Ren wondered how soon he should step in and save Adam. Honestly, he probably should have interrupted as soon as he saw the situation, but he had hesitated. Part of him wanted to know how the scene played out, and part of him simply wanted to avoid Adam's tormentor.
"He needs more than half an hour for dinner and he won't eat anything healthy if you limit his lunch time to 15 minutes. Certainly you've picked up on this in the last seven months you've been with him. If you ever meet Kyoko with this sort of schedule, you'll get more than an earful. Fix it."
"Yashiro-san," Adam started in halting Japanese. "Ren ask for less eating time. He eat as he goes."
"And you make sure of this?" asked Yashiro. The man had brain enough to forgo lying and simply shake his head. Yashiro's gaze turned icy.
"I would prefer if you didn't traumatize my manager, Yashiro-san," said Ren finally making his presence known. His former manager stiffened a little, before locking gazes with Ren.
"I wouldn't have to traumatize him if he did his job correctly," said Yashiro, his tone resembling the frozen tundra. "What did you eat today?"
"I ate what I needed to, Yashiro-san."
"I am sure both Kyoko and I have told you that rice balls are not food."
"It's none of your concern, is it?" asked Ren after a slight pause. Yashiro knew him too well.
"Yes," said Adam. "My job, not yours."
"And my job is to make sure my actress doesn't get to upset," said Yashiro in English. Ren stared at his former manager. "And Mr. Hizuri will definitely upset her if she catches wind of his terrible eating schedule."
"Yukihito-san?" said a new voice in an English tone. "What's going on?"
"I was just discussing the finer points of being a manager with Mr. Adam," said Yashiro, still in English.
"You speak English?" asked Adam, looking between Yashiro and Kyoko.
"We've been learning intensively for months," said Kyoko. "How do we sound?"
"You're English's almost flawless."
"Really," beamed Kyoko. "Did you hear that Yukihito-san? You did it!"
"Yes," Yashiro answered smiling. "We did."
An barely bridled heat settled in Ren's chest. He wanted to reach forward and yank Kyoko's attention away and dissolve those matching smiles.
"Huzuri-san," said Yashiro, directing Ren's attention to himself. Ren paused and bit his inner lip. Both Adam and Kyoko were looking at him with great caution. Hazel eyes then gripped and held his own. "I have to go talk something over with the president. Please try and arrange with your manager to change those times, or else I might let slip something to our mutual acquaintance. Kyoko, I'll be back in about ten minutes."
Kyoko nodded, her eyes still warily watching Ren. Ren sighed. He pinned up his smile and readied his excuses while wishing for only one thing: that Yashiro were still his manager.
Peeking behind the corner of the building, Maria caught sight of their target.
"Do I have to wear this?" asked her current partner.
"Nee-san wore it when we were helping you," said Maria. Moko-san's face twisted into distaste, but Maria ignored her. "I've spotted the Butterfly."
"How did I not spot you in these clothes?" asked Moko-san.
"Quiet or she'll see us."
"I might as well have worn my Love Me uniform," the woman mumbled.
"I see someone else!" Maria whispered in excitement before deflating. It was only Yashiro-san.
"Why are we doing this again?" asked Moko-san. Maria whipped her head back and glared at the woman.
"Something's making Nee-san sad and we're going to find out what!"
"I could just ask her," said Moko-san. "Just one threat of not speaking to her for a year will open her mouth wide."
Maria blinked. She hadn't thought of that plan. She shrugged. It wasn't as interesting as this one.
"What is he doing?" Moko hissed. The little girl watched as Yashiro-san and Kyoko passed by without even glancing at them. "Mo! Why is he putting that sort of face on? Does he want her to make her worry!"
"Hm?" asked Maria, peering closely at Yashiro-san's face. "What are you taking about, Moko-san?"
"How can you not see that! The man's face looks totally fake. Anyone with eyes can see it!"
"Fake? He looked pretty happy to me."
"That's 'cause you're a kid," said Moko-san, putting her face in her hand. "Mo! They're so frustrating."
"Is he why Nee-san's so upset lately," said Maria in a sickeningly sweet voice. She had a few curses she could try if that was the case. Moko-san froze and then stared at Maria with something akin to horror.
"You really are that girl's little sister," the woman mumbled before smiling at Maria and saying firmly, "No. He's not making her sad at all. He's very efficient as her manager."
"Really?" said Maria, her voice subdued. Maybe she could curse him just in case?
Some lay dead or dying. Some were nursing their wounds. The rest were frozen in shock and fear. Finally one of the leaders spoke up.
"How dare he?" she yelled, stirring the others from their reverie. "We trusted him!"
"We let him near us!" yelled another.
"How dare he do this!" said another one.
"Especially after last time!" said yet another.
"And then declare that he loves us!" yelled the first. "He's lying! Love is a lie!"
"Yes, yes," the others chanted.
"No! Love isn't a lie!" protested a pure one. The grudges glared at the newcomer, but she stood firm. "And we are loved."
"It's a lie, just like the other one!"
"Sho never said he loved us," said another pure one.
"But we all know he thought he did after he saw us in all our greatness," said the head grudge, crossing her arms with a look of twisted pleasure. "And we keep that knowledge safe from her, in the box."
"But it's her that he's done this too," said the pure. "She should decide."
"Decide? That's what she made us for! And we're going to avoid him like the plague he is and seal this memory in the box!"
"But he's Corn!"
"So? We've gotten better confessions than that one. Stealing her first real kiss!"
"Actually," said a new voice, "that was already stolen by dork number one. This boy in man's clothes convinced our Kyoko that it didn't count, though apparently he did it so that he could steal the first himself."
"Natsu-hime!" cried the pure. "Did you get it?"
"Yes," said the floating acting spirit, a canister in her disembodied hand. "And you wouldn't believe where I found it."
"How'd you get that!" yelled the head grudge.
"Where'd you find it, Natsu-hime?" asked the pure, recognizing the dangerously playful tone in Natsu's voice.
"Under the head grudge's pillow," she said coyly. "And it seems much more full than we expected."
"Head! I thought you put that memory in the box!" piped one of the other grudges.
"Yeah! It's too dangerous to leave lying around boss. And if the others are in there too…why would you do that boss?" asked another grudge.
"My guess is that she takes it out and looks at them every so often," said Natsu. The head grudge flickered from dark to slightly pink.
"G-get it back you fools!" yelled the head grudge, and all the others stopped staring at her and charged towards Natsu. They were blown back.
"You wouldn't be trying to get your grubby hands on something that isn't yours," said Mio, her whole silhouette being present before shrinking back into an oblong spirit. "What horrible manners."
"Yeah, keep back! This is Kyoko's and we're going to return it to her!" yelled Kuon floating in next to Mio.
"Shouldn't you be on Corn's side?" yelled a random grudge.
"The Ren fan," mumbled one of the other grudges.
"Yeah. Struck with the heavenly smile remnants. Never been the same since," whispered another.
"Corn? Why should I be on a plant's side?"
"He means Kuon," corrected Natsu, bored.
"I am on my side. But I'm on Kyoko's side too, and Kyoko needs to know this. Without it she won't make Outosan proud!"
"Enough! Squadrons one through five, attack Mio. Squadrons six through ten, get through and surround Natsu. I'll grab the canister!" yelled the head grudge.
"What about me!" yelled Kuon.
"You're not much of a threat," said Natsu. "But I don't see why they would be attacking any of us. We don't have anything they want."
"What? Where's the canister?" cried the head grudge, trying to spot the dangerous object.
"Over here," sing-songed the pure one. She reached for the canisters paper seal.
"No!" cried all the grudges rushing to her.
"Too late," said the pure Kyoko as she tore off the seal and let the memory fly.
She froze. Or she had about five minutes ago. The problem was she had stayed frozen. Ren cursed inwardly. He had never meant…but her concerned voice, her eyes constantly flickering to the half-open door where he had left; Ren could not stop himself. Kuon had come out, and his actions had led to those accursed three words and long-awaited lips meeting. Only when her face had taken that blank look had Ren managed to regain control. But he had no idea how to undo the damage letting Kuon loose had caused.
"Mogami-san," he started, leaning closer to her.
"I-I'm the unique something," she suddenly whispered, causing his whole body to jerk to a stop. Her amber eyes met his currently blue ones. "And you're his friend."
"Whose friend?" asked Ren. "What are you talking about Mogami-san?"
She shook her head and backed away from him. His heart squeezed the air from his lungs. She continued to stare at him with a mixture of comprehension and horror. Blinking, her eyes glazed in some twisted form of a hopeful expression.
"Y-you l-l-l-love me, Tsuruga-san?"
The formal title made his heart squeeze his lungs tighter. He nodded. A shadow passed over her face and took residence there. Her eyes fell.
"You love me," she said, her voice ragged and a note away from despair. "I'm the high school girl. I'm the one you were thinking about as Katsuki. And I never…"
She stopped. Her eyes lifted to meet his once more.
"I might have loved you," she said, and his heart stole all his breath. "Back with Cain and Setsu and even before but…I couldn't. Not then."
"And now," he said. She shook her head.
"I didn't know," she said, pleadingly. "You left, and I didn't know. And he…he asked. He looked so sad, and he said…I let him. He would never have if I hadn't. Please understand, Tsuruga-san. It wasn't his fault. And then he told me he loved me and let me forget it." The words became more like audible thoughts. "A-and I forgot it. He said it a lot, and I forgot. When I wasn't paying attention or too low for me to hear. And he…and he showed me too. He helped me and took care of Shotaro and even called you when beagle…even though he knew you loved me…and…and..."
Silence settled. Kyoko's gaze had long left his and met with the half-open door again. He looked at the half opened door. His heart loosened its grip and dropped.
"Go," he said, catching her attention again. She cocked her head questioningly at him. He dredged up the worst excuse for a smile an actor could ever produce. "Go to him."
Her eyes widened, and she quickly looked between him and the door. With her own terrible excuse for a smile, she bowed and made for the door.
"Kyoko," he said, the name escaping his lips like a dying breath. She turned back towards him, that smile still on her face. "Tell him he's a better manager than Adam."
Her smile brightened, and she bowed again, this time more energetically. She almost skipped out the door. He closed his eyes and turned away.
All of a sudden, she couldn't look at him. A heat would flood her cheeks, and her eyes couldn't hold his for any length of time. Her hands shook, and she wanted nothing more than to stay next to him and run very far away very fast.
"Kyoko? Is something wrong? Weren't you with Ren?" asked Yashiro.
"Y-yes, b-but he…he told me to find you." Kyoko wondered why the words were coming out wrong.
"Really? Does he need something?"
"U-um…h-he told me to t-tell you that you're a better manager than Adam-san…"
"R-really," said Yukihito-san, the word stumbling out of his mouth. She chanced a look at his face and saw his eyes shifting and shadowing. "T-that's kind of him to say."
"Y-yukihito-san," she started, her eyes sliding off him. "I-I n-need t-to …"
"It's okay," he said, his eyes hidden behind a growingly familiar smile. "We need to be at L&L studio in half an hour, so you can go back and talk to him. You don't have to rush."
"N-no," she said, the heat invading her cheeks again. A terrible thought occurred to her, and she stopped short of saying anything else. Ever since Ren had come back, Kyoko couldn't recall an instance where Yashiro said those three special words. Before he used to say it often when she wasn't paying attention or could ignore him. He let his love slide into a forgotten side of her mind, waiting for her to recognize and remember it. But now that she remembered those words, did he still want to say them? "I-it's okay. W-we can go now."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes," she said, for some odd reason feeling her lips stretch across her face. He looked so worried. "Let's go."
"A-alright," he said, a light red coloring his face. Strangely, it disappeared and he flashed his sad-but-trying-to-be-happy smile. "Let's go."
He was going to kill them! Who did they think they were, dancing around like that! Three weeks and nothing!
"I'm sure they'll figure it out soon, president."
The president sunk into the couch and glared at the man resting on his lounge chair. The man and woman on the television continued to talk about nothing in particular.
"Why?" asked the president, watching the hidden camera footage with one eye. "Are you planning to do something stupid like leaving and coming back and then kissing her without warning?"
"President," said Ren, the shadows around him darkening. "Please don't."
"I should thank you for that kiss, though. It's the most progress she's had in months. It was a good move for her although it was a stupid move for you."
"Enough," said Ren, his tone below zero and his eyes dark and deadly.
"So you didn't get the girl," said the president, unaffected by the younger man's deathly glare. "Get over it. She's not the only fish in the sea."
"I know," answered the young man, the sharpness disappearing back under the miasma. "But there's only one Kyoko."
"True. But you blew it. So get. Over. It."
"Why do you insist on tormenting me by making me watch them?"
"Because misery loves company," said Lory. "That, and the sooner you get over it, the sooner I can get to helping you find love again."
"I suppose it wouldn't make any difference if I asked you keep out of it…."
"Sure it would," said Lory. "I would be more subtle in my methods."
Lory grinned as a look of utter dread crept on to Ren's face.
"Please, president, meddle in my love life," said the actor in a deep tone.
"I'm glad I have your approval," said Lory. He turned back to the screen. "Now what shall I do with you two."
"The president sent you a new assignment?" asked Chiori. Kotonami had closed her locker door and turned her head towards Chiori and the recipient of the question. Kyoko's eyes shrunk, and her smile widened.
"He just wants me to do something for another actor," answered Kyoko, the smile gleaming brightly. Chiori had never seen that smile on Kyoko before. It looked really cute and really fake.
"The president gave you a Love Me assignment?" asked Kotonami.
"Yes. I have to help another actor."
"You already said that," said Chiori.
"Kyoko," started Kotonami, a dark aura surrounding her. "What did the president want?"
"I need to help another actor," Kyoko answered, the smile not faltering. Kotonami scoffed.
"Fine! If you don't want to tell me, I'll not talk to you for the next month," she said, slamming her locker shut and heading for the door. She added, over her shoulder, "and that means you can't come to lunch with me and Yashiro tomorrow."
"No! Wait, Moko!" yelled Kyoko, the smile gone. She was on the other side of the room in a flash clinging to Kotonami. "Please! I'll tell you everything!"
"What's wrong, Kyoko?" asked Chiori, looking between the two other Love Me members. Kyoko looked at her as if the older girl had completely forgotten about Chiori's presence. "What does the president want you to do?"
"It's nothing you have to concern yourself with, Chiori-chan," said Kyoko, the smile back on her face. Chiori knew that Kotonami had been with Kyoko longer, but for Kyoko to completely and blatantly push Chiori away…. It made her want to grab her notebook. Instead, she smiled a Yumika smile and picked up the envelope Kyoko had dropped in her dash across the room.
"So you won't mind if I read it then," she said, opening the envelope. Suddenly, she found she could not move.
"Don't read it," said a voice in the air. Even her eyes were frozen as she felt that she couldn't turn to see what was whispering in her ear. "It will scar your eyes for life."
"It will make you want to hide under the bed and never come out again," said another invisible voice.
"Your skin will crawl at the first word," said another dark, dark voice.
"You'll never be the same again."
"Fine, fine, I won't read it! Let me go! Let me go!" she yelled. She almost fell forward as she realized she could move again.
"Idiot!" said Kotonami, holding the smaller girl by her collar. "Don't make her call up the kanashibari. If you wanted to come with us, why not just ask?"
"I'm sorry, Chiori-chan, but it's not good for you to read this with your heart unprepared," said Kyoko, genuine concern in her eyes. "It almost did me in when I read it."
"Come on," said Kotonami, releasing Chiori's collar. "If we go now, we can get the usual room."
Kyoko just nodded, her head barely lifting as she held the envelope as if it was a death sentence. The two made it for the door before turning around.
"Come on," said Kotonami, glaring at Chiori. "We need to leave now."
Chiori noticed her eyelids were stretched wide as she nodded and followed after the two.
"Y-Yukihito-san." The word caught Yashiro's attention immediately. The tone made Yashiro extremely glad that he was parking. Whatever Kyoko was going to say would require his full attention. "T-the president gave me an a-assignment…"
"What is it?" he asked as calmly as possible. Inside, he was terrified. He knew the last few assignments were too tame for the president.
"I-I…Yukihito-san…" she stumbled and her voice dropped into the inaudible range. Her face darkened further and further in nervousness.
"I'm sorry, Kyoko, but I didn't understand that."
Grumbling in a way that would make anyone else think she was plotting someone's doom, she pulled out an envelope. Yashiro took the bright pink envelope and took a second to adjust. The envelope was gaudier than usual. He opened it, and the sight paralyzed him for a full second before he got the courage to close it again. That shade of pink should be banned from the color wheel. No one should ever know it exist, let alone see it. Yashiro looked at Kyoko, hoping the girl would tell him what was on the paper. Pleading amber eyes made him look back down at the envelope. Closing his eyes with a sigh, he yanked the paper out and threw the envelope on the floor. He opened his eyes and almost at once shut them again. No, he had to open them again. Kyoko would not make him do this if she could have simply told him what it was. Vaguely, he wondered if it was too late to make Kyoko switch agencies. Peeking, he scanned the paper. The pink nearly ate his vision, but the silver and gold letters almost made him want to cry. The president had to be colorblind to create this…
"Kyoko," he said slowly. "Is this a graduation certificate?"
She nodded, and he closed his eyes as he picked up the envelope and stuffed the certificate back in.
"He said I no longer have to be part of the Love Me section," she whispered.
"W-why?" he asked, a thousand scenarios going through his head.
"Because," she said, her voice dropping almost too low, "I love you…"
Yashiro stared at her. He blinked. He blinked again. She was still there.
"You love me?" The question tumbled out of his mouth before he could stop it.
"I'm sorry!" she cried suddenly, bowing deeply. "I wouldn't have done what the president said, but Moko said if the president said I should graduate by doing this then I should and that Yukihito-san wouldn't mind hearing it since I heard his and even Chiori agreed, and even if I said that it would make things awkward since I forgot all the times you told me you loved me and now that I love you, you don't love me anymore and…"
"Who said that?"
"Moko said…and the president said…" Her head perked up, tilted, and looked at him, though her body remained in the bow. "U-um, I'm sorry. Said what?"
"That I don't love you."
"Oh. Well, no one said that, but you stopped saying it after Tsuruga-san came so…"
"I stopped saying it because I thought you were falling in love with him, and I didn't want to get in the way. But, Kyoko, I still love you."
The words held in the air, and for an instant, Yashiro thought that they had disappeared into some dark corner of her brain again. That they would be forgotten and disappear. But then she looked at the floor again, and he caught a glimpse of her reddened skin.
"Y-you love me?" her voice squeaked. He stepped forward, put his hand under her chin, lifted her head, and forced her amber, shimmering eyes to meet his.
"She'll be here at any moment, Kuu dear."
"And so will he," said the tall blonde actor, his normally kind blue eyes sharpening to steel blue.
"Yes," said Julie, worried for the poor young man that was coming with their "second son." Over the last year, Julie had come to know the girl through her jobs. Anything that had Kyoko in it made its way into Kuu's hands courtesy of Lory. Of course, Julie had fallen in love with the girl soon after being "introduced" and had only come to love her more in the infrequent phone conversations that Kuu just had to have with the girl. So Julie had fully endorsed Kuon's intention to court the girl. The fact that her Kuon had failed had surprised the world class actress. She wondered what kind of man could steal such a girl away from the Ren Tsuruga, the Kuon Hizuri.
When she had heard it was the girl's manager, her own son's former manager, Julie had not known what to think. Part of her wanted to rail against the man's betrayal of her son, while another part of her acknowledged love was at least partially uncontrollable. Kuu, on the other hand, could barely control himself. Not because Kuon's heart had been denied, no, the manager should thank God Kuu had no clue about that. Kuu was mad that someone dare make a move on his "second son."
"Sir, Madam, they're here," said a servant.
"Let them in, Layla," said Julie before her husband could make another comment about their male guest. The maid bowed slightly and made for the door in an excited hurry. Julie abruptly remembered that Layla was actually quite a Kyoko fan after Kyoko's American debut three months ago. Hopefully the maid would remain professional. She turned to her husband. "Now remember, he is not only Kyoko's boyfriend but Kuon's friend. So both our sons' sake, please control yourself."
Kuu grumbled something Julie was probably glad was unintelligible. The doors opened, and the couple walked in. The girl-no, she really was a woman now-had a glow that radiated from her eyes and curved her mouth. Julie could not see much of them since they were glued to the young man next to Kyoko. And his eyes, a similar glow lighting them, were locked on her. At least until Kuu cleared his throat.
"Chichi!" Kyoko cried, letting the man's arm go as she hurried towards Kuu. Kuu's face softened.
"Kyoko," he said, sweeping the girl into a sudden hug. He glared at the young man over Kyoko's shoulder. Letting Kyoko and his glare go, he held Kyoko at arm's length and inspected her. He nodded and proceeded to scold her. "You've been in the US for over six months. You shouldn't wait so long to visit your parents!"
"I'm sorry, Chichi, but we were in New York and California was a lot farther away than I thought."
"We aren't on an island anymore," said the young man, earning himself another glare. Suddenly, Julie realized that she couldn't remember the young man's name, not that they had ever been formally introduced but…
"Kyoko, dear," said Julie, "who is this you've brought with you?"
"Didn't Chichi tell you, Maman?" asked Kyoko, using the name which Julie had spent over a year convincing the younger woman was okay to use.
"He seems to have neglected to mention him," Julie said. His name at least.
Kyoko's face brightened, and she almost skipped back to the young man's side. She wrapped an arm in his and put her head on his shoulder.
"Maman, Chichi, this is Yashiro Yukihito, my fiancé."