A Christmas Tree for Ren
A Christmas Tree for Ren
Now that Ren's movie is over and there is no longer any need for the Cain siblings, Ren and Kyoko are feeling the blues. It's up to Yashiro to find a way to turn everything green again.
I do not own SkipBeat! nor any of the wonderful characters therein
Kanae bit back a frustrated exclamation as she watched Kyoko listlessly going through the motions. Kanae hated, or at least claimed to hate, the whole idea of spending "best-friend-time" shopping, but she had made the sacrifice for her friend. Lately Kyoko had been walking through her day in a daze of depresson. She had lost all of her energy and her mind always seemed to be somewhere else. In an effort to break Kyoko out of her shell, Kanae had suggested the shopping day... which wasn't working at all.
Kanae had a vague idea of what the problem was. For four months Kyoko had been mysteriously occupied with some other project for the President of LME, something to do with the "dangerous" task Takarada Lory had assigned to her. During those "lost months," as Kanae had begun to think of them, she had almost never donned the pink suit of the LoveMe Section. She hadn't slept at the Daruma-ya. She hadn't been able to spend much time with Kanae or Amamiya. She had fulfilled all of her acting roles with her usual professionalism, but then she would disappear again. Strangely, during those four months Tsuruga Ren hadn't made his usual appearances in the LoveMe Section and he hadn't seemed worried about Kyoko's absence.
Now whatever task had been, it was over and Kyoko was back in the LoveMe Section. Kanae had the firm suspicion that the task had somehow involved Tsuruga Ren, because he was making his appearances again, and the two young people seemed noticeably more comfortable with each other. In fact, Kyoko came alive whenever the tall man and his bespectacled foil stepped into the room. And yet neither Kyoko nor her tall shadow seemed happy whenever they were apart from each other. What exactly happened? What trick did that scheming president of ours dream up this time, and why do they both seem so depressed?
Kanae stopped at the window display of a particularly stylish dress. Normally, Kyoko would have had stars in her eyes as she imagined not herself, but her "Moko-san" in the dress. On this day she didn't even notice that her friend had stopped. Kanae grumbled something incoherent and then chased Kyoko before she could stumble into the intersection. "Mo! Kyoko, your heart's just not into this. Let's just go eat lunch and call it a day."
Thirty minutes later found them sitting in a family-style restaurant in a secluded back corner booth. Over the last year the two girls had become increasingly well-known, and it was necessary now to sit in corners and wear silly disguises if they walked out in public. It wasn't them that caused the big stir on this day, however. Kanae heard the rising excitement in the voices of the diners and looked down the aisle to see Ren and Yashiro in the foyer. Maybe this will cheer her up, she thought. "Wait here, Kyoko. I have to go and talk with someone." Kyoko nodded and then returned her attention to picking at her hamburger with egg.
Her entire expression changed when Kanae led the pair of men to the table. Kanae smirked as she watched her friend become lively and animated in the way that used to characterize her every waking moment. Kyoko, you're in love and you probably don't even know it. Whatever happened during those four months, you have definitely changed. She started and looked over as she realized that Yashiro, who was sitting next to her, was speaking. "I'm sorry, what did you say?"
Yashiro looked at Kanae and then across the table at the tall actor who was deep in conversation with the pretty, golden-eyed actress. "I said that it was fortuitous that you were both here today. I need help picking out something for my mother and for my sister, and Ren's no help whatsoever." He smiled conspiratorially, "perhaps, if you're almost finished eating, you and I could wander a few local shops and take a look? I could really use your help… and Kyoko-chan could keep Ren company while we're shopping."
Kanae recognized this as a blatant attempt to match-make the pair across the table, and it irritated her. Still, she was glad to see Kyoko come alive again, even if it also made her feel jealous. She turned her sapphire eyes onto Ren's manager, "Very well. I can give you forty-five minutes or so. Would that be sufficient?"
As they made their departure, Kanae looked back and muttered, "They probably won't even know that we're gone."
Yashiro sighed, "I hope that you're right. Ren's been acting so depressed lately. The only time he ever comes alive, except on-set, is when he's near Kyoko. It's funny that neither of them allow their acting to suffer even at a time like this."
"A time like this…" Kanae repeated, deep in thought. "Yashiro, what exactly does that mean? What happened in the last four months, and what specifically changed between those two?"
"I don't know*…" Yashiro saw the raven-haired beauty begin to bristle and he promptly said, "honest, Kotonami-san. All I know is that Ren took on some sort of project that only the President and Kyoko-chan knew about. During that time he had her acting as Ren's manager instead of me… only... I never saw them anywhere together. It was as if they just disappeared for hours and hours each day. And even more oddly, Ren never… or almost never slept in his apartment. Whatever it was that they did, now that it's over the two of them seem much closer, and they seem unhappy whenever they're apart. I would think that it was something romantic, but we're talking about Kyoko here…"
"Yeah," Kanae replied, "I think that I would know if Kyoko suddenly started believing in love again. Whatever happened though, she is in love with Tsuruga Ren, even if she doesn't know it yet."
Yashiro nodded enthusiastically. If he had a tail he would have been waving it happily as he said, "That's what I think too! And that's why I have come up with a plan to give the two of them more time together. What I need from you is…"
Kanae was angry at herself for agreeing to any scheme which would throw her best friend in with the tall, overly handsome actor. Still, even though she hated to admit it, Tsuruga Ren seemed to be the only person with the power to snap Kyoko out of her doldrums. It was a difficult thing to admit because Kanae recognized Ren as her rival. Kanae had told herself repeatedly since joining LME that she neither wanted nor needed a "best friend," but she always knew that it was a lie. Kyoko was so unaffected, so unashamedly real in her friendship that Kanae hadn't possessed the power to resist. Kyoko's loving devotion was more real than any other relationship Kanae had ever known, which made Tsuruga Ren's intrusion that much more abrasive.
She heard the door of the LoveMe room open and looked up to see Kyoko shuffling in. As usual of late, she had slipped into a near catatonic state. Kanae stood and pointed to the boxes on the table. "Kyoko, the President asked us to either store or find a use for all of these remaining Christmas decorations. There are lights, and balls, and a star; there's even one of those collapsible artificial trees. I have to go to today's filming, and Amamiya is still filming in Kobe, so I'm afraid that you'll have to take care of the rest." She started to leave as Kyoko stood there and picked lifelessly through the boxes. Just at the door she turned and said, "Oh, but first Yashiro-san really wanted to have a word with you. He's alone and waiting for you in the dining area."
Kyoko watched the door close after her best friend and stood there as if attempting to assimilate the information. Then the implications of Moko-san's words reached her. Oh no! Could there be something wrong with Tsuruga-sempai! He didn't seem that well yesterday when we met. What if… She was out of the door and moving down the hallway without any conscious decision. Maybe that's why I've felt so fuzzy lately. Maybe I knew that something was wrong and I was just too stupid to… She was in the entrance of the dining area now, scanning the spacious room. There! He doesn't look too anxious, so maybe Ren… Tsuruga-sempai isn't in the hospital… "Yashiro-san… Moko-san said that you needed to speak with me?"
Yashiro rose in gentlemanly fashion and motioned for Kyoko to be seated. He didn't speak right away. Instead he set a cup in front of Kyoko and poured tea. With that task completed, he gripped his own cup with both hands, leaned on his elbows, and sighed. As he had expected, Kyoko looked at him anxiously, "Yashiro-san, is everything okay? Are you sick? Is… is Tsuruga-san sick?"
Yashiro wasn't an actor, but he hadn't been around acting for this long without picking up a few tricks of the trade. He looked at his cup instead of Kyoko as he said, "I'm fine, Kyoko-chan… and Ren's not sick, unless you call being heartsick sick…" He let that hang in the air so that Kyoko could make her own interpretations before proceeding on. "It's Christmas that's the problem, Kyoko-chan. You see, Ren seems like a person who is on top of the world, but in reality he's a very lonely person. He doesn't have any family around to help him celebrate Christmas. You've seen his apartment, right? It's nice, but it's so drab and there's absolutely no festiveness at all."
Kyoko looked almost as if she were about to cry, so Yashiro knew that his ploy was working. "Oh, poor Tsuruga-sempai! Yashiro-san, what can I do?"
"I was thinking," Yashiro said cautiously, lest he frighten her off, "I heard from the President that you have a key to Ren's apartment; from the time when you were acting as his manager and might have needed to grab something for him… So, if you knew where there might be any decorations…"
"I do know! You won't believe this, Yashiro-san, but there are boxes of decorations in the LoveMe room, and there's even a tree!"
"Really," Yashiro said, trying to sound surprised, "But… do you think that you could get away with using those in Ren's personal apartment?"
"Moko-san did say that the President wanted us to 'find a use for them'. Maybe, if I call him," she pulled out her company cell phone and called Lory's number. Yashiro watched in fascination and wondered if Kyoko even realized how few people felt comfortable calling Takarada Lory's private line. "Hello, President? It's me, Kyoko. I was wondering if it would be okay for me to use the decorations that you sent down for decorating someone's private residence… yes, he works for LME… actually it's for Tsuruga-san. He's suffering from depression due to the holidays… I'm here with Yashiro-san right now…Yes Mister President." She extended the phone to Yashiro, "He wants to talk to you."
Yashiro tried to look worried as he took the cellphone, "Hello, Mister President."
"So she took the bait?" Lory's deep, rumbling voice asked in amusement.
"How did you… nevermind. Would it be okay for her to use…"
"I'm sending Sebastian down right now to help carry the boxes and to drive her over there. Good job, Yukihito. I'm proud of you."
One hour later Kyoko was unpacking the boxes and Sebastian was making his departure. Kyoko was smiling for the first time since meeting Ren at the restaurant as she spread out the decorations and took assessment of the situation. With this many boxes of decorations she knew that she could completely transform Ren's apartment. I'll make it all festive so that you won't have to look so depressed, Re… sempai. Lately she had been slipping on her sempai's name more and more often. After four months of calling him Cain, it only seemed natural to call him by his real first name. But that would be too disrespectful. If I was his peer, that might be different. I'm only a novice actress who he has been gracious enough to tolerate.
She inhaled the manly scent of Ren's apartment and smiled. After spending four months with her sempai in the hotel room as his sister Setsuka, she had grown accustomed to his subtle but very distinctive scent. It tickled her senses now and pleased her. She had missed that and everything else about her time as Cain's little sister. She couldn't explain why exactly. It was just… it felt so right to be close to him… to support him, of course. What other reason could there… She didn't allow herself to complete the thought. Instead she looked down at her arsenal of decorations and began planning her campaign.
Two hours later, feeling very proud and satisfied with her creative efforts, Kyoko stepped back and stretched. Her stomach rumbled, reminding her of the time. President Takarada, having joined in her scheme to cheer Tsuruga Ren up, had sent Sebastian along with instructions to take Kyoko grocery shopping as well. He had provided the funds and given careful instructions for Kyoko to cook a festive holiday dinner. She went to the kitchen and began pulling out the ingredients. She hadn't been in his apartment for some time, but she already knew where everything was… after all, she had been the one to put some organization to the former shambles. It was so typical of Tsuruga Ren to have the rest of his apartment so perfect and yet neglect his kitchen. It hadn't been messy, per say, just disorganized and unused.
Kyoko moved with the rhythm of a master who had learned to cook from an early age and who loved her work. She chose her ingredients sparingly, fully aware that her tall sempai would only eat small portions no matter how savory the meal. She knew his tastes, had studied him with exacting dedication. Not too sweet. Not too spicy. Bring out the natural tastes without a lot of embellishments. Cook the meats fully without any dryness. Nothing too creamy… Had anyone realized how much Kyoko had studied Tsuruga Ren, they might have made the natural assumption that her careful study was a product of lov… That is ridiculous, of course. I just learned what he likes so that I can get him to eat. There's certainly nothing wrong with that, is there?
She pulled out the good dishes and carefully, masterfully arranged the table for two, complete with candles. She stepped back and admired her work with a certain sense of pride and delicious anticipation. Ren… Tsuruga-san will like this. "This should cheer him up, right?"
With everything completed, she turned off most of the room lights so that she could admire the multi-colored blinking of the lights wrapped around the Christmas tree. She sat on the plush carpet, directly in front of the tree, and once again inhaled the aroma of the room. It was so… nice… here. So… comfortable.
The exhaustion of too many lonely nights caught up with her at that point. The comforting scent of the holiday dinner, combined with that other familiar scent, swirled peacefully around her even as the blinking lights mesmerized her. It was perfectly natural to lie down on that plush carpet. It was so peaceful…
Ren arrived fifteen minutes later, exhausted and drained from another heavy day of multiple projects. He hadn't seen Kyoko all day, and so he had pressed on lifelessly until the last scene was shot and it was finally time to head back to his empty apartment. He tried to draw energy from the day before; that brief encounter in the restaurant. He smiled as he remembered how genuinely happy Kyoko had seemed to see him. But already that all-too-brief dinner had faded into the loneliness and despair. If once, even once during those four months, Kyoko had responded to him as a man rather than as a brother, he would have felt hopeful. But throughout four months of playing siblings she had kept in-character. She had even become comfortable with the idea of living in a hotel room with him! Surely that meant that she didn't, couldn't, and probably never would respond to him as a lover?
He worked the key in the door and began to open it when suddenly alarms went off in his head. Something was different. He smelled parafin smoke, and food, and there were strange colored lights bouncing off of the ceiling of the entryway. Bracing himself for battle, lest some intruder was still in his apartment, he threw open the door and leapt into a ready-stance. His eyes darted from corner to corner in the apartment, scanning for danger. Instead he saw candles, and table settings, and Christmas decorations, and a tree. What in the…
He saw her then, curled up like a cat on his carpet. The gentle rising and falling of her back indicated that she was asleep. Ren's heart surged as he scanned the room again and realized that all of this, everything that had been done, had been done by Kyoko. He straightened up then, reached back and closed the door, and took his coat and shoes off. Moving quietly lest he wake Kyoko, he walked through his spacious apartment and admired all of the decorations. You did all of this for me? He asked the sleeping form. He stopped in the kitchen and surveyed the numerous covered dishes. You must have been here for hours. Some instinct told him that this must have started as a scheme of either the Boss or of Yashiro, but he didn't care.
He walked up to the precious sleeping figure, walked around her, and knelt down. The candlelight and tree lights were splashing colors on her smooth ivory skin. Ren wanted to caress those cheeks, that slender neck, but he knew that to do so would be to violate all that she had done for him. As desperately as he wanted her, he would never take liberties until she came to him of her own free will. He stood up and walked over to the stereo cabinet. Searching through his mostly untouched collection of CDs, he ran his finger along until he found the one he was seeking. He took the CD out of its jewel case and fed it to the system, adjusting the volume so that it would play softly and clearly. "Oh, the weather outside is frightful..." a deep voice intoned one of his favorite Christmas tunes.
And then he returned to stand over Kyoko. Effortlessly, Ren scooped the sleeping form into his arms and stood upright. Kyoko stirred and he held his breath, but her eyes never opened. He moved slowly to the couch, in no hurry to lay her down. Using his arm to support her he freed his hand to pull a cushion down to serve as a pillow. Then he bent over in order to lay her there. It didn't work. Kyoko, as if sensing his intentions, wrapped her arms around his torso and buried her face in his chest. She mumbled something into his shirt, her hot breath making his spine tingle. He suppressed a groan and tried once again, but this time her face moved away enough for him to hear her mumbled, "No."
He knelt there, suspended between duty and desire as Kyoko once again snuggled into his chest. Finally he sighed and stood just enough so that he could turn and sit with Kyoko still resting in his arms. Her hair was just under his nostrils and he drew a deep breath to savor the scent. He could still smell the various flavors of ingredients on her, a reminder to him of how often she had prepared meals for him over the last year. All of the loneliness he had felt after shedding his role as Cain Heel dissipated in those stolen moments. He knew that soon she would wake, and in waking she would most likely freak out. Naturally she would find the situation embarrassing, but in her usual humble manner with him, she would blame herself. It made him sad to even think about. No, this time I'm just going to enjoy the moment. Who knows when we'll ever be like this again?
Once again the lights did their magic. For a second time in as many hours they lulled a person into drowsiness. Ren leaned down and kissed Kyoko's forehead, and then he leaned his head back against the cushion. His eyes closed. His breathing became shallow. He slept.
Neither Ren nor Kyoko was awake to witness the visit of the two spirit figures who appeared magically in the middle of the room to regard the sleeping pair. The smaller figure, who floated in the air on a pair of wings sprouted from his back, turned his cherub face away from the pair to look up at the red-suited, bearded man. "Thanks for your help, Santa. You know, this has got to be one of the most stubborn pair I've ever worked with."
The jolly bearded man laughed softly and deeply, "They have been stubborn, haven't they. They've both had such sadness in their lives, and yet they both have such beautiful souls. They belong together. I'm pleased that I could help, Cupid. Just let me know the next time I can be of service. Merry Christmas."
Just like the spirits they are, the two figures disappeared in a shower of light and were gone.
Sometime in the middle of the night, the smaller figure stirred in the arms of the larger one. Eyelids opened to reveal golden-eyes. It took several minutes for Kyoko to understand her situation. Her first instinct was to panic and propel herself out of Ren's lap. But she felt so comfortable, so right. Ren was breathing shallow and peaceful, so she remained in place and allowed her eyes to roam over his sculptured face, his masculine jaw, his hair, his eyebrows and eyelids, his perfect nose and smiling lips…
Realization came to her like some misty arrow, piercing her conscious and subconscious mind alike with crystal clarity. She had not crawled into this man's arms. He had obviously lifted her up and sat her down in this very intimate position. Always before, Kyoko had assumed that her great sempai regarded her as a troublesome nuisance. Now the reality made her reevaluate. It is difficult to say if she accepted the full truth on that evening. Perhaps it would still take time before her frightened, broken heart would allow her to fully believe. It didn't matter anyway, because Kyoko made perhaps the most important decision of her life on that December night.
Instead of climbing out of Tsuruga Ren's arms, Mogami Kyoko craned her face up until she could reach. Then softly, lest she wake him, she allowed her lips to touch his. The kiss was not long, nor deep, but it carried a depth of feeling of such magnitude that it could have lit the skyline of Tokyo. And then Kyoko relaxed into the big man's arms, laid her head against his chest, closed her eyes, and went back to sleep.
I dedicate this little Christmas story to La Morraine, who complained that there weren't enough Christmas stories being written. I hope that this satisfies.