NOTICE!: If you did not bother to read the summary to this story, please know that is set after my fic All He Wants for Christmas and if you have not read that fic, there are going to be things in here that confuse you. A lot. So, just a heads up. Hope you enjoy.
"WHAT AM I GOING TO DOOOOOOOOO?" Kyoko wailed as she threw herself forward on the table in the LoveMe room. Kanae covered her ears and sat with a distinct grimace on her face, trying to block out the unceasing wails of her best friend.
"Mo, would you pull yourself together! It's just a birthday present!"
Kyoko's sobs turned into sniffs as she looked up.
"But Moko-saaaaan! It's for Tsuruga-san's birthday! I ruined last year by getting the date wrong, I only have five more days, and he gave me a great birthday present."
"So you've said," Kanae grumbled, remembering putting the ridiculously huge puzzle together with Kyoko twice in the past month. Two whole evenings that were supposed to be just Kanae and her best friend had been interrupted by enthusiastic recounts of the wonderful, thoughtful, spectacular senpai.
"I know I don't have much money, and I really haven't had time to save since it's so soon after Christmas. But he said that my present then was so thoughtful, and I have to get him something nice this time."
"You could just kiss him again," Kanae growled in frustration. She instantly regretted saying it when Kyoko turned deathly white then flaming red and looked to be on the verge of tears.
"I- Oh Moko-san I couldn't. I shouldn't have done it that time, really, I don't know what I was thinking, oh please don't say that!"
"Mo!" Kanae cut off her friend with a grimace and apologized. It had taken two full hours to extract from Kyoko an event which had lasted only two seconds, and when Kyoko had admitted to the kiss, it had been with passionate regret.
"I shouldn't have done that to him. He was so nice to me all day, and he didn't even mention it after that. Not once. He still hasn't. He must be so angry!"
"Has he acted angry?"
"No… but how could he not be? He had already kissed me on the cheek for the mistletoe and then…"
Kanae was still willing to bet the older man's reluctance to mention the kiss was more due to his awareness of Kyoko's conservative nature and not wanting her to feel embarrassed about what had happened. But the hardest part of all of this was Kanae's wavering between telling Kyoko that Tsuruga Ren had probably liked being kissed by her or not telling the love idiot. On the one hand, she had no desire to bring Tsuruga Ren any closer to her best friend. On the other hand, Kyoko might be in danger if someone did not point out to her the actor's feelings.
"She wouldn't believe it anyway," Kanae grumbled under her breath.
"Who wouldn't believe what?" Kyoko asked, staring at her friend, still worried. Kanae sighed.
"It doesn't matter. You want to get your illustrious senpai something great for his birthday right?" Kyoko nodded vigorously. "Then why don't you just ask him what he wants?"
"Well, I tried asking Yashiro, because I'd like it to be a surprise, but he said that there wasn't anything he thought Ren really wanted, at least not that I could buy. I can't decide if that means he just doesn't want anything, or if it just costs too much…"
"Definitely costs to much," Kanae snapped as she thought of all the things that the stupid actor might want from Kyoko. Kanae's friend drooped.
"Oh," her defeated voice cutting LoveMe number two deeply.
"Look, just ask him for ideas. You can still change them, or do something special to make it a surprise."
"Oh. That's a great idea!" Kyoko squealed as she grabbed her friend in a choking embrace.
"Gah! Be careful!" But Kyoko was too excited to stop.
That evening found Kyoko waiting anxiously in the parking garage under LME with Kanae for her senpai. She had been told by Yashiro that they would be ending the day at the office, and since she did not feel comfortable asking Ren to come and see her for something so silly, Kyoko decided it was best to wait for him to head home.
Ren had been told earlier by his manager that Yashiro was going to take a taxi home since he had some extra paperwork that he had to finish. Ren suspected he was being set up for something and was not surprised to see Kyoko at his car when he came downstairs. He was, however, surprised to be met with a heated glare from Kotonami Kanae.
"Mogami-san, Kotonami-san, good evening. Is there something wrong?"
"Oh no," Kyoko hastened to reassure him. She bowed deeply with made Kanae's scowl deepen. "Good evening Tsuruga-san."
"Tsuruga-san," Kanae nodded by way of greeting, her voice cold. Kyoko looked worriedly at her friend, but Kanae flapped a hand at her friend to tell her to hurry up.
"Did you and Kotonami-san need a ride, Mogami-san?" Ren asked, trying to restart the conversation and distract Kyoko from her obvious concern over her friend. Ren had an uneasy feeling he knew why he was being treated with so much hostility, and nothing he or Kyoko did was going to fix it.
"Oh, no, not that either. I'm terribly sorry to delay you, Tsuruga-san, but I had a question for you. Moko-san stayed to walk me partway home."
"Oh, I see. Well, if you do have a question for me, I don't mind answering, but since it is so late, why don't I give you both a ride? Then we can talk, and neither of you have to worry about getting home."
"Oh, we really couldn't impo-"
"As long as you drop off Kyoko first," Kanae interrupted. Ren and Kyoko both turned to look at her in surprise. "You said you had homework, you dope. You were all worried about finishing it and getting enough sleep for some sort of test tomorrow. This way you get home safe, and you can get your homework done on time. It's not like you can't talk in the car."
Kyoko acknowledged this and Ren graciously accepted Kanae's ultimatum. But he did insist on her sitting in the back, since he would be talking with Kyoko and she would be getting out first. Kyoko did not want to force this on her friend, but Kanae was not about to lose to this smiling gentleman by not being obliging.
"So, Mogami-san," Ren asked once they had started driving, "what was your question?"
"Oh. I was just wondering if there was anything in particular that you wanted for your birthday."
Kanae, watching Japan's Number One Actor carefully was able to read, "You," written all over the man's face, but Ren did not actually answer right away.
"I can't say that I have been wanting any thing in particular. I've been enjoying your Christmas present, but I can't think that that is particularly helpful in you trying to pick out something new."
"Not really," Kyoko agreed with a grin, catching the Cain-like teasing tone in his voice.
"No, not really. But you don't have to worry about it, Mogami-san. I would be perfectly happy to accept any gift from you, but you shouldn't feel obligated to get me anything if it is going to be troublesome."
"But you said it was normal for people to give both a Christmas gift and a birthday gift to someone, and you said you were going to keep getting me two presents, even though my birthday was on Christmas. So if I don't get you a birthday gift, I can't accept one from you."
"I think we can address that when it happens," Ren stated mildly.
"That's just your way of saying you're going to trick me into accepting another gift," Kyoko retorted, something dangerously close to a pout on her face. In the back, Kanae tried to suppress a series of growls at the intimate and frivolous nature of this conversation.
"You can't know that," Ren responded, turning to look at his kohai as he stopped at a red light.
"You were already prepping that evil, horrible, manipulative, absolutely sinful face when you said that," she told him. Kanae frowned as she wondered what kind of face Tsuruga Ren could have made to make her best friend speak about it in such a way.
"My face," Ren declared as the light turned green and he started forward, "is not sinful."
"Oh yes it is," Kyoko grumbled, staring back out the windshield and blushing slightly. Kanae was the only one who noticed the slight coloration, and it did not please her at all.
"So you aren't going to help her out?" the raven-haired protector demanded, reminding Ren and Kyoko that they had an audience.
"Ah, sorry, Mogami-san. I didn't mean to tangent so much."
"No, no! It was my fault!'
"No, it wasn't. But in any event, I have to apologize. I can't really think of anything that I want in particular for my birthday. If you really feel that you have to get me something, I hope that you won't worry about it too much. You know enough to not get me something that I don't want at the very least. And, like I already said, I would be perfectly happy to accept any gift from you."
Kanae wondered how her friend could be so blind to the obvious interest Japan's Number One Bachelor had for LME's Number One LoveMe Girl.
Kyoko was silent for a minute, pondering the lack of help her senpai had given her. After a few minutes, she spoke.
"Would you… I really meant for it to be a surprise, but would you mind if I just came over and made dinner for you? Since I can't think of anything to get you?"
"On my birthday?" Ren asked, and Kyoko nodded. "I get done early with work on the tenth, so that should be fine."
He had no idea if this was actually true, but since his manager was always willing to move heaven and earth to give Ren as little as two minutes with the girl he loved, he figured Yashiro would be willing to help him with this.
"That would be a great idea, if you weren't already spending the night at my house, Mogami Kyoko. Or were you just planning on ditching me?"
Kyoko was so overcome with horror at the thought that Kanae would think she was abandoning her friend that she began to profusely apologize to both people in the car, the thought never crossing her mind that she had not actually made plans to spend the evening with Kanae before this.
But Ren was suspicious of the sudden attack from the back seat. Kyoko had always told him about the rare and valuable occasions when her precious Moko-san had invited Kyoko over to her house. He had spoken to Kyoko only yesterday, finding her having a conversation with his manager, and Kyoko had not mentioned the happy news.
"If you're going to be at Kotonami-san's house, I understand that you can't make dinner for me," Ren told her kindly, trying to suppress the building jealousy and resentment that LoveMe number two was eliciting from him.
"I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to make plans and not follow through! If Moko-san hadn't reminded me-" her she paused, tilting her head in confusion. "Moko-san, when-"
"Mo, if you're always going into La-La Land when I invite you over, I'm surprised that you can ever remember when we make plans."
"Did I- Did I really forget?" Kyoko asked, agonized as she turned to look at her best friend. Kanae felt a twitch of guilt, but nodded firmly. No way was she handing Kyoko over to this man for an evening alone in his apartment. Kyoko might not realize the danger, but Kanae was fully alive to what might happen to her friend.
"Looks like you did. Good thing I reminded you."
"Oh Moko-san, I'm so sorry!"
"Enough! Don't start crying again, I know you're sorry!" She tried to soften her voice as tears began to creep into Kyoko's eyes. "I'm not angry anymore. You already apologized. But you'll just have to think of something else to give Tsuruga-san."
Kyoko frowned as she realized that she still did have that daunting task ahead of her. She was silent for the rest of the short drive, and was distracted enough that she forgot to bow as she thanked her senpai for the ride and bade Kanae goodnight.
"Where to now?" Ren asked as he pulled away from the curb. Kanae noted the sudden drop in temperature in the vehicle and gave her directions in the most threatening voice she could muster.
They drove in silence for several minutes before Ren spoke, his voice cold.
"Can I ask what on earth I've done to offend you, Kotonami-san? Because unless I have really misunderstood you, I'm figuring as a pretty hideous ogre in your head right now, and I can't think of what I've done to deserve it."
"You aren't careful with her," Kanae declared, seeing no need to clarify who she was speaking about. Ren, whose face had been carefully passive, frowned.
"That is where you are very wrong, Kotonami-san. I have been extremely careful with Mogami-san." Kanae laughed.
"Right, which is why she's deluded herself into thinking it isn't a big deal to go and hang out at your apartment and cook you dinner. Never mind what the press would do to you over it, but what they would do to her…"
Kanae was much more worried about the actor would do to her friend, but she had the satisfaction of seeing him grimace as she detailed these consequences.
"I'm aware of the possible trouble that might arise," he responded coolly. "I've dealt with this before."
"Yeah, I'm sure you've dealt with all of your wonderful girlfriends coming and hanging out at your apartment before. I'm sure you perfected your sneaky little rendezvous since no one's ever had a shred of gossip to toss around about you. But those girls weren't Kyoko!"
Actually, since Ren had been referring to the other times that Kyoko had visited his apartment, the only girl he could possibly have been talking about was Kyoko. But he resented Kanae's depiction of his supposed lifestyle and was not willing to share Kyoko's other visits with the angry demon in the back.
"I respect that you want to protect your friend," he told her, working to moderate his voice. "It's fair that you are looking out for her, since she isn't always aware of herself."
"Or how much other people are aware of her," Kanae added suggestively. But Ren refused to rise to the bait. He needed to step carefully where it concerned Kyoko's best friend, and the truth was Kanae was perfectly right to worry about Kyoko.
"Or that. Fuwa Sho, for instance, seems to have revised his opinion of her. And she nearly sparked Kijima Hidehito's interest when she showed up on the Dark Moon set as Natsu last year. It isn't good for her to be so unaware, and it's good that you are looking after her."
"Hnn," Kanae replied, frustrated at his composure.
"But be that as it may, it does not explain how I have offended you."
"I told you, you aren't careful with her! You hang around her all the time when you work together, you're always visiting the LoveMe room, and you give her rides even when you aren't working together. It's a miracle no one's labeled you as a couple!"
There was a short pause.
"Have you told Mogami-san about these concerns?"
"Of course!" Another pause.
"And what did she tell you?"
"That it was stupid. That no one would ever suspect a girl like her of actually dating a man like you! And other stupid things like that."
"That certainly sounds like something that she would say."
"Of course it does. She doesn't think herself good enough for a dog, and seems to have deluded herself into thinking that no one else does either. So she isn't careful, and you aren't helping."
"Have you ever considered that she might be right?"
"About how people think, not about whether they are right. Because they aren't."
"Oh, because that's going to be enough to protect her?"
"It might be."
"And…" Ren interrupted again, "do you seriously believe that the president, who has an extraordinarily large amount of love and respect for all of his LoveMe members, is not keeping a very close eye on what is being said about them, and dealing with the people that might be endangering them?"
It was Kanae's turn to pause.
"He's talked to you?"
"Yes, he has. But he has also cause no small amount of trouble of his own for Kyoko and for myself, probably in the realm of what you would not consider good for her. He has his own idea of what pushing the limit is. it might not agree with yours."
"The Dangerous Mission," Kanae whispered.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Last year's nightmare LoveMe project from the president, right after Valentine's Day. Kyoko was assigned a 'Dangerous Mission" and told Chiori and I that she couldn't talk about it."
"I was never told about a 'Dangerous Mission,'" Ren said carefully, "but if Mogami-san couldn't talk about it, I imagine she had her reasons." Kanae shot him a vicious look. "And I also imagine the president, as dangerous as his assignment might have been, was looking out for Mogami-san." Not as much as he should have been, but…
"She never told you about it?" Kanae asked suspiciously.
"I knew that she had an ongoing assignment, but I was never told that it was called her 'Dangerous Mission.'" Although the name was very appropriate.
"Would you have stopped her if you knew that it was?" Ren hesitated, but Kanae did not notice anything strange.
"No. I would not have been able to stop her. I… couldn't have done anything to help."
"And that makes it okay? That she doesn't think about the danger? That she doesn't know how much people worry about her? That makes it right?"
"No, Kotonami-san. It doesn't make anything right. Not what I do and don't do, and not what you do, or don't do."
Kane grunted in frustrated agreement, and was silent. Ren waited for a few moments, but the satisfaction of having silenced the girl encouraged him enough that he decided to elaborate.
"It's why I rely on the president and what he says. He's been around a lot longer, has a better understanding of people, and knows how to protect the people he cares about. You can care about Kyoko as much as you want and force her in or out of situations that you chose by manipulating her, but that does not make you right. The same goes for me."
Kanae glared at Ren, but continued to be mute for the rest of the drive and was still not satisfied. If she had anything to say about it, Kyoko was going to stay away from this man. He was not safe.
She was dropped off and Ren headed back to his own apartment, exhausted by what had been a very trying evening. He knew he was going to have trouble if he was at odds with Kyoko's best friend, but he was not sure how to deal with the cold and protective girl.
Not that he really felt she needed to worry. Ever since Christmas, Ren's delusions of having made some progress with the girl that he loved had more or less disappeared. She might be more comfortable with her senpai, but that was still all he was.
And all he was ever likely to be.
Thanks for reading. Hope that you liked it. This is going to be another short fic, part of what I am going to call a collection of Kyoko's 18th year. It will have started with her 18th birthday, my Christmas fic, and I'm planning on it ending on White Day, although if I feel prompted, there might be Halloween and Thanksgiving specials later this year. Maybe. Thanks to Will for looking this over on such short notice.
Also, for people waiting on Broken Slipper I ran into trouble with chapter 7, but it is still coming. I just forgot some important parts, and then... stuff happened. Sorry, I'll try to make sure it doesn't happen again.