oblivious even to itself. But that was just what people were like, really, and in the end Kyoko wouldn't have it any other way.