Pay the Piper
Kyoko and Ren make their way slowly through what remains of the festival. Most of the larger activities have closed and about half of the food stalls are begging folks to buy the last of their wares. Ren purchases them each a little wrapped sausage and a slice of watermelon. Whenever they stop, festival guests approach the pair for autographs and a chance to speak with not only Japan's number one actor but also one of LME's fastest rising new stars.
As promised, Kyoko tries to subtly watch Ren. She notices how he always smiles his polite smile for every fan. The only time the smile seems to change is when one of the young male fans becomes a little overly friendly with her by asking for her phone number along with her autograph. She notices that he smiles softly when she insists that he buy the watermelon for dessert instead of an unhealthy fried treat. The actress chronicles the look of concern that shows only in Ren's eyes when a large group of drunken festival guests barrel loudly down the middle of the path. The actor casually steps between Kyoko and the rowdy guests as a protective screen.
When they stop to play a silly game of ring toss, she watches as his competitive spirit rises to match her own while they each try to land more rings over the milk bottles. Ren grumbles in mock annoyance when Kyoko succeeds in landing more rings on the bottle necks then he does, but he grins knowingly when she picks a tiny little cell phone charm of a crown for her prize. He jumps when she reaches into his pocket and pulls out his cellphone. She puts the charm on his phone.
"Um, Kyoko, don't you think that is a little feminine to be on my phone? Why don't you put it on your own phone?" he asks with one eyebrow raised.
Kyoko laughs and insists it is perfect for him. After all, he is the Demon Lord and the Emperor of the Night.
"What?" he exclaims in confusion. The Emperor then smirks when she explains. Like a gracious monarch, he concedes to keeping the charm even though he knows that Yashiro will laugh about it as soon as he notices it.
During one of the times when fans have gathered around them, the alarm on Ren's cell phone begins to sound. The alarm is a warning that it is almost time for the pair to meet for the President's silly gift exchange idea. The celebrities quickly finish their autographs and excuse themselves. Ren grabs Kyoko's hand and makes a bee-line for a very large tent that had been used for mahjong during the day but has now been emptied of tables except along the periphery. When the pair enters the tent, Lory's aide hands them both a present with their names typed on a card and affixed to the box.
"Welcome, my friends!" calls President Takarada from the small stage at the front of the tent. "Since the last of my wayward, single talents have arrived, we will begin our final game of the night. Each of you have been given a gift from someone in this room. It is your job to figure out who gave you the present given the gift and the three clues included with it. Remember that you can only ask three people if they gave you the gift. You have until the fireworks begin to figure out who provided your gift. Anyone who does not know who gave them their gift by the end of the time has to report here tomorrow to help clean up."
Everyone in the audience groans. Lory looks at his watch.
"You have about twenty minutes," he calls. "Best get to it!"
Paper and ribbon flies and general murmurs and laughter cuts through the crowd as people tear into their gifts. Lory and his aide watch for a moment as folks begin to question others in the room about whether or not they are the ones who gave them their present.
Kyoko enthusiastically tears the paper from her gift and stares in confusion at the very delicate and richly carved reed instrument in her hand. The wooden instrument is beautiful and the actress cannot resist putting it to her mouth and blowing. A hideous screech emanates from the instrument. Kyoko quickly places in on the table as she tries to think of who could possibly have bought her an instrument. She glances around at the other in the room. She sees Yashiro opening a box of rubber gloves. She laughs at the very practical gift that she knows was purchased by Chiori because the actress had bugged her into helping find something useful for Ren's manager.
"Kyoko-chan, did you give me this?" asks Moko as she holds out a tiny bracelet with a delicate charm of the LoveMe logo on it.
Kyoko shakes her head no but exclaims over the intricate workmanship of the jewelry that she knows Shinichi ordered for her best friend because he had begged her to help him figure something out for the gorgeous actress that he only knew was friends with Kyoko.
Kyoko glances at Ren who is staring at a tiny book almost like a little girl's diary complete with a lock. The actor jiggles the lock and checks the box again for a key but there is none. He opens the first clue that says 'I know your secret'.
Ren looks at the card and the typed clue. He walks over to President Takarada and asks if the gift is from him. He shakes his head no. As he returns to open clue number two, Kyoko realizes that she hasn't even looked at her clues yet.
She tears open the first one. It simply says 'costumes are fun'. Kyoko frowns. Most of the folks in this room are actors or actresses. They all wear costumes. Kyoko suddenly laughs. She runs up to the president to see if he gave her the pipe because no one wears more costumes then he does. The gentleman shakes his head no. Kyoko heads back to the table and her gift but is stopped by Yuusei who is holding a small, homemade white rooster one a metal clip.
"You made this, didn't you?" he states more than asks.
Kyoko nods. "How did you guess?"
Yuusie pulls the chicken's head off to reveal Kyoko's face. "Well, neither of the other guys gave it to me so I figured it had to be from you."
"Do you like it?" the actress asks.
Yuusei laughs and clips the rooster to his belt loop. He tells her that he loves it. Shinichi and Hikaru join them. Hikaru is holding a tiny bridge made of stone.
"Check it out," he laughs. "I got a Bridge made of Rock, get it, Bridge Rock"
Kyoko laughs. Shinichi interrupts and asks if she would make him a Bo doll too. He is jealous of Yuusei's gift. Kyoko nods and says that she can make each of them one if they want.
"Cool!" Shinichi calls as he hits Yuusei in the shoulder. "Told you she would make me one too."
Kyoko turns to Hikaru and asks if he would like one too. He blushes slightly and leans closer to Kyoko and whispers in her ear.
"Really?" Kyoko asks in amazement.
When the oldest Ishibashi nods his head earnestly, she agrees. Hikaru beams. As Kyoko leaves the Bridge Rock idols, she shakes her head. For the life of her, she can't image why Hikaru would rather have a miniature of Natsu instead of Bo but she might as well give him what he wants. It's his present after all.
Kyoko reaches the table and opens her next clue which says 'Nicknames are special'. This makes Kyoko ask Moko if she gave her the gift. Her best friend denies it.
Beside Moko, she hears Yashiro denying the he gave Ren his gift. The manager then cackles evilly when Ren lets him read his second clue that states 'You move way too slow'.
Kyoko opens her final clue and stares at it. It says 'I am grateful to have worked with you'.
Kyoko sits tries to contemplate all her clues but she is distracted by Ren as he opens his final clue. His third envelop contains the tiny key for the miniature book. Despite his large fingers, he deftly inserts the key into the lock and turns it. The lock clicks and he opens the book. His third clue is hand printed on the first page of the tiny book. 'I will only share if you are worthy' boldly taunts the actor. Unsure of this one's meaning, Ren turns the page to reveal a wallet-size picture of Kyoko in her LoveMe uniform. The actor continues to flip pages as he stares at the collection of adorable candid photographs of the girl he loves. Near the back of the book, a picture of Kyoko peacefully sleeping makes him catch his breath. For a moment, he wonders who could have seen her sleeping, and he feels a twinge of jealousy.
His jealousy erupts further when he turns the page and a picture of her having just woken up is there. She is sitting up on the bed with the blanket only covering her lower legs. Pale skin is visible from almost the tops of her thighs to her knees. The teen's frilly baby-doll nightgown has fallen down her shoulder to reveal all her right shoulder and the top most swell of her breast. Like a little kid, Kyoko is rubbing her eyes to try to wake. It is such an innocent motion and expression that is totally at odds with the sensuality of the rest of the photograph. Ren finds himself sweating as he continues to stare at the captivating picture.
Curious at what is holding Ren's attention, Yashiro looks over his shoulder at the photograph.
"Good heavens," he mutters in shock.
Ren turns his attention to his manager.
"You better forget you ever saw that," he growls menacingly as he snaps shut the book.
"Consider it forgotten," promises Yashiro as he takes a step back nervously.
Ren opens the tiny book one more time to check the last two photos. If the waking up picture was enticing enough to make him sweat, the second to last one is enough to make him wish for a cold shower. This one is of Kyoko in a bubble bath. She is laughing joyfully. All her private parts are properly covered by her hands, and bubbles but his imagination goes wild at the thought of being in the tub with her. He shifts a bit uncomfortably as his body reacts to his imagination. In an attempt to preserve his slipping control, he flips to the last page.
The final picture is a close-up of Kyoko with tears spilling down her cheeks. Her lower lip looks like it is quivering, and she looks completely lost. Under the photograph is a tiny post it note with a warning. 'If you make her feel like this too often, I will kill you because I love her too - just not the same way'. The bonus clue cements it for him even though he wonders how she figured out his secret. He closes the book and snaps the lock shut before placing the tiny key in his wallet.
The actor stands and approaches Kyoko's best friend who is currently harassing all three Bridge Rock boys as she tries to get one of them to give her an extra clue about which one might have given her the little piece of jewelry. Before he reaches the little collection of LME talent, Kanae grabs her best friend and shakes her because she will not help her. Ren watches in amusement as the actress summons tears to trick her best friend into helping her discover the giver of her gift. He chuckles as Kyoko caves and whispers into her Moko's ear.
"Kotonami-san?" Ren interrupts before she can confirm Kyoko's whispered answer. "You gave me this, correct?"
"Well, duh!" she answers with a dismissive flick of her hand as she turns to confirm her own gift giver before time expires. Ren can't help but smile at the gruff acting actress who gave him such a perfect present.
Kyoko watches her friends for a moment as she tries to figure out who might have given her the musical instrument. She laughs as Maria arrives and throws herself into Ren's arm. The tall actor spins the little blond in the air before settling her back on the ground where she then surprisingly abandons the tall actor in favor of demanding attention from the blond idol in Bridge Rock.
"Looks like Ren has been abandoned for a younger model," jokes Yashiro as he sits beside Kyoko who is the only one who has yet to discover her gift giver.
Kyoko shifts her attention to the man beside her. Her eyes grow large.
"Yashiro-san!" she cries as she remembers that she owes him an apology too. Unlike everyone else today, the manager listens intently and watches in amusement as the young actress lowers herself to the floor and begs his forgiveness for her inappropriate behavior this afternoon as Natsu. He smiles and agrees on two conditions. Kyoko immediately agrees to whatever his requests are.
"Good. The first condition is that you never do something like that to me again. Even if you were playing a character, it made me very ill at ease for a number of reasons. Not only did it make me physically uncomfortable, but it was professionally mortifying. Remember, I am not an actor, Kyoko-chan. I am not used to being part of the drama. I prefer to watch and help in the background. Can you remember that?"
Kyoko nods in agreement. Yashiro reaches out and pulls Kyoko from the ground to sit beside him. He looks around as if confirming that no one is listening. He grins mischievously as he whispers his second requirement.
"I need you to keep Ren occupied during the fireworks," Yashiro requests as he slowly starts to blush. "I want to meet with someone else for the evening, but I can't do that if I am worrying about Ren. Will you take care of him for me?"
Kyoko remembers the pretty woman she saw with Yashiro earlier. She grins knowingly and promises to look after Ren for him. The manager reacts with mild surprise at Kyoko's use of Ren's given name. His face breaks into a huge grin. Yashiro pats Kyoko on the hand in happy support of the obvious progress she has established with his charge.
"Before I go, can I help you at all?" the manager asks as he points to Kyoko's gift and clues. They discuss the clues briefly. As they talk, more of Kyoko's friends wander over to help. Even Maria bounces over and crawls onto her big sisters lap to offer advice. A lively discussion ensues with names being suggested and rejected.
President Takarada offers a one minute warning for the game, and Kyoko stares at him in a panic. She notices a slight movement behind the flamboyant head of LME.
"I GOT IT!" she screams as she jumps up. Maria flies into the air to be safely caught by a startled but well placed Shinichi. Calling a quick sorry, Kyoko grabs her instrument and races towards the President. She skids past him and shouts at his aide.
"YOU GAVE ME MY PRESENT!"
The sedate and observant gentleman nods once.
In the background a large boom issues to signify the start of the fireworks.
"Congratulations, Mogami-kun," states Lory as he claps for LoveMe number one.
"Thank you, Sebastian-san!" Kyoko intones with a final bow before racing back to the collection of LME most popular acting and talento section idols that are waiting for her. They all clamor outside for the magnificent display of fireworks that President Takarada arranged to end the festival.
The president and his quiet aide follow slowly and watch the antics as some of Lory's favorite children clamor for position to watch the display. They watch as the oldest Ishibashi spreads out a huge blanket beside the large pink one with a LoveMe logo that Chiori and Kanae have placed on the ground. Lory snorts as two dark-haired junior high boys sneak into the area that was reserved for LME talent to enjoy the fireworks in peace. He recognizes the one as Uesugi Hio, and he is pleasantly surprised to see LoveMe number two showing the young teen actor respect and admiration.
On the blankets, much shuffling occurs until the talents finally settle to enjoy the show. Lory grins as he notices Ren bump against LoveMe number one and leave his hand over top of hers as it rests on the blanket by her legs. Kyoko glances at Ren's upturned face as she turn her hand and laces her delicate fingers in his larger ones. Her eyes widen slightly as she notices the slightest lift in lip when she takes his hand. Lory observes his granddaughter crawling into the lap of her proclaimed big sister and leaning back against her. On Kyoko's other side, the Bridge Rock boys flop in a pile. Their mouths are constantly moving and their verbal antics keep everyone in the group laughing. Along the edge of the pink blanket, Chiori sits observing those around her more than the fireworks.
After a particularly loud and bright explosion, Lory turns to his aide.
"So why a musical pipe?" he asks. "Of all the things you could have gotten her, why that instrument."
"I thought it would be obvious given her interest in fairy tales," the introverted aide replies.
Lory chomps his cigar with a thoughtful expression.
"But a pipe? Why not a glass slipper or a crown or even a spun glass rose. A pipe doesn't seem like the best choice," counters the president.
"But, sir," the aid counters. "What could possibly be better? After all, she is the pied piper."
The aide waves towards the relaxing collection. "No matter where she leads, they will all follow."
Behind his mask, the aide's professional face slips as he gazes in affection at the amazing young girl as he adds, "In fact, we all will follow."
A/N: The one question I just wasn't sure about... would Lory even try to pay the piper or would he just follow too *grin* I hope that you enjoyed this story. It was just supposed to be a fun diversion with lots of naughty images even if no one really got to kiss... well except for Yashiro when he sneaks off... naughty manger - Me