Kyoko glances apprehensively behind her at the miniature parade of celebrities marching behind her towards the studio. Although the teen would prefer to check on Ren and Hiro, her adopted mother's firm grip keeps her from escaping. Kyoko's quick glance over her shoulder reveals that Sato is walking closely beside Koga while Kuu is talking quietly with Ren. Finding her friends in good hands, she concedes the battle and allows Juli to have her way.
"So what are you and father doing here?" the curious actress inquires even as she steals yet another glance over her shoulder.
"Why, I am your evil step-mother, of course," the regal blond replies happily. The beautiful model then pouts prettily. "But it is totally not fair. I should be the fairy godmother. Don't you think I would make a lovely fairy godmother?"
Kyoko can't help but laugh.
"Well, if the fairy godmother character was really a fairy, you would be perfect but the character is a teacher not really a fairy," counters Kyoko while the American continues to pout a bit like a small, spoiled child.
The leaders of the parade reach the set and Juli crosses her arms over her chest.
"It just isn't fair," she huffs. "Why do I have to be the bad guy when Kuu gets to be the hero? He always gets to play the hero."
"Father is the hero?" Kyoko repeats in confusion.
"Well, who else would be playing the fairy godmother part?" Juli teases.
"Godfather part," Kuu stresses as he steps into the conversation. He places his arm around his wife as he teases her. "I am the good, handsome and benevolent hero while you, my dear, are the evil, conniving witch."
Juli lightly pinches her husband's arm. He laughs and offers her a kiss of apology. Despite the tension from the earlier confrontation, Kyoko can't help but feel better when around the Hizuris. Their infectious affection easily overflows into her aura and warms her too.
"I'm glad you're here," the teen admits quietly to her adopted parents as she glances one more time towards Ren and then Koga.
Following her gaze, Kuu smiles encouragingly.
"Whenever you need us, kiddo, all you need to do is ask," he promises. "That's what real parents do."
With her energy bolstered, Kyoko boldly steps onto the set and approaches the previously demonic director so that she can receive direction for the first scene of the Cinderella episode where she plays the adapted heroine's role. The introductory scene involves the two step-sisters harassing their disadvantaged sibling and establishing their disdain for her. The scene also exposes some of the other dynamics of the family such as the previous death of the main character's father and the fact that Kyoko's character is responsible for the creative aspects of the business that her stepmother is running.
While Kyoko receives her directions along with the other two LoveMe girls who are playing her step-sisters, Juli approaches her estranged son.
"Do you have a moment, Tsuruga-san," she quietly petitions.
Ren has the grace to appear slightly guilty as he nods his head just minutely. Juli moves to stand beside the tall man who she desperately wishes she could treat as her son in public once more. If she could, she would grab the man by his ear and drag him somewhere private before unloading more than an earful of displeasure at his behavior. Instead, she is forced to stand beside him as they give the appearance of watching the action on the set. The blond shifts the last few centimeters until her arm is brushing along the side of her child's skin. Her voice sounds sharp yet barely audible as she addresses Kuon in the only manner allowed to her.
"You need to learn self-control, Tsuruga-san," his mother intones and her son stiffens at the quiet rebuke. She can feel the reaction through their touching arms even if she isn't looking at his face.
"I am sure that you realize that she will most likely forgive you for anything you could possibly do to hurt her," Juli continues.
"She isn't completely without rancor," the actor whispers in return. "You should have seen her desire for revenge against Fuwa."
"And how does she feel about him now? Hmm?" his mother replies with a hint of a mocking tone entering her expressive voice.
Ren pulls away slightly and crosses his arms over his chest. He can't deny that Kyoko has forgiven Fuwa despite the anger she carried so deeply in her heart for him. He hates the threat that the young singer represents to his own feelings. The knowledge that Kyoko has allowed him back into her heart stabs at his chest and makes him feel even more frustrated and tense.
"You truly need to work on all that rage boiling under the surface," the relentless woman beside him continues.
"He deserved it," Ren mutters through clenched teeth as he contemplates on the most recent exhibition of his internal rage and not the general assessment of his emotional needs.
"Perhaps," Juli concedes. "But perhaps you need to try paying more attention to her feelings and less to your wrath. You'll stand a better chance of sharing a lasting relationship with her that way."
"People can fight in relationships," her son replies. "She childishly spats with Fuwa regularly. You and your husband fight at times."
Ren glances from the set to stare intently at his mother.
"No matter how most folks see you, I know that you both can treat the other harshly."
Juli nods in agreement and without any guilt at the statement.
"That is true. A real relationship isn't all happily ever after," she agrees easily. "The thing is, that every time a couple fights, they damage the foundation of their relationship. Kuu and I have had well over twenty-five years to build the foundation of our relationship. It is strong enough to even weather the shattering loss of our most precious son. Our foundation is solid. Now, Kyoko might forgive you for the things that you do that hurt her but you are still damaging the foundation of whatever this relationship is that you share. Your foundation is still young. You really can't afford to be undermining the basis of your interactions. You keep doing it, and you threaten weakening it to the point that is will be unable to support the type of relationship that you seek with the teen."
Juli reaches for Ren's arm and tightly grasps his bicep as she pins him with her eyes.
"I suspect that the people Kyoko's cares about are the most important things in her life. Even more than acting. Definitely more than any material thing. Even more than herself. Don't hurt the people she cares about no matter how much you may hate or despise them," Juli warns. "Yes, she will forgive you but don't sabotage your relationship at the same time. You need to learn the self control that you lack. You need to learn to forgive. Both yourself and others."
Juli's grip on her son lessens. She offers him a tender smile that practically aches with her hopes and fears for him.
"She may be your junior but you could stand to learn that important lesson from Kyoko."
Director Kingo's voice cuts into the quite family discussion. Juli leaves her silent son as she reports to the set for direction on her first scene. As she walks away, her son seriously considers her advice.
On the studio set, Dark goes over some preliminary directions for the next scene and the four females listen intently. With the blocking and the director's expectations in mind, Chiori, Kanae and Juli exit the set for the start of the scene. Kyoko's character, Ayano, settles into place on a stool beside a large design table which has papers full of sketches, material swatches, and reference books strewn across the top of it. On the corner where Ayano sits, the materials have been pushed clear and a large sheet of paper sits. The paper holds a partially designed building. Ayano makes a minor change on the design with her pencil and smiles at her project.
Juli's character sweeps into the room followed by the other LoveMe girls who are playing Ayano's step sisters, Hikari and Emiko.
"Ayano," the beautiful yet harsh woman calls as she carries a long list of details for her stepdaughter to address. Her real daughters trail behind her like puppies on a leash. Chiori's character, Hikari, drops a large box of materials on the floor by the work table while Kanae's character, Emiko, merely seats herself on one of the work stools. Without glancing at the work filled table, Emiko pulls a comb from her pocket. With self-absorbed grace, she attends her hair and checks her reflection in the gilded mirror that hangs above the work table.
Ayano cringes slightly and scrambles to pull some of the other work on the table over her project.
"I have a new list of design requests," Ayano's stepmother states as she haughtily drops the long list onto the table.
Ayano picks up the list and frowns. She turns to her mother with a perplexed expression marring her pretty face.
"These are new specifications for next Sunday's competition," Ayano reads with concern.
"Yes," her mother replies with a wave of her hand. "You need to adjust the displays to reflect these requests."
Ayano shakes her head slightly and appears annoyed which causes Dark to interrupt the scene.
"Not annoyance, Kyoko," he calls. "Worry."
Kyoko nods once to the director and adjusts her expression to reflect concern instead of frustration. Seemingly unconsciously, Ayano gently chews on her lower lip with her teeth.
"Um, I thought we had decided that the designs were perfect as they were," she hesitantly ventures.
"These ideas will make it better," the older woman intones.
"But mother, these are fundamental changes on the entire display. I don't think that..."
"You don't think what?" bites out her guardian. Ayano cringes as her stepmother begins to rant about how ungrateful a child she is forced to endure. The vicious woman berates the young woman for not supporting her own father's company. Ayano seems to deflate even further as her stepmother's words heap guilt upon the young designer's shoulders. When the shrew finally starts lamenting about how her inconsiderate husband only left her with an unappreciative daughter and only his simple interior design company to support the family, Ayano finally interrupts.
"I can try, mother," she attempts to appease although she has no idea how she could possibly complete the changes that her stepparent wishes adjusted in the short span of time available. The young designer worries her lip between her teeth as she furtively glances at the other project she is attempting to complete on a deadline.
Her suspicious mother catches the tell-tale glance and immediately snaps her hand forward. The older woman shoves the materials and papers off the large building sketch. Her eyes narrow. With the speed of a waiting crocodile, the vile woman strikes. Just like the crocodile would attack, the defenseless prey is soon rendered into pieces.
As small scraps of her design flutters to the floor, tears of desolation fill Ayano's eyes.
"You do not have time for such frivolities," her stepmother orders. "I have told you over and over that you are to concentrate on interior design. We have a decorating business not an architectural firm.
"But..." Ayano attempts to explain or plead her position. Her words fall silent as a hand flies across the front of her face.
The snap of the slap moves air around Kyoko's face but Juli's hand does not touch her face during the rehearsal. Even without the touch, Kyoko reacts as if her character is struck. She falls back a step and holds her cheek. A shocked expression lights her eyes that is quickly replaced with sorrow as Juli's character informs the girl that she will be staying in this room until the changes are completed. When the young designer tries to argue that she has classes, her protest is overridden. Her stepmother informs her that the school will be there after the project is completed but that this weekend's event only has this one time for them to exploit. The scene ends with the stepmother sweeping regally from the room and having her daughters follow her without a word. As the lock sounds on the door, Anyano collects her destroyed plan. Clutching the pieces of paper against her chest, the teen shakes with frustration. A moment of silence passes then the teen sets her shattered project on the end of the table. Squaring her shoulders and dashing the tears from her cheeks, Ayano begins to work on her assigned task.
When Kingo approves the scene with no changes at the end, he is suddenly surprised to find his newly returned actor standing beside him.
"Begging your pardon, sir," the green-eyed heart-throb begins with a nervous breath. "Is this scene the first time Ayano's stepmother has struck her?"
Dark turns his full attention to the handsome actor who has not outright approached him with any questions related to any scene development during this project. When the director answers Koga's question, the young actor offers a suggestion that is offered so quietly that no one else in the room can overhear it. A strange quirk ticks on Dark's lip as he listens to the young man. He nods and waves the actor towards the stage in permission.
All over the studio, talents watch Hiro approach the actresses on the set. Ren tenses when Koga lightly touches Kyoko's arm and leans towards her ear. Unable to hear the whispered conversation between the two, Tsuruga feels the morning's anger building once more. His frustration is sidetracked though when a bent elbow bumps against his arm.
He glances sideways to find Kijima standing in the spot his mother had previously occupied. Ren winces slightly when he notices the badly swollen and sorely split lip his co-star is sporting.
Guilt distracts the frustrated man for a moment and he offers Hidehito a sincere apology.
"Heh," Kijima snorts. "I'm just glad you didn't knock out any of my teeth or break my nose."
The older actor offers a slightly crooked smile that proves his sense of humor and his understanding behind the incident.
"Remind me to never get in a real fight with you," Hidehito states and Ren promises before offering another apology.
The older actor just nods as he glances back at the set where Koga has finished whispering to Kyoko. The two male co-stars watch as Dark instructs the cast to try the green-eyed actor's suggestion for the interaction. Without complaint, the actresses respond and repeat the scene. Although the dialog remains exactly the same, everyone is amazed by the subtle shift in the atmosphere of the piece. This time, Ayano exhibits just tiny hesitations when in physical proximity with her stepmother. Her eyes shutter and her breath catches slightly when her step-mother moves her arms. As the scene progresses, the tension just seems to grow. The self-centered Emiko seems unaffected by the anxiety level but the slightly less horrible sister, Hikari, begins to sofly react to the tension between her mother and step-sibling. By the time Ayano's step-mother finally strikes her, almost every witness to the scene feels like there are bugs ghosting over their skin in reaction to the building tension.
"Holy crap," mutters Kuu from his seat behind the director. Absently, he rubs the gooseflesh on his arms. The Hollywood star glances quickly from the scene to the young man hiding along the edge of the set beside his manager. Speculation on the young man and what he could have possibly shared with his second son to elicit such a response is forced on hold though as Kuu is drawn back to the end of the scene. He nods in agreement as Director Kurayami breaths out that this is the way they will film the scene.
When the scene ends, Juli practically dances to husband. While Dark instructs Kyoko and Chiori on their next scene in the locked room, Juli gushes in flustered amazement.
"Oh, Kuu..." she moans expansively as she grabs her husband by the arm.
"I am going to die. Right now. You better not remarry or I will haunt you, you hear me," she sobs and laughs at the same time. "Oh Kuu, I am so evil. She made me so evil and I couldn't even help it. I mean, the first time was good but the second one... Oh, I was... I was..."
Juli is so utterly amazed at the experience that she just had on the stage that the normally articulate woman is reduced to stammering like a flustered child.
"You were so caught up that you couldn't help but be an even more villainous bitch, right?" Kuu offers in order to help complete his wife's disjointed thought.
Juli nods as she places her hand over her pounding heart. Slowly, the beautiful American regains control of her body. Her breathing evens and her heart returns to its normal steady rhythm.
"Kuu, dear," she whispers against her husband's neck as she takes his arm. "Can we take her home with us? She could inflame the world."
The handsome Hollywood star pats his wife's back. He shakes his head and offers an apologetic smile. Kuu then nods towards Koga, the other LoveMe girls and finally their biological son. "She is still needed here, Juli."
Juli sighs in disappointment but she concedes the battle.
A/N: Okay... Cinderella is going to take a couple of chapters so please bear with me. There is just too much going on otherwise. -me