"Sho-chan! Mimori hates you! Mimori hates you so much! Why won't you come? It's almost Christmas! Couples are supposed to be together!"
The blond musician pulled the cell phone away from his ear, repeatedly pressing the volume button until it was at the minimum level. Even barely above mute, her syrupy sweet pleas found a way to jar his delicate eardrums. If he were in a worse mood, he would have scolded her, but there were bigger fish to fry. He didn't have time to be distracted, not when the plan was already underway. He couldn't let this year end up like the last.
"Sho-chan! Mimori loves it!" Nanokura burst through the studio door as she usually did, running to the couch where her lover lay. He lazily thumbed his way through a magazine, absorbed it its fawning review of his Christmas single. A pop music magazine showcase that catered to teenage girls was just what he needed. He wouldn't let people forget him while he was overseas.
"Down Pochi." Sho casually drawled; stopping the busty model in her tracks. He slowly turned the page, not bothering to look at her. "It's just a promo shoot."
The front page was one of his favorite shots, since it was building more hype than his other album covers. His bare chest was crisscrossed with black bows and ribbons, where he sat leaning against a Christmas tree. His confident smile and well positioned present was enough to send girls into a tizzy. All the buzz shows were talking about his dangerous charm and risqué look. The fans said it made him look "too good to be real" and "the ideal man;" it was the perfect cover to his impromptu December album. The limited edition life-sized posters were already sold out. There was no way she'd miss it.
"Not that, silly! The bracelet! Mimori loves that you got her a Christmas present! It's a little silly, but Sho-chan is such a good boyfriend!"
The tinkle of small charms caught his attention immediately. She happily shoved her dainty wrist in front of him, shaking the fine jewelry like a successful bounty on a treasure hunt.
"What?" Fuwa threw the magazine on the floor as he flipped himself over on the couch. He took her wrist, pulling her closer and looking at the golden links carefully. "What are you doing with this?"
"Mimori found it! Mimori saw Aki-san trying to hide it but Mimori got to it first."
Sho's tongue stuck in his throat, looking at the buxom model in front of him. How the hell had it come here? Why hadn't LME delivered it to her? He wanted to yank the bracelet from her pale wrist, but there would be immediate repercussions. Pochi would start to cry. He hated when she cried. Plus he'd have to admit who the charm bracelet was really for.
The long black her and wide childish smile were so similar. The complexion were even. Their mannerisms were almost the same. That's what caught his attention at first. Sho was sure that if she knew him better, the pin up teenage model would make a perfect replacement. Of course this version had a much better chest, but he missed those unique eyes. Ones that shone with the same glimmer as the golden bracelet.
"That's not yours until Christmas." Getting to his feet, Sho turned the bracelet on her arm and went to untwist its clasp. "Give it to me. Now I need to get you something else."
"But Sho-chan!" She pulled her wrist to her breasts, pouting reluctantly. Even if the piece of jewelry wasn't her taste, it was the only gift the musician had ever given to her, and it was obviously extremely expensive. Mimori's face mixed with stubborn determination and a childish sadness. "It's mine, right? It's for me. Why does it matter when I get it?"
"Pochi. Return it." Sho's face darkened as he extended his hand.
Mimori whined, retreating from him. She shuffled herself back to the door; he followed.
"Mimori…" Fuwa warned, his voice lowering as a sign of danger. "But it's for Mimori…"
"Nanokura." She shivered as his gray eyes grew stormy. He never said her family name unless he was really annoyed. "Don't call me that Sho-chan…"
"Then give it to me. Now."
Taking the charm off viciously, Mimori took the present and threw it at the musician with all the force she could muster. Sho caught the gift against his chest .
"You're not getting your Christmas gift this year!" She took a couple random pieces of sheet music and threw them at him. "Mimori will never talk to you again!" Grabbing the jewelry box the charm bracelet came in, she threw that at him too for good measure. The baby blue box hit his arm and landed right side up. The princess tiara glittered up at him accusingly. "She doesn't even like you!" Swinging the door open and shutting it just as hard, the girl was gone in a flash.
Shoutaro Fuwa stood in the middle of the musician lounge, surrounded by the remains of Mimori's tantrum. He turned around, eyes narrowed and blood pumping; unperturbed at her fit, but at the returned gift. The musician examined the jewelry, making sure of its perfect condition. There were diamonds in the high heel charm, giving it the appearance of being see through. The pillow charm had a tiny green emerald in the middle of it. The ruby studded apple had a golden bite taken out of it. The platinum swan glittered.
He pocketed it as soon as he heard the door reopen.
"Pochi, it's not-"
"Agencies usually return unmarked gifts Sho." Aki Shoko stood in the doorway, leaning against the door frame with her arms crossed. A large company envelope was tucked beneath her arm. Seeing the papers and gift box on the floor gave her all the confirmation she needed. "We do the same thing, otherwise you'd be buried in presents. I had it forwarded back here, rather than back at the office."
"But she doesn't need that type of protection." Sho snorted, shoving a hand in his occupied pocket. "She's not even a star."
"Apparently she's gaining ground sooner than you thought, Sho." Shoko held the large manila envelope out to her charge, who took it with an angry grab. "She even has a Mio fanclub. You can see it in the company's reply."
Ripping the envelope apart rather than reopening the top, Sho pulled out the sheets of paper one by one. He threw away the Dark Moon fan club application. He tossed away the usual company response letter and its pre-addressed envelope. He even almost crumpled the last sheet, before he realized the texture was different than the other pieces.
(1) The glossy 5x7 head shot slipped out of its sheath and he raked his eyes over it. There was almost nothing left of the childhood friend in the professional photograph. She didn't have the wide smile, but his eyes went straight to her soft lips anyways. Her dye job and short haircut framed her face alluringly, instead of the cheerful way her old pigtails used to do. Even the shirt reminded him of her metamorphosis.
Her signature was her own, however shakily, tidy and elegant at the bottom. A star rested over the top where usually a heart would be. Apparently a heart was beyond her now.
He used her notes extensively in middle school, which helped him to just get by in the major subjects, so he knew her handwriting. When he had started he had autographed everything by hand too, so he even understood the cramping her tiny hand must have went through to write her name imperfectly.
Why the hell did he have to tour Taiwan now? He'd never make it back before Christmas and her birthday. There wouldn't be any other time to give it to her without causing a scene or suspicion. It was supposed to be the perfect plan. An anonymous gift that could only be from him.
He would have to wait for next year. Not that it mattered of course. He was just gloating over how much extra income he could spend. It's not like Sho Fuwa wanted to see her, even if it was the only Christmas they ever spent apart. Even if the show-biz world was a solitary place. Famous celebrities didn't need company from their childhood...
He thumbed the swan's silhouette.
Once her temper tantrum tapered off to a more manageable sniffle, he brought the phone back to his cheek.
"I have plans, Pochi. I'm famous. Who cares about Christmas? I don't have time to fly over whenever you want to see me."
He jerked the phone away as her wails started up again. Grimacing rather than responding, Sho pressed the end button and snapped the cell phone shut. There was no use talking to her, especially if she broke into tears. She had been depending on that too often lately.
Something needed to be done about Pochi. She always thought she was his girlfriend, but there was no way he'd settle on anything less than number one. Didn't she see the way her popularity polls were falling whiles his continued to rise? There was only so long a cute face and a nice body could carry you in the show business world, and Nanokura Mimori was reaching her shelf life. Replacement for her or not, Fuwa Sho could not be seen with a has-been.
"Your girlfriend didn't sound too happy." The taxi driver chuckled, peering back at his passenger from his driver's mirror. Sho grunted unconcernedly and looked outside the taxi's window, watching the falling snow. He fiddled with the unwrapped bracelet subconsciously, holding it up to the light and checking it for the umpteenth time for damage.
"Don't worry. Once you surprise her with that, I'm sure she'll forgive you."
"Yeah...maybe..." The blond sighed, leaning against the cold glass. He shoved her present in his pocket, but continued playing with its melancholy symbols. Gentle fingers twiddled with every precious jewel, each well designed curve and edge. Every fairy tale it referenced had been her favorite at one point or another. Cinderella. Snow White. Princess & The Pea. His Ugly Ducking.
The Ugly Ducking. Not His Ugly Ducking.
She was his, but to call her an ugly duckling would suggest she had become a beautiful swan. And that was impossible.
A stupid idea, really.
It's not like she's a model like Pochi.
Or as mature and well endowed as Shoko.
The gift was only to give her the beauty she lacked. The great Sho Fuwa appreciated all his fans. There was no other reason. He could have thrown the damn thing away, and it wouldn't matter to him. Sho wouldn't go out of his way for her.
"Here we are, sir. LME."
Handing over more than three times his fare, Sho stepped out of the taxi and in front of his agencies' rival's building. The large LME statue sat illuminated in red, underneath a light dusting of snow. The glass lobby windows stood sturdily, showcasing the elaborately ornamented lobby and empty secretaries' desk. The lights were dim, making the tree, hanging lights, and wreaths even more impressive in the winter wonderland's backdrop. Even if he wasn't the Christmas type, the decorations impressed him.
He played at the ribbons on top of the gift box, tugging at the bow but holding himself back from fully unwrapping it. His mom loved him, but he didn't want to test her temper so close to Christmas morning. She was still strict. And when she wasn't, Father would be.
"Mother! Mother! I want a gift! Why do we have to wait?"
"Because Shoutaro, it's not Christmas yet. Right now we're having a birthday party. It's Kyoko's turn to open her presents. After she's opened her gift, you can open some of yours."
"No Fuwa-san. I don't mind waiting." The pig-tailed girl bowed in her work kimono. In her excitement for the Christmas party, she hadn't bothered to change out of it after she finished baking. He ate the creamy puddings and succulent desserts almost as fast as she made them. "Please, let Sho-chan open his gifts first."
Looking at her bright eyes and overly large smile, Sho's whiny pout dissipated. He turned around, making sure not to face her as he crossed his arms stubbornly.
"I can wait. Just open your gifts Kyo-chan..."
Barely anyone was around, which was useful because he didn't want to be seen. Only one employee seemed to be around, and the suited man was already chatting with his taxi driver.
Pulling up his collar to block the bitter wind, Sho walked confidently to the glass doors. Surely once he was in, he'd be able to find her and toss over the trinket. No matter her hate, there was no way she wouldn't love the stupid thing. Sho had picked out every charm for that exact purpose. Her love of fairy tales would trump her hate. It had before and it would again.
"She'll forgive you…forgive you…"
"Oh, who cares?" The musician muttered under a white cloud of breath, glaring at his closed fist. The indentations of the charms dug into his skin, reminding him of his task.
Making his way to the door sensor, he stood on the door mat and waited for the building's entrance to respond. The doors didn't move. Blinking in shock, Sho shifted his weight from one leg to another. Still, nothing changed.
Why were the doors locked?
Dong. Dong. Dong.
The shock of the tower's bell hourly bell chime caught his attention. Pulling up the sleeve of his coat, the late hour that shined back hit him like a punch to the gut.
How the hell had it gotten so late?
Pulling back a bit, he looked up at the upper office windows. They were mostly lit. And there were people in there. If people were still working, she was probably working too. Her personality lived for work. She wouldn't celebrate her birthday. No one probably even knew it was her birthday. Even the stupid, long-legged freak wouldn't know her as well as he did.
He wouldn't be surprised if she came in on Christmas, waving her card key and a mop…
Yashiro sat in the backseat, beaming to himself in pride. Now that he had such a good image of Ren's love struck face, the Christmas holiday suddenly felt much brighter. Following Valentine's Day, it was one of the most romantic holidays around. Never one for Christmas music, he caught himself humming it as soon as he stepped into the taxi.
Once bitten and twice shy
I keep my distance but you still catch my eye
Everything was finally picking up speed. Although Ren hadn't said anything, the relationship between him and his kohai had never been the same since the near car accident. Whatever Setsuka Heel & Cain Heel were supposed to be, it was a game changer. Now that he knew that Kyoko had seen that look, there was definitely going to be progress.
Tell me baby
Do you recognize me?
Well, it's been a year
It doesn't surprise me
Who knew? Maybe next Valentine's day she'd get a kiss from the person she was really supposed to be with? There'd be no distractions this year. How obvious of a sign could there be?
I wrapped it up and sent it with a note saying, 'I love you'
I meant it…
Breaking him out of his reverie, Yashiro looked outside the window and reeled back in shock, throwing himself against the other taxi door and knocking his glasses askew. Fuwa Sho pounded on the window, catching him and the driver by surprise.
Now, I know what a fool I've been
If this was Fate's response to his question, Ren was in much more trouble than even he expected.
But if you kissed me now
I know you'd fool me again
Once the taxi rolled back to the sidewalk, Yashiro hesitantly lowered his window. The blissful dreamy smile was immediately replaced with a serious, non-nonsense glare. He'd never spoken with the musician face to face before, but he had heard enough from Kyoko that the spoiled little heart-breaker would never make it to the top of his Christmas card list.
Sho recoiled at the ice cold glare that the manager wore. The swirling snow was nothing in comparison to the frigid look that guy wore. Shoko had never looked at him with that expression. His insides froze, and the ego he so finely fed and grew shrank to a more manageable size.
"May I ask why you're banging on my window?" Yashiro's voice was curt and to the point. Perfectly professional, Fuwa felt the waves of disdain without the hatred that Kyoko looked at him with. "I'm looking to go home."
"Bu-bu-but why?" Sho's voice stuttered, sounding strange even in his own mind. Who was this alien? How could anyone look so normal yet be so frightening? "Why are you taking a taxi? I'm sure that pretty boy bastard has a car."
"If you've come all the way here to insult my charge, please leave." Somehow, impossibly, the look went from frigid to absolute zero. The hairs on the back of Sho's neck stood up perfectly, and froze into fine threads of crystal glass. "I don't know what kind of manager you have, but being in front of LME on Christmas Eve is not good for whatever image you're trying to pull off."
Red rising to his face, Sho's cheeks blushed harder than the cool December night could diminish. The intensity of his look slowly lost effect as the celebrity's trigger temper began to slowly crank back into place. It was enough to make his voice, at the very least, less shaky.
"I'm not here for him! I'm here for her!" Sho took a deep breath, and tried to lower his voice, to make it sound more polite. "Look...just let me borrow your card to get into LME. I'm not here to cause anything."
"Why would I help you?" Yashiro drawled unconvinced. "I haven't forgotten the sexual harassment you committed on Valentine's Day, Fuwa-san."
Threading itself into a poison tipped arrow, the term "sexual harassment" went straight from the manager's mouth to the musician's heart. Freezing up like a block of ice, Yashiro continued, eyes narrowing more and more in loathing.
"I've deal with spoiled little boys like you since I started in this industry. But I have to admit Fuwa-san, you certainly take the prize. Using such a good girl like Kyoko-chan takes a certain type of brass, but to steal her innocence again and again, I can't help but think you have no bottom."
"You're as low and as desperate as a boy can get."
"Who uses their childhood friend like that?"
"Shut up for a sec-"
"And now you're asking me for help with that?"
"I didn't use her!" Sho banged his fist against the window's edge, hard enough to bruise his hand but not enough to scare the older man into relenting. "You don't know either one of us."
"I know people like you Fuwa-san." Yashiro replied back coolly. "Once you broke into show business, you threw her out like trash. That's called using someone."
"She knew why I was coming! I had to become a star. And once I did I couldn't have her around me!" Sho fiercely shut his eyes and jerked his head in a furious shake of disagreement. "Do you have any idea what would have happened if a girl like her was around me? She would have been torn apart!"
"Don't pretend you were doing it for her sake. YOU didn't want it to look like you were hanging around a plain girl." The color drained from Sho's face, as the truth struck him in the face. He stopped shaking and looked straight into the brutal manager's hateful glare. "You were blinded by your success. You used her because she believed in your success when you didn't. You wouldn't have made her come if it weren't like that. You needed someone to boost you as you tried to get discovered. And Kyoko is nothing but supportive of the one she cares about. And now, she has people just as supportive of her."
"I'm supportive! I haven't done anything to hurt her career, right?" His voice went from angry and determined to high pitched and cracking. This wasn't supposed to happen. He was just here to see her. "I'm here, right? I know her past. I know her faults and fears. I know her more than anyone! I bet you don't even know…"
"That it's almost her birthday? Of course we do. And what, you're here to take her out to dinner? To give her a present? To wish her Merry Christmas and a Happy 18th Birthday? We were there last year. Where were you, Fuwa-san?"
The face the musician wore was an expression that Yashiro never thought the musician could wear. It wasn't a face of anger. Or shock. Or even contempt.
His handsome face morphed into something much younger, much more innocent than Yashiro had thought the number one Visual Kei musician could ever wear. He looked worn, lost and nothing like the arrogant bastard that could use his childhood friend so flippantly.
Twinkling like a fallen star, the bracelet dropped into the car's backseat as the musician turned and bolted. Putting his head out the window, Yashiro watched the tall blond take off without another word, without so much as a half-hearted rebuttal. The long, bright red coat fluttered behind him as the teenager turned the corner, and disappeared.
Fuwa…he's really just a child…
Although he'd never said it, Kyoko was really like a little sister to him. Her mannerisms were so close to his sisters that it was an automatic connection once he had gotten to know her. He wanted the best for Ren and Kyoko, especially the more he heard about her and the past life she had to live. Telling off the reason for her heavy past hadn't been the victory Yashiro had expected. It had left a bad taste in the back of his mouth.
Looking down at the car seat, Yashiro hesitantly picked up the bejeweled bracelet by one of its ends. Each of its princess charms still glittered, pristine and beautiful in the Christmas light.
A small cursive loop caught his eye, behind the tiny platinum swan. Bringing it to eye level, his throat tightened as he read the elegant font.
Nervously tapping at the closed restaurant door, Yashiro was caught by surprise at how quick Kyoko's tiny shadow appeared. She slid the door partly open with a polite smile, which widened to a more relaxed smile as she spotted the evening visitor.
"Yashiro-san! What a surprise! Please, come in!" She went to slide the door fully open, but Yashiro caught the edge and kept it still. Judging by the lights, there were still some visitors to the restaurant. The only proper thing to do would be to pass along her present and be on his way. Last thing he needed was witnesses. He wasn't even sure if he wanted to tell Ren about the whole ordeal yet.
"I'm sorry I can't stay Kyoko-chan. I know it's not your birthday, but I wanted to drop by and deliver this to you."
"Yashiro-san!" Her golden eyes welled up with unshed tears as she took the bracelet from his gloved hand. He stood uncomfortably at the door of the Darumaya as Kyoko ran her fingers over each of the charms.
"There's Ophelia! Snow! Ella! Penelope! Oh Yashiro-san…this must have been so much…I can't accept this." She held the charm bracelet back for him to take, but Yashiro cupped his hands around hers, and closed it around the present.
Although the musician was an idiot and selfish, Yashiro knew that showing up at his childhood friend's place of work was a hard decision for Fuwa. If nothing else, he could do this.
"It's specifically for you Kyoko. It has no other home than with you. And you shouldn't thank me particular-"
The shock of her arms around his frame surprised him, as small budded tears trickled down her face. He tried to balance from the sudden force, but failed in the slipperiness of the sidewalk. As they both tumbled, Kyoko held onto him for a few extra seconds. She didn't fully realize who she was hugging, which was the only thing that kept her from screaming her apologies.
"Kyoko, where did you go?"
"Kyoko-san, who's at the door?"
As Yashiro readjusted his glasses, his face went white as snow.
The two LoveMe girls and his own charge stood at the edge of the door, each holding their respective jackets and scarves. The fact that they all wore their respective overcoats and shoes meant they couldn't have entered much sooner than he had come. Soon enough in fact that they must have overheard the gift giving, judging by the three angrily twinkling sets of eyes upon him.
"Need help Yashiro…?"
(1)If you go to TinyURL and follow it with "244zlz4", you can see Kyoko's publicity photo
If you don't recognize the glare, read the Volume 11 Omake synopsis.
Ella – short for Cinderella
Snow – Snow White
Penelope – (Pea-nell-o-pea): I figured that was a good name for the princess in the Princess & the Pea.
Yay! Just in time for Christmas! Thanks Runa for checking so quickly!