"I'm so glad you had time to see me today, Ren," states the normally vibrant and enthusiastic president of LME.
Although Takarada Lory sits at his desk dressed fully as a gunslinger from the American Wild West, he lacks his normal vitality and verve. Lory's beaten leather Stetson shades his expressive eyes. Even without a clear view of his expression, Ren can tell that something is bothering the older gentleman who his family has always considered the best of friends.
A sudden lump lodges in the actor's throat as he worries about the reason the president insisted he meet with him in private. Lory was adamant about not bringing Yashiro to the meeting.
"Sir, is something wrong?" the suddenly nervous actor inquires.
Lory pushes back his cowboy hat and meets the concerned glance of his number one actor. For the first time, the older man smiles softly. The gentle reassurance relieves Ren's panic and he drops into one of the overstuffed leather chairs positioned across the desk from the LME president.
"Well, I do have a problem," admits Lory as he again glances at his paperwork on his desk. "But it does not involve those people."
The remaining tension releases from Ren's shoulders and chest as he waits patiently for Lory to continue. The actor settles more comfortably into his chair as he suppresses his nervous desire to laugh in relief. Instead, he listens intently as the head of LME rambles in a rather distracting manner.
"I realize that I promised to never interfere in your career decisions. I never offered you any special treatment nor did I ever offer any real advice. Well, I never offered any besides to warn you about your previous lack in skill in love acting and the difficulty it would cause with Dark Moon. I have neglected you which now makes it difficult to ask for a special favor from you."
The president pauses before admitting that he feels guilty asking for a special favor when he has not provided any in exchange.
"That's not true," Ren counters earnestly. "You gave me a place in the world."
"Bah," argues Lory with a wave of his hand. "I gave you nothing. What you have is yours by virtue of your talent and dedication."
Although the compliment warms Ren in one of the coldest regions of his heart, he still feels that the president does not realize how much he has guided and supported his career.
"You have always supported me," the actor replies. "Perhaps not always in ways that most people in the entertainment industry would consider supporting, but you have always given me the things that I truly need. Even if I didn't realize I needed it."
Ren thinks back to the little sister Lory foisted upon him as a talisman against himself. Setsu Heel was exactly what Cain Heel needed. There had been no better support the president could have given him. Even the acting test for Dark Moon was a support of the kind best suited for the young actor. He needed the test to force him to truly evaluate his emotions and grow not only as an actor but as a man.
Breaking from his thoughts, Ren adds, "If there is anything within my meager power that I can do to help you, I would offer it happily."
President Takarada nods his thanks to his number one actor as he picks up a thick pink folder. Ren's suspicions tap dance across his mind at the dreaded color. Silently, he hopes that it is just the color folder that occurred by chance and not by design.
"You declined an offer last week for a television series," Lory states as he hands the folder across the desk to Ren's outstretched hand.
Ren glances at the typed file name. He does not remember seeing a proposal for Innocent Whispers. With a frown, the actor flips open the folder. On the opening page, he reads the name of the director involved with the project and realizes why he did not see the proposal.
"This is being directed by Kingo Kurayami. Yashiro would have rejected it as soon as he saw who was involved. I never even saw the request."
Lory rubs his hand across his chin. "So given the director, there is no way you would consider the project?"
"Why?" asks Ren uneasily.
"Kingo-san's project is perfect for my LoveMe girls."
Horrified, Ren just stares at the president. Lory falls silent as he waits for Ren's response. It isn't long in coming. Sputtering, Ren demands harshly if Lory has lost his mind. The president gives his charge a stern glare, and Ren scrambles to validate his accusation.
"You've gone out of your way to nurture the actresses in the LoveMe section. You've slowly been exposing them to all the different aspects of the industry while developing their innate abilities. How could you even think about putting them in a project with Kingo? Working with him is, at best, frustrating but given his character, it is sure to damage your LoveMe girls. He's, he's..."
Ren can't even find a suitable yet appropriate for the workplace word to properly describe Director Kingo who has a history of chewing up his talents and spitting them back up only to step on them and grind them into the ground under a heavy steel-toed boot. He had heard a rumor that the last production he did resulted in one actress withdrawing from the industry and another actor taking an extended vacation for mental health reasons.
"He's an ass," Ren finally states throwing caution to the wind and abandoning his normal gentlemanly persona in favor of the truth. After all, if he can't be honest in a room with the only man in Japan who knows his past, then when can he ever be honest.
"So there is no way you would consider helping with this project?"
Ren flips open the proposal and skims the content.
"There are no parts assigned for the scripts," he comments.
Lory nods and smiles eagerly.
"It isn't a normal kind of program," explains the president. "Each week will be an individual story that stands alone. This will make it a challenge because each talent will need to create a new, believable character for each episode. It will require a lot of intensity and dedication in order to succeed. The actors and actresses will not have time to become truly comfortable in their parts before they are asked to shed them and become someone else. There will be a cast of six core actors and actresses who will be in each episode and extras will be coaxed into helping as needed. I can't think of a better acting exercise for training my LoveMe girls."
Ren continues to flip through the different scripts. He can't help but smile at some of the stories being used for the plots. A couple of them will definitely appeal to his favorite kohai. He can already imagine her rapture at the chance to play a true princess in a fairy tale. Ren's face slips slightly as he pictures Kyoko's adorable image as she clasps her hands and her golden eyes shimmer in joyful abandon. Just as quickly, the image is shattered though when Ren contemplates the young actress under the direction of Kingo-san. He shudders at the imagined tattered remains of his sweet kohai.
"It seems like an interesting proposal. Is there any way a different director could be persuaded to participate?"
Lory shakes his head as he explains that the project is Kingo-san's proposal so he can't intervene in the personnel. The only thing he can do is try to mitigate the intensity of the contact between his LoveMe girls and the director. The president looks at Ren meaningfully. The actor sighs.
"Who are the other two actors involved?"
"Kijima Hidehito and Koga Hiromune."
Mentally, Ren kicks himself for what he is about to say.
"Alright, I will do it," he grumpily agrees as he imagines the disasters awaiting him with three LoveMe girls, two tabloid kings, and one director from hell looming in his near future. As he exits the office, the young actor makes a mental note to have Yashiro pick up a large quantity of headache medication. He already knows he will need it.