Chapter 3. It is ... long. Long, long, long...

Kyoko was not getting any closer to an answer of what to get Ren for his birthday. He needed nothing he could not buy for himself (except a better understanding of what 'healthy living' meant, and she couldn't actually give him that, though not for lack of trying) and she did not feel comfortable delving into the realm of sentimental for her respected senpai. His apartment was bare of any kind of memorable decoration, in spite of the fact that she knew he had tokens from various awards tucked away somewhere.

Her gloomy feelings were repressed during her various jobs, but she could not help but let out an exhausted sigh as she finished changing out of her Bo costume. Her day had been depressing and she was starting to become upset.

With a sudden flash in inspiration, Kyoko dived into her bag and started scrambling for a small purse. She had taken to leaving her most precious gift inside her work bag, in case of emergencies. Even if he could not tell her what to get Tsuruga-san, Corn would at least make her feel better. That was certain.

Or he would have, if he had not been missing.

Fifteen minutes and a bag of items spilled across the floor later, Kyoko was feeling even worse than she had been before. She had lost her Corn purse, and since she had not checked on it since yesterday, it could be anywhere. As she repacked her bag, she tried to think of where she might have dropped it. She knew she walked to most of her jobs. The truth was she had probably dropped it along the way to one of the places she worked, and it could be long gone by now.

Somehow, she had lost her most precious possession in the world, she could not figure out what to get her senpai, her most precious possession in the world was lost, her best friend was not happy with her senpai, and her most precious possession in the world was lost. Lost, lost, lost lost lost...

She exited her dressing room draped in a cloud of misery, her eyes vacant.

"Kyoko-san, is something wrong," asked the ever concerned Ishibashi Hikaru. "You don't look so good."

"Oh, I'm fine," she tried to reassure him, smiling politely and bowing. "I'm sorry to worry you."

"Well, if you're sure you're alright," Hikaru responded, still uneasy about his crush's depressed countenance.

"Guy trouble!" Shinichi exclaimed happily. "Kyoko-chan has guy trouble!"

"Would you stop that," Yuusei commanded, with no real expectation of being obeyed. "Kyoko-san deserves better than your useless commentary."

"But I'm right!" Shinichi whined, wrapping an arm around Kyoko's shoulders and poking her cheek playfully. "See this face? It's screaming 'Boy Problem!'"

"You can't know that," Hikaru countered, tugging on his energetic friend to try and detach him from Kyoko.

"I wouldn't say 'guy trouble,'" Kyoko answered as she slipped out of Shinichi's hold. "But I do have a small problem." Her face lit up suddenly. They could not help her find Corn, but there might be one thing they could do for her. "Do you think you can help me?"

"Of course," Yuusei told her before Shinichi could make things worse. "What do you need?"

"Well, it's just a question really," Kyoko told them.

"Then why don't we discuss it over dinner," Hikaru suggested, taking advantage of the situation. Kyoko demurred slightly, but was overborne by a strangely considerate and clever Shinichi.

"You might be able to hold off on dinner, but we're starving," he told her. "We'll split your portion of the bill, so don't worry about it."

"Oh no, I couldn't possibly-"

"We're happy to help," Yuusei insisted.

"And if we're going to insist on eating, we should be paying," Hikaru added.

"Well, if you really think so-" Kyoko was cut off by all three of the boys telling her it was just fine and Hikaru grabbed her hand to drag her down the hallway.

"So," Yuusei stated as soon as they had found a quiet, almost empty restaurant and had placed their orders, "what's the problem?"

Kyoko was quiet for a moment, trying to think of what to say, and Hikaru spoke up.

"It's alright, Kyoko-san. We aren't going to tell anyone else."

"Oh, I wasn't worried about that," she told him with a bright smile. "I was just trying to figure out what to say. You see, it's a little complicated."

"How so?" Yuusei asked, making a face at Shinichi who was beginning to stuff his mouth full of a small plate of appetizers they had ordered.

"Well, I can't think of a gift to give one of my senpais from the company."

"For Valentine's Day?" Yuusei asked. Hikaru went white just before Kyoko's aura turned black.

"No. Not for that day," she mumbled with no small amount of hostility. Just as the boys began to wonder if they were safe, the darkness cleared. "It's for a birthday."

"Oh" Hikaru said as he wondered who could be so lucky as to be getting a gift from Kyoko for such a special occasion.

"Food," Shinichi mumbled around his stuffed mouth. His friends gave him a disgusted look and Kyoko shook her head.

"He isn't fond of food, and he really can't cook," she told them solemnly.

"Clothes?" Yuusei suggested.

"No, he doesn't need anything like that. He has plenty to wear, and I can't really afford to buy him anything nice right now. And it isn't like he could actually use anything I might make for him, since he's always in public or on television. It wouldn't be right."

"Does it… have to be something special?" Hikaru asked tentatively. Kyoko sighed.

"Well, I don't think he'll really care if I just get him something boring, but I wanted it to be nice. He gave me a really special present on my birthday, and I wanted to thank him for it."

"Was it expensive?" Yuusei asked, trying to get an idea of what she was looking for. She frowned.

"The birthday gift wasn't too expensive," she replied. "But I really liked it." Seeing the boy's interest, she smiled. "It was a puzzle. The picture was of a little girl holding a fairy prince. It was… very nice." The warm glow on her face told all three boys just how much she had loved the gift. Hikaru winced slightly and Yuusei patted his shoulder reassuringly.

They were interrupted as their food arrived and it took them a minute to settle down.

"It seems like he got you a very thoughtful gift," Yuusei said ponderously. "So… wouldn't it be a good idea to do the same kind of thing?"

"He isn't very sentimental," she told them. "And he's my senpai."

"But… you know each other fairly well, right?" Hikaru asked. "That's why he knew you would like the puzzle so much?"

"Well, yes."

"Wouldn't that make you more like friends?" Shinichi asked around another mouthful of food.

"Oh no!" she instantly protested. "Tsuruga-san hasn't ever said-"

"Tsuruga-san?" Hikaru interrupted. "You're trying to get a gift for Tsuruga Ren?"

Kyoko nodded mutely, suddenly uncomfortable. Hikaru tried to control his face, but he felt hurt, almost betrayed. Kyoko was getting a birthday gift for Tsuruga Ren. Tsuruga Ren had gotten Kyoko a special present for her birthday. Yuusei, noticing his friend's plight, intervened.

"I see. It must be hard to buy a gift for the man who's at the top of the entertainment industry. He probably gets lots of nice things from lots of people, but doesn't really need anything."


"Have you gotten anything for him before?"

"Yes. I got him something small last year. But… the puzzle was just so… thoughtful. I didn't think it was fair to him to just get something silly."

"You're very conscientious," Yuusei told her, smiling kindly. She relaxed a little.

"It seems kind of like-" Hikaru spoke up at last, "Like he wouldn't mind if you got him a sentimental gift." Yuusei and Shinichi stared at their leader in surprise. He gulped and continued as Kyoko gave him a confused look. "You've known Tsuruga-san for a long time. You worked together on Dark Moon. He gave you a really thoughtful Christmas gift. Even if he hasn't said that you are friends, I don't think he would mind if you did something… silly. He might even like it. That's what friends do for each other, after all."

Kyoko thought about this carefully while the other two members of Bridge Rock looked at their leader with new respect.

Dinner finished without further mention of the gift, and everyone had a good time. Shinichi took it upon himself to see that the company was laughing when they left the restaurant, and Kyoko was dropped off at LME so that she could pick up some things she had left there earlier.

As the boys left her, Shinichi slung an arm over Hikaru's shoulder.

"What prompted that?" he demanded in a teasing tone.

"Prompted what?"

"Your little push for Tsuruga Ren. Sounds like a dangerous guy to encourage her to be close to."

"She needed help," Hikaru stated, turning pink.

"So, you're not giving up?" Yuusei asked. Hikaru shook his head.

"She needed help with her Tsuruga problem, but what I said applies to us too," he pointed out.

"And for all his missing inches, our leader's got a big heart," Shinichi added with a smile. Hikaru laughed and shoved his companion.

"Let's hope she doesn't break it," Yuusei mumbled under his breath.

Meanwhile, Kyoko was walking down the hall in a shadow of gloom again. The Ishibashi brothers had given her a hint of what she could do about Ren's present, but Corn was still missing. Probably gone forever and ever. Gone, gone, gone, gone...

She entered the LoveMe room to find Ren waiting there, without his manager again.

"Tsuruga-san! I'm sorry, did you need something?"

"I was waiting for you," he told her, smiling in what he hoped was a reassuring manner, noticing that she seemed unusually upset.

"Oh no. You didn't wait long, did you? I'm so sorr-"

Ren stood and caught her forehead before she could finish her bow.

"You didn't know I was coming and I knew that you wouldn't be back till late," he told her. He did not admit that Kanae had told him Kyoko should have been back almost an hour ago and he had been worrying about whether he should go and look for her. But he had not known where she was coming from, so he had just waited and worried.

"Still, if you stayed this long, you must have had a reason," she replied, clearly still concerned. Then something else dawned on her. "Did you talk to Moko-san?"

Ren's thoughts drifted back to a conversation that had been thrust on him as he had tried to leave for his first job earlier than morning.

"Oi, you," had come an imperative call from the entrance to the parking garage. Ren had turned to see an enraged Kotonami Kanae coming up to him.

"Something wrong, Kotonami-san?"

"You just hurt my best friend's feelings," she told him directly. "I had to practically bribe her out of thinking she was a useless idiot… again." Ren sighed.

"I didn't mean to hurt her feelings," he told Kanae. "But I'm more than convinced I should not be coming down to the LoveMe room and worrying her about running into you. And that was the idea that you put into her head," he added coldly. "I'll talk to her soon. I still wasn't able to give her something she left in my car last night."

"I'll probably see her before you will," Kanae said, holding out her hand, but Ren shook his head.

"I'll give it to her myself," he told the girl, no compromise in his tone. Kanae paused and glared at the actor. Then she caved.

"I told her I would talk to you," she admitted. "We both know there isn't any reason for you to stay away-"

"I have no interest in getting in a fight for Mogami-san's attention. There is no point in me visiting the LoveMe room if I am invading your space," he told her flat out. Kanae glared, but pushed on.

"There isn't any reason for you to stay away, and I'm old enough to know not to cause problems and put Kyoko in the middle of them." Ren raised an eyebrow and Kanae's glare deepened.

"Is that so?"

"You don't have to believe me," she snapped. "But I'm not going to stop her from seeing you or anything. I'm not that petty." She turned to go then, but then stopped and faced him once more. She informed Ren in the most magnanimous tone when Kyoko would be in the LoveMe room next, and then added that if he let her walk home alone she would make him sorry. Ren grinned and turned to get into his car. Yashiro looked between the two people in confusion, but followed his charge.

"I spoke to Kotonami-san," he told her as casually as he could. "She clarified her concerns and we agreed that I didn't need to avoid coming here. Which is good, because I still need to give you something you left in my car last night."

"Give me something?"

"I tried to tell you this morning. It was the reason why I came down in the first place. No, don't," he told her as she tried to go into another bow and apology. "I understand, and if I let you we could be here all night trading apologies. It's fine. I'm more worried about giving this back to you," he said as he reached a hand into his pocket.

Kyoko's eyes widened and her breath caught as she noticed the small purse sitting in his palm. It could not be...

"I left it in your car?" she asked as she reached out and took it, holding it lovingly.

"Yes. I think it might have fallen out of your bag while we were driving." He paused as she wrapped her mind around what had happened; that she actually had her treasure back. "It's your Corn stone, isn't it?"

Kyoko looked up in surprise.

"You didn't look at it? How did you guess?"

"Well, the purse couldn't really have been anyone's but yours. Yashiro and Kotonami-san aren't likely to carry something like that around. And I thought it was about the right size for your stone."

"Oh," Kyoko replied as she stroked the trinket carefully, barely contained euphoria threatening to jump out and strangle her senpai in a hug. "Thank you so much!"

"It wasn't a problem. I was sure you wanted it back. And Kotonami-san mentioned you would be here late tonight. I figured it was practically a sign that I should be giving you a ride home."

Kyoko met his eyes at that, switching immediately from joy to consternation.

"Oh no- You really don't have too! I wouldn't dream of imposing, especially now that you've stayed so late-"

"Except that as a gentleman, I couldn't possibly leave you to walk home on your own at this point. Would it really be so terrible?"

"It's not terrible, but I couldn't-"

"Then should I ask Setsu?" Ren whispered, a touch of Cain leaking into his manner. If she really pushed him, he would utilize "the face," but he wanted to save it for special occasions. It would not do to wear out its perfect effect on this girl.

Kyoko could not help but respond to the teasing tone in his voice. He used it less and less as they moved away from their time together as the siblings, and she found that she enjoyed it too much to let it go, in spite of the fact that it seemed to put her so perfectly into the palm of her senpai's hand.

"I'll go with you," she sighed, looking up at him through her lashes. "But only if you insist."

Ren/Cain, smiled in turn and grasped her elbow gently, steering her towards the door.

"Yes, I do."

Kyoko/Setsu giggled once, but then Kyoko pushed the sister figure back and pulled her elbow away slowly.

"Alright. Thank you for the ride, Tsuruga-san."

"You're welcome," he told her, letting the banter go as easily as it had come. It was better if they did not act like Cain and Setsu in the middle of LME, truth be told. But he did miss it. Not the brother stigma, but the closeness. And being allowed to spoil her. He really missed that.

When they got into his car, Kyoko slid the Corn wallet into her bag, placing it carefully so it would not fall out. Then she settled the bag more comfortably on her lap so that there was no chance of it falling over.

"Being careful?" Ren teased, but it was nice enough that Kyoko only smiled.

"It would be bad if I left it behind again. I'm surprised that you noticed it."

"The wallet is much more colorful than the floor of my car," he pointed out.

"I guess so," she agreed.

"Do you keep it in there to protect it?" Ren asked as they pulled into traffic. Kyoko frowned as she thought about how the purse had once protected her from Ren's overwhelming magic.

"More or less," was all she responded. Ren glanced at her, noticing the sudden reticence in her voice.


"I started worrying about it more after I showed it to you during the Dark Moon filming," she admitted with a faint flush. Ren missed the reaction, but his mind jumped back to that time easily. He smiled as he remembered her first admittance that she still believed that Corn had been a fairy prince.

"I see," he said quietly. There was a brief pause. "I don't think I ever really thanked you enough for that."

"For what?" Kyoko asked in confusion.

"For everything that you did for me during Dark Moon," he told her. Kyoko tensed as she wondered if he had guessed her identity as the chicken, but Ren simply continued. "You were very supportive and helpful before my Katsuki test, and I don't think I would have been able to make the character that I did if you hadn't come over the night before and helped me."

"I'm sure you would have-" she tried to downplay his words, but he would not have it.

"No, but thank you for thinking so highly of me. I really was stuck with my Katsuki and I'm glad that you helped me. Both before and after, you only had encouraging words for me, and you honestly believed in me. I didn't realize it at the time, but that was what I needed, more than anything else."

Kyoko was quiet for a moment.

"Really?" Ren nodded.

"Really. I… wasn't used to the idea of people believing in me," he confessed softly, sending Kyoko into a whirl of confusion.

"But- But- But you're Tsuruga Ren!" she exclaimed, trying to convey an idea she was not sure how to express.

"I know," he smiled. "And people have always been impressed with my work. But I think, once I started having trouble, no one really thought that I could do it anymore. They were all making contingency plans and trying to prepare for damage control. Yashiro, Director Ogata, even the president. You were the only one who believed that I could still make a better Katsuki than the original. And I really needed that."

"Why? Didn't you know you could do it?" Ren hesitated.

"I thought I could. It was… a sort of marker for me. It was a kind of role I had never played before and it was a role that had been done by a man I've been trying to surpass since I started acting."

"Your goal is Otou-san?" Ren suppressed a grimace as he realized how much he was telling her.

"It seemed like a good goal to have," he replied as casually as he could.

"No wonder you're so good," Kyoko sighed. "You've got such an amazing goal."

"Well, thank you, but I wasn't doing a very good job of living my dream when I tried to act Katsuki. I thought I was a good enough actor as I was, and it nearly ruined my career." Kyoko regarded this seriously for a moment.

"But… you did it, didn't you? You went and made your Katsuki and Dark Moon surpassed Tsukigomori and… you did it!" Ren chuckled at her insistent enthusiasm.

"We all did it," he corrected her. "But yes, the Katsuki that I ended up acting was part of the project that surpassed the original drama. So I did it, and so did you."

"But it doesn't count for me," Kyoko told him. "My Mio was played by Iizuka-san, and she was part of Dark Moon, so I didn't beat her." Ren sighed, but did not press the point. He knew Kyoko would not believe him and he did not feeling like starting an argument when he was so close to dropping her off.

They sat in silence for a few minutes, Ren pensive and Kyoko with a look of intense concentration on her face.



"Would you say that discovering your Katsuki was… an important event? In your career?"

Ren considered this, not sure why she was asking.

"I would say yes," Ren told her. "It was probably the most important point in my career yet." And in my personal life… but that's the last thing you want to hear, isn't it?

"And you're… proud of it?" They had reached the spot he usually let her out, so he was able to turn and look at her. He searched her face for some kind of clue as to where this was going.

"I'm proud of all of the work that I do," he said. "But I was especially proud of that role, yes." His mouth quirked into a smirk. "Especially since the president said there was no way I could do it," he admitted. Kyoko smiled, but then her face turned thoughtful again. Ren did not mind that she was not leaving. But he was still curious.

"Tsuruga-san, are we…" The last word came out so softly Ren missed it.

"Mogami-san, you're going to have to speak up if you want me to answer your question," he scolded mildly. Kyoko's already pink face flushed darker.

"Are we… friends?" She looked through her eyelashes for the second time that day, but this look had a much larger impact on Ren. It was something between frightened and hopeful and it made his heart stutter over a beat.

Her question so shocked him that he did not respond right away and Kyoko's face lost all hope and she suddenly started for the door.

"I'm sorry! I didn't mean to say something so conceited! I'll just-"

Ren reached over and grabbed her arm before she could throw herself out of the car, torn between amusement and chagrin.

"Mogami-san, please don't. I didn't say that, and that isn't what I think at all."

"But you were just-"

"I know, and I'm sorry. I was just so surprised I wasn't sure what to say. I didn't realize that you thought we weren't friends."

Kyoko stared at him in shock, and Ren had to admit it was fair. He had lied, after all. He knew very well how foreign the idea of friendship with him was. But since he would rather die than frighten her by telling her how dazzlingly happy she had made him by even considering calling him her friend instead of her senpai, he felt it was fair to stretch the truth.

In the back of his head, he heard Yashiro scolding him for such happiness over such a tiny thing. It was even smaller than insignificant progress, and if Ren was this happy over it, what did that say for his progress so far?

"We're- we're already friends?" Her tiny voice brought Ren back to his car and the girl in front of him.

"Well, usually that is what they call people who've worked together for so long, and who've shared meals, and helped each other with difficult problems, and shared secrets…" As he trailed off he saw her adding a thousand other details to the list he had started, most of them probably involving her familiar scolding of his eating and sleeping habits. A smile grew on her face and she came back to earth suddenly, glowing with pleasure.

"You're right. We are friends!"

This statement, coupled with its tender smile and shining eyes pulled an equally warm and bright response from Ren. A few randomly floating grudge demons found themselves assaulted on all sides and instantly disintegrated. But for once, Kyoko herself was not overwhelmed by the light. In fact, she thought she might like it very much.

But the moment passed as she realized the car was not moving and that she needed to get out so that Ren could head home. He managed to prevent her from apologizing too much and told her to be careful the rest of the way home. She promised and waved cheerful goodbye to him.

As she made her way to her home, her mind was full of intricate plans and a vague notion that she would not be sleeping much the next few days.

Lory sat at his desk, grinning like a madman as he hung up his phone. Plans seemed to be coming together nicely. He hoped everyone else enjoyed it as much as he did.

Ren woke up on his birthday and slammed his hand down on his alarm. He had not gotten as much sleep as he had planned on the night before, and the noise was offensive to him. If he could have known that across the city, Kyoko was greeting her alarm with vicious death threats, he might have been amused.

As it was, both of them more or less flopped out of bed and stumbled through their morning routines. Ren was interrupted by a call from his manager telling him he would need to leave ten minutes earlier than he had planned, and Kyoko fumbled around trying to find a large box that she could have sworn she had left on her desk. Ren made it out the door on time and Kyoko found the box just outside her door next to the bag she had packed the night before.

Ren held back a grumble as he tried to figure out what kind of last minute meeting had shown up that was so important he needed to rush to the office before the rest of his work that morning. Yashiro smiled widely as he slipped into the car and greeted his charge with what Ren considered undue enthusiasm.

"You're fifteen minutes early! Excellent, we should make it in plenty of time!"

"Time for what?" Ren demanded as he turned towards LME.

"For your lovely protege to hand you your birthday present," Yashiro told him with a grin. Ren blinked.

"And you couldn't have told me about this yesterday because?"

"Because she called me at three in the morning asking if we would be at the office at all today. And before you ask, when I asked her why she was calling so late she told me she wasn't sure if she was going to finish the gift on time, and I think every other phrase she uttered was something along the lines of 'I'm so sorry.' I'm not sure her brain was completely functioning anymore. She sounded a lot like you when you've been skipping on your sleep to memorize lines."

"Lovely," Ren grumbled, still too tired to summon the full feeling of joy that should have come over him when he realized he was getting a gift from his koh- friend.

He and Yashiro arrived a few minutes before Kyoko and were greeted by the excessively unexcited Kanae. She was civil, but it did not appear that either she or Ren were in the best place for being social, so the three people waited in silence.

At last the group was greeted by the miserable wail of "I'm sorry I'm so laaaaate!" as Kyoko sailed through the door and collapsed at the table with a large box in her hands.

"Mo, calm down," Kanae scolded as Kyoko tried to catch her breath.

"I'm sorr-"

"Good morning, Mogami-san," Ren interrupted. "How are you?"

"Good morning, Tsuruga-san. I think I'm a little tired, but that's probably because I was just running," she admitted. Ren smiled, but figured it had more to due with her three in the morning call to his manager.

"Did you need something?" he asked, knowing that he did not have long before he had to leave.

"Oh, yes. Happy Birthday, Tsuruga-san. I'm sorry that it's so big, but I couldn't make it any smaller," she informed him sheepishly as she handed the package over.

"That isn't a problem. Can I open it now?" The look on her face answered his question. "I'll save it until I get home," he told her. "I imagine it will be safer in the box."

"Yes," she acknowledged. "It really will."

"Thank you for the gift, Mogami-san. I'll look forward to opening it. I'll see you later. Kotonami-san," he bid farewell to the girls and followed his manager out of the room. Yashiro kept sneaking glances at the box and helped Ren by opening the trunk when they got to the car.

"So, are you going to tell me what it is?" Yashiro asked as they slid into the vehicle.

"You mean tomorrow, when I actually know? Probably. Unless I think you would be better off not knowing. Or if I might be better off," he added as he noted the mischievous grin on his manager's face.

"Oh, Ren!" Yashiro pouted.

"Definitely not if it isn't good for me," Ren stated with finality. With a gift from Kyoko, he just could not know.

Later that night, Kyoko curled up on the floor next to Kanae, sighing happily as her friend finished the dinner Kyoko had cooked.

"What kind of sound was that?" Kanae demanded.

"Moko-san is eating my cooking," Kyoko murmured happily.

"Of course I'm eating your cooking. You cook good food!"

"But you always yell at me when I cook things and say you don't want them," Kyoko pointed out. Kanae grimaced.

"That's because you normally make foods dripping in calories," she informed her friend. "This food is safe. And tasty."

"Oh, I'm glad!" Kyoko smiled. "I thought maybe you were like Tsuruga-san, and you didn't like heavy foods. So I tried to make something lighter. And it worked." A ponderous look came on her face. "You know, you and Tsuruga-san are a lot alike."

"That's ridiculous!" Kanae retorted, jabbing at her last bite of food. Kyoko only giggled.

"No, in a lot of ways you are alike. Maybe that's why you don't get along," she mused. "You're both trying so hard to be the best, you have a hard time liking the other person. It's just the two of you acknowledging a rival!"

Kanae stared at her friend for a moment before bursting out laughing. Kyoko was confused by this reaction, but smiled softly at having been able to please her best friend. In the mean time, LoveMe number two tried to pull herself together as she realized how close Kyoko had come to the truth without having a clue as to the real source of conflict.

When she had at last regained her breath, Kanae looked up and met Kyoko's gaze squarely.

"Something like that, yeah," she told her friend as a wayward chuckle escaped her.

"But you shouldn't worry so much," Kyoko told her. "You and Tsuruga-san can both be at the top at the same time, you know."

"Um, you do realize there is only one spot open at the top, right?" Kyoko shook her head.

"Because Tsuruga-san is a guy and Moko-san is a girl, you can both do it. I guess if you really want to beat the other, that only leaves one space, but since most movies and shows have a female lead and a male lead, you really need two people on top to make them work. It's like how both Moko-san and Tsuruga-san are my friends, but I can't spend time with Tsuruga-san like I do with you. It would be silly to go shopping with him, or go out for ice cream. That's just for Moko-san. Tsuruga-san scolds me when I'm being irresponsible about my work. I need you both. Especially Moko-san, because you're my first female friend. You're special!" Kyoko declared with triumph.

Kanae stared at her for a moment before smiling. She forgot sometimes, just how big Kyoko's heart was. But even as she engaged in playful banter with her friend, she did not let go of the idea that Tsuruga Ren was a threat. Kyoko might have a special place in her heart set away for Kanae, but men complicated things. And that man looked to be a danger to Kyoko. Kanae would protect this girl, because Kyoko was her first best friend, and she was not going to let anything happen to LoveMe Number One.

Ren somehow managed to open his apartment door while juggling the box in his arms, and he was extremely glad to set it down on the table. It was not heavy, but it was unwieldy. He had no idea how Kyoko had managed to run with the thing. He frowned as he thought about this and hoped she had not hurt herself.

Once he had changed and grabbed a random snack from his fridge, he knelt down at the table and started prying at the box. Inside seemed to be some sort of cubical structure covered by a semi-opaque veil that reached to the bottom of the box. On top of this veil sat a folded note, which Ren placed beside himself before lifting the structure out of the box and setting it down carefully on the tabletop.

He allowed himself a minute to guess what might be hidden beneath the shroud before running out of ideas and lifting the soft fabric. His breath caught as he realized what he was looking at.

So this was what all those questions had been about…

Sitting before Ren was a miniature model of the Dark Moon set from the day that he had performed his Katsuki test. It held all the cast members present on that day as well as the managers, stage hands, and even Lory on his gilded throne, flanked by two of his entourage. Ren had no idea how Kyoko had managed to remember all of these details, but would not have minded if most of them were made up. The sheer intricacy of the project was unreal. The time it must have taken, and in only a few days…

There was Kyoko, watching excitedly as the scene played out. He wondered how she had chosen the look for her own face. There was Yashiro, video camera focused on the stage, wearing gloves to protect the device. There was Momose-san and himself on stage, standing at the piano and playing with laughing faces. Ren turned the model to get a better look at the audience and was shocked to see the look of amusement and pleasure on Lory's face. He did not doubt that Kyoko had remembered it correctly, but it was fantastic to think that the man who had complimented him so blandly had worn a face like that.

The entire scene was mesmerizing and Ren could not help but enjoy staring at it as he discovered incredible new details, including the pattern of his tie and the tiny shards of glass on the floor where the teacup had been dropped.

Eventually he remembered the noted and picked it up. Reading through it carefully, he could not help the smile that came to his face.


I know you don't normally keep silly little keepsakes, but you said that Katsuki was an important role for your career, and that reminded me of how special my memory of Corn was. When you got me my birthday present, I think you were trying to give me another special memory and help me remember something that I loved. So even though you don't have a use for it, I decided to make you a model of the birth of Katsuki, because this is the only thing that I can do. I hope that you like it, and that you don't think I'm being silly.

Mogami Kyoko

Ren had to bite back a laugh as he thought about the actual event that constituted the "birth of Katsuki." The scene depicted by Kyoko's gift was certainly Katsuki's first show in front of the world, but it was not where Katsuki had been born. Katsuki had been born on the floor of Ren's kitchen, in the guise of Ren/Kuon, who, for the first time in his life, had lost his character in the sensation of a girl in his arms.

But Kyoko was not likely to try and ever depict that scene, even in her mind (he wondered if she had burned it out of her memory the way he had burned it into his), and this was a much safer present to have given him.

Ren carried it carefully to his bedroom where he placed it on his dresser. He would need to find a better place for it eventually, but for now he would keep it in here. He placed the note next to it, still smiling like a fool.

It was not very fair of her, but every time Ren determined to give up on Kyoko she did something like this, and would remind Ren that he really could not live without her.

He needed to find some way to let her know, or he was going to go crazy.

Lory looked over the costumes in front of him and made barked some directions at the various workers. His smile grew as he pictured the happy day that was approaching.

He hoped that Ren thanked him for this, though knowing the impetuous brat, Lory was likely to only get a scold. Oh well, it would be great fun.

The End

Of this part of the story. I'll be posting my next short story with the Valentine's Day events over the weekend. Yes, you will get to know what Ren says to Kyoko about the gift, and you will get to find out what Lory has been planning for his poor, poor company.

I owe a great debt to Will, who beta'd this amidst the storm of her life. I think she is preparing to kill me, since she knows I'm not finished yet, but hopefully she will wait for me to finish getting the story out so that none of you suffer. I appeal to her pride as a beta to spare me, even though I know I'm a constant trial for her. Please Will... m(_ _)m