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Disclaimer: I do not own Skip Beat or any of its characters.
Kyoko bent down onto her knees and cupped her hands over her eyes, trying to steal a peek at the tray in the oven. Noticing the nice rise of the dough, she smiled brightly and murmured under her breath, "Perfect."
Extremely pleased that she didn't lose her knack for baking desserts, she made her way around the kitchen and got to work on the piles of dishes that were stacked in the sink. Kyoko had never been a messy cook before, but time had unfortunately gotten the best of her. Even waking up at eight did not ease the number of tasks she had to get done today.
But nevertheless, Kyoko gladly did so. It was such an important day after all and nothing was too much for him.
Cheerfully, she hummed a soft melody under her breath as she dipped her hands into the warm soapy water. She was concentrating so deeply on her task at hand that she didn't even notice the front door open and who had just returned home. Hearing her sweet voice from the kitchen, he quietly set down his bag upon the black couch and tiptoed towards the archway.
He sneakily poked his head through and smiled widely as he watched her move her head back and forth to the song she was now beautifully singing out loud. Then carefully measuring his every step upon the smooth marble floor, he inched closer and closer until he was standing right behind her.
He grinned mischievously, knowing exactly what kind of response he was about to get and more than eager to welcome it.
So with two arms enthusiastically flung about her waist, he yelled in a booming voice, "I'M HOME!"
Kyoko shrieked bloody murder and dropped the dish she had been rinsing with a PLOP! into the water. But instantly recognizing the arms around her waist, she spun around and exclaimed in a stern voice, "HIZURI KUON! Are you trying to give me a heart attack?"
He giggled and looked up into her golden eyes. "No, you just made it way too easy, Mom."
Rolling her eyes and delicately running her hand through his dark blond locks, she playfully scolded, "Of course, blame me for your antics. Well, next time please consider your dear mom's poor heart, would you?"
Kuon laughed. Then hugging her tightly around the waist, he murmured into her apron, "I'm home."
She smiled and kissed him on the head. "Welcome home, sweetheart," she responded just as kindly.
Kuon looked up at her and flashed a brilliant smile. Even though he was only a boy of six, it didn't take a genius to see that he was quite a handsome little fellow. He had unique blue-green eyes that sparkled like the surface of the ocean, high smooth cheekbones, a slim nose, and a smile that easily had everyone fall head-over-heels in love with him. Just like his father, he was every bit as charming, but just like his mother, he was incredibly witty and confident.
But the one attribute that made Kuon such a special boy was the natural warmth he brought to people, whether it was through his actions or words. So with a heart larger than anyone's, he suddenly leaned back just a bit and placed a tiny hand over Kyoko's warm and bulging belly. His smile softened. "I'm home to you too, Sakura."
Then to his utmost surprise, he suddenly felt a slight pressure push against his hand. Kuon nearly shouted in surprise as Kyoko let out a giggle, loving the astonished look on her son's face. "Did you feel that?" she asked with a smile.
"Yeah! Was that her?"
Kyoko nodded. "She's happy you're home too."
Placing his hand over her belly again, he whispered, "Really Sakura?"
Another tiny kick had Kuon jumping up and down in joy. "Wow, she did it again!" he hollered, bouncing like a tiny jack rabbit.
"What did she do again?" a male asked.
Turning their head towards the deep voice, Ren walked through with a bag of groceries in one hand and a curious gaze upon his face. Kuon ran towards his dad and quickly pulled him towards the sink. "Sakura!" he exclaimed in excitement. "She responded to me, Dad!"
"Really?" Ren asked in equal excitement, turning his eyes to Kyoko as he casually placed the bag onto the counter.
She nodded. "She's getting more rambunctious every day."
After pressing his usual, loving kiss against her temple, Ren placed a large hand over her stomach and only needed to wait another second before he felt the same movement. And just like father and son, Ren jumped up in surprise and shouted, "Holy—! When did she start doing that?"
"Just this morning," Kyoko laughed at his dumbstruck expression. "But never this much. She must be really excited that you're both here."
"Does it hurt, Mom?" Kuon asked worriedly, placing his small hand in hers.
Kyoko shook her head and gave his hand a gentle squeeze, more than touched by his concern. "Not at all," she answered. "Actually, I quite love it. She's just reminding me how happy she is."
Ren chuckled, wrapping his arm around her waist and murmuring, "We all are."
Kyoko instinctively leaned back against his broad shoulder and instantly felt her body relax. Although she enjoyed being pregnant, she had to admit it was a bit of a strain on her body. Back aches, tired joints, and changes in appetite were just a few of the changes she underwent and there were still plenty more to come.
But thankfully, Kyoko was able to lower her stress significantly by easing off on work for the past week and spending most of the days at home. Ren, of course, would have preferred to have her stay home earlier. By the time she hit four months, he had already started to change the house to her convenience, such as removing anything sharp or dangerous, having pillows in just about every room (there was actually one sitting in the tub), and buying every food item known to man and stocking them in the pantry.
Kyoko assumed he would be less concerned after Kuon, but Ren was still the same: frantically making sure everything was perfect to the T.
Of course, Kyoko never once complained. In fact, she loved Ren even more so for taking such good care of her. His constant presence made her feel well protected and quite pampered. For instance, every day just as he walked right through the door, he would always come and find her, making sure she had everything she needed and of course, showering her with love until she was practically drowning.
Kyoko smiled as she felt his fingers absent-mindedly brushing up and down her arm, eliciting tiny ripples down her spine. Ever after all these years Ren still had such a hold over her. It was amazing how he deeply he affected her heart and mind. He could make her laugh uncontrollably in one instant and have her swoon the next. He really was her everything.
Ren let out a quiet chuckle and placed a tiny kiss upon her neck, recognizing her body's reaction immediately.
Kuon giggled at their embrace. "You're like Grandma and Grandpa."
Kyoko laughed. "And speaking of them," she added casually as she reached into the apron pocket, "this came in the mail for you today."
Reaching for the letter, Kuon eagerly read the scribbled words with wide eyes before he resurfaced with a wide grin and reported, "They're going to be here tomorrow!"
Ren nodded, catching onto his son's happy mood. "Yup, for the whole weekend."
Smiling from ear to ear, Kuon placed the folded letter into his pant pocket and exclaimed, "This is the best day ever!"
Then, as if someone had suddenly opened a window, a delicious smell gradually wafted throughout the kitchen. Kuon's eyes widen in glee as he eagerly turned his attention to the oven. Rushing forward, he looked through the dark glass and saw a familiar sight. "Angel cake!"
Laughing, Kyoko tousled his smooth hair and replied, "Of course! Did you really think I wasn't going to bake your favorite on your birthday?"
Kuon looked up at her and grinned. "You're the best, Mom."
Ren picked up his tiny son and gently seated him upon the dark countertop until they were staring eye to eye, brown to blue-green. "And what about your dad? What am I?" he asked in mock jealousy.
"Dad, I already complimented you today," Kuon answered with equally stern eyes, but unable to hold the joy from his face.
He pouted. "Yeah, but I didn't get to hear how I was the BEST at anything."
"You're such a child," Kyoko replied as she playfully flicked the back of his ear. "Did you forget that that should be Kuon's role?"
Kuon laughed at his father's obvious hurt appearance. "I got it, Dad," he began with a raised hand in order to put this matter to rest. "I know what you're best at."
"And what would that be?"
"You're the best at being teased," Kuon replied with a chuckle, watching his father's dark eyes narrow. "You take it really well."
Scooping up his wickedly smart son, Ren raised him high into the air and retorted with a grin, "What did you say, you little rascal?"
"Dad!" Kuon laughed as he was bounced up and down. "Put me down!"
Kyoko giggled, holding a hand over her open mouth. Even at her son's desperate and breathless pleas to be released, Ren only raised him higher, tickling him under the arms in the same process. "Mom! Help me!" Kuon begged with an obvious smile upon his lips as he gasped for air.
"Sorry sweetheart, but my hands are tied," Kyoko answered, making her way back towards the sink. "These dishes aren't going to wash themselves."
Ren chuckled. "Well what do you know? Looks like Mom's on my side for this one," he said as he gave another tickle. Then gently lowering his son into his arms, he affectionately touched his forehead to his and murmured under his breath, "So guess what your punishment is going to be for teasing good ol' Dad?"
Kuon raised an eyebrow in amusement.
"You're going to help me go over my lines," Ren answered with another bounce. "What do you say to that?"
"The script for your new movie came in?" Kuon exclaimed in excitement.
Ren frowned deeply. "If you're going to be that excited, I don't think this is the right punishment…"
"Dad!" Kuon wriggled out of his father's arms until his feet hit the floor. Then wrapping his small hand around three of Ren's fingers, he earnestly pulled him into the living room. "Show me the script! I want to know which character you'll be playing!"
Ren flashed Kyoko an apologetic smile (she sweetly waved him away in response) before obediently following his son onto the black couch and pulling out the packet of paper that was stuffed in a yellow envelope upon the coffee table. He leaned back against the leather cushion and flipped to the very first page of lines. "I'm going to be playing the cop, Isamu Goro," he answered, handing Kuon the script.
"Are you going to catch bad guys?" he asked, his eyes practically glowing with awe as he held the papers in his lap.
Kuon scooted closer to his father, exclaiming, "That's so cool, Dad! You'll be a like a superhero! So what's Isamu-san like? Is he tough? Scary? Quiet? Does he have a dark past?"
Chuckling, Ren wrapped an arm around his son's slender shoulders and casually crossed his long legs. Kuon always loved hearing about his dad's roles in movies and he got even more excited when he saw him act, especially on the occasions when Ren brought him to work. Already at such a young age, he was deeply fascinated with the acting world. Even at times when they were just playing together, Kuon was immaculate at setting the scene and making sure his every action was in agreement with the state of his character. Whether it was protecting the king as a valiant knight or saving a girl from a group of kidnappers, Kuon tried very hard to be as accurate and realistic as possible.
Thus, he was very much like his mother in that aspect too, a huge stickler for details.
"Well," Ren began in a soothing voice, comforted by the warmth of his son pressing against his side, "Isamu Goro used to be a criminal himself actually, until he was horribly betrayed, costing him the love of his life. And after years of rotting away in jail, filled with nothing but torment and guilt, he was oddly set free under the condition that he would go back into the world of crime, but this time as a spy with the sole intent of wiping out the people he had previously worked under. Thus, he's now a fully reformed cop, desiring nothing more than to enact revenge for his lost love."
Kuon nodded in understanding. "So he's a hateful man?"
"Well, what do you think?" Ren asked instead. "How do you think I should play him?"
Screwing his face up in concentration, Kuon leaned his chin into the palm of his hands. Ren held back his chuckle as he watched his son come up with a response. It was always interesting to see the world through a child's eyes, especially one as young as Kuon. In fact, on multiple occasions, his son helped him with his roles by doing nothing else but providing with him insight that was lost to him now as a grown man.
"I got it!" Kuon suddenly cried, turning back to his curious father with a satisfied expression.
"I'm all ears."
"Okay, I think it's pretty obvious he's upset, so he's not going to be a nice guy."
Ren nodded. "I completely agree."
"But, the fact that he needs to seek out revenge means he's still sad about what happened, so I don't think he's completely evil."
Blinking in surprise at how he had come to that conclusion, Ren asked, "You think wanting revenge means you're sad?"
Kuon nodded. "When you're sad, you can't forget, right?"
Ren blew out a breath, a smile forming at the corner of his lips.
"What's wrong, Dad?" Kuon asked worriedly. "Am I wrong?"
He shook his head in earnest and firmly squeezed his son's shoulders. "Not at all. I think you're absolutely correct. It just amazes me how smart you're getting day by day."
Kuon grinned proudly. "Like you, right?"
"Nope," Ren answered, lovingly touching his nose to his. "You will be much, much smarter than me."
But before his son could disagree, the doorbell suddenly let out a single chime, signaling the arrival of guests. Kuon eagerly turned his head towards the front door and got to his feet. Ren laughed. "We both know who that is."
Nodding with pure excitement, Kuon dashed towards the door and yelled over his shoulder, "I got it, Mom!"
And after checking the peep hole like his parents had always taught him to, he swiftly unlatched the golden lock and twisted the doorknob. He broke out into a grin as the door swung open to reveal his two favorite people. "UNCLE YASHIRO! AUNT KANAE!"
Yashiro, who was dressed in a brown leather jacket, a casual dress shirt and trousers, easily picked him up into his arms and greeted in a cheerful voice, "Hello Kuon. Happy Birthday!"
"Thank you, Uncle Yashiro," Kuon replied in turn, hugging the bespectacled man closer.
"You're getting quite big, aren't you?" Kanae added as she gingerly ran the back of her hand against his smooth cheek whilst standing beside Yashiro.
"Yup! Mom says I'm going to be as big as Dad when I'm older."
"Most likely," she answered with a nod of agreement.
Kuon smiled and reached out both of his hands towards her. Confused by his action, Kanae reluctantly mirrored his movement and held out both of her arms as well. Yashiro chuckled at the odd exchange and fluidly stepped forward so that Kuon could easily shift himself into her embrace. Kanae was too shocked to do anything before she felt his arms wrap around her neck. She stared into his innocent eyes with surprise.
Kuon giggled at her expression and placed a kiss upon her cheek. "You look really pretty, Aunt Kanae."
Wearing a dark purple coat that reached beyond her knees and a black knitted dress underneath, she blushed profusely and narrowed her eyes. "You're certainly like your father, alright," Kanae replied with a wary shake of her head, "Always knowing just what to say to people."
Used to her stern personality by now, he laughed brightly and shook his head. "I didn't get that from Dad."
"Then who did you get it from?"
"I got my honesty from Mom," he answered with a tender squeeze of her slender neck.
By now, Kanae couldn't hold back the laugh. She had never met someone who was so charismatic and downright clever in her life. The way he brushed her comment away with such a smart remark clearly did not represent his age. He was surely going to give his parents a run for their money.
Yashiro chuckled and leaned into the young boy's ear, whispering, "You should give me some tips, Kuon. I can never get Aunt Kanae to show me such a sincere laugh as she does to you."
Kanae rolled her eyes, giving him a stern push of her hips, but smiling at him out of the corner of her eye.
"You're not just going to hang around the front door, are you?" Ren casually jumped in with a friendly smile as he walked towards them. "There's plenty of room in here."
Yashiro chuckled and smoothly shut the door behind them. "Wow, Ren. It's been so long since the last time I saw you."
"I agree. It's been what? Three hours?"
"Time does fly, doesn't it?" Yashiro joked with a grin.
Laughing, the two brotherly men clapped their hands upon each other's shoulder in familiarity and amusement. It was truly amazing how comfortable they were around one another. No one would ever believe they actually had a work-related relationship. It obviously looked so much more personal.
Ren then turned around and smiled brightly at Kanae who looked quite comfortable holding young Kuon in her arms. "And how are you, Kanae-san? I hear your movie has been doing great in the box office."
She smiled and gave a little nod of her head, replying, "I've been good. And yes, I'm thankful for how the film is doing. Kyoko told me you both went to see it, right?"
"We did. It's amazing. You play a very believable villain."
"You were an evil person, Aunt Kanae?" Kuon asked with wide eyes.
She nodded. "Why do you look so surprised?"
"Well, how could someone as pretty as you be evil?"
Ren chuckled and gave his son a little wink as he watched Kanae fidget.
"Goodness Kuon, you're really relentless, aren't you?" she murmured, pressing her face into his cheek to hide her obvious blush.
Yashiro laughed. "What did you do, Ren? School him in the arts of charm?"
"Of course not. Kuon got his honesty from his mom," Ren explained with a smile.
Kanae narrowed her eyes, replying, "So we've heard. And where is—?"
All three turned to the kitchen and saw Kyoko walk out, her smile as bright as day. Kanae instantly approached her and shifted Kuon until he was safely hooked in one of her arms. Then standing before her friend, she glared and held up a hand before Kyoko could utter another word. "Stop right there."
She froze and lowered her outstretched arms, anxiety coloring her amber eyes. "What's wrong?"
Puzzled, Kyoko did a slow little spin as she curiously watched Kanae appraise her up and down. Her friend then stepped forward and lifted Kyoko's chin, twisting her face to both sides. Kanae placed her hand over Kyoko's forehead and then finally over her large belly. She let out a puff of air. "Good, you're taking care of yourself," she commented with approval.
Kyoko laughed. "You needn't be so worried, Moko-san."
"Did you go to work today?" she demanded, ignoring her comment entirely.
Kyoko obediently shook her head. "Nope, I was home all day," she recited, straightening her back in the process.
Nodding, Kanae wrapped both of her hands around Kuon once more and replied, "That's better. Now Kuon, you're making sure your mom is getting plenty of rest right?"
"Absolutely, Aunt Kanae."
Kyoko walked forward and pressed her cheek against Kanae's. The fuss she made over her was more than proof that Kanae truly was her best friend. Sometimes, Kyoko wondered if she was actually more worried than Ren. Of course, she tended to scold Kyoko more than he did, but nevertheless, her intentions were clear.
"How do you feel, Kyoko-chan?" Yashiro asked with a kind smile as he wrapped an arm around her shoulders. "You look really good."
Giggling and blushing, Kyoko warmly returned his sweet embrace and said, "A little sore every now and then, but I'm so pampered by these two, that I barely feel it. Sakura's getting a little more active too."
"Really? Yashiro asked excitedly. "Is she kicking?"
"That's great, Kyoko-chan!" he said as he gave her another squeeze.
"Is there any discomfort?" Kanae asked, her eyebrows naturally furrowing in concern.
She shook her head. "Not at all."
"Well Ren, sounds like your little girl is going to be quite the energetic one," Yashiro pointed out.
He chuckled and reached out for Kyoko's hand. "Very much like her mother," Ren stated with a tender smile at his wife.
Flushed with embarrassment, Kyoko vigorously shook her head and said in earnest, "Alright everyone, why don't you all go into the living room and I'll get the food ready."
"Sweetheart, you really shouldn't move around so much," Ren insisted as he stepped forward. "Go sit and I'll prepare everything."
She gave him a light kiss on the cheek. "I feel perfectly fine. Now, Moko-san and Yashiro-san, please hand me your coats and make yourselves at home."
But just as they were about to open their mouth in protest, Kyoko cut in and said, "And Kuon, why don't you show Aunt Kanae and Uncle Yashiro the monster truck they sent you? You finished painting it, right?"
Kuon nodded excitedly. "It's all done! And thank you for the gift."
Yashiro chuckled and affectionately patted his head. "Not at all, Kuon. We're glad you liked it."
"Good, now that that's settled, your coats please," Kyoko demanded, her proprietress tendencies taking over in an instant. She quickly shuffled her guests out of their jackets and motioned them into the living room. Ren laughed at their obvious reluctance.
"It's no use you two. What Kyoko says, goes."
Kanae scoffed, but nonetheless allowed Kuon to pull her onto the couch with Yashiro close behind. Once Kyoko saw everyone getting comfortable, she made her way down the hallway and opened up the communal closet.
She carefully draped both of the thick jackets over one arm as she reached for a hanger. Slipping Kanae's coat on first, she pushed aside the other garments in the closet and hooked the hanger onto the wooden pole. But just as she picked up Yashiro's jacket from off her bent arm, something small suddenly dropped from out of the pocket and onto the rug.
Curious, Kyoko carefully knelt down onto both of her knees and gingerly gripped the tiny item between her fingers.
Her eyes widen.
Quickly, she shot a glance at the living room and saw the two of them, sitting side by side and watching with content as Kuon proudly presented his massive car. Her heart instantly filled with warmth as she carefully placed the object back into its rightful place. Kyoko then closed the door with a quiet thud and made her way back into the living room.
She sat down besides Kanae and tenderly reached out to grasp her slender hand.
Kanae turned to her and raised an eyebrow at her friend's cheerful expression. "What are you smiling about?"
"Nothing, just thinking about bright the future is going to be."
Letting out a deep exhale at her cheesiness, Kanae replied, "Well, you're going to have two adorable children soon. Of course your future is going to be bright."
Kyoko laughed and gave her a little nudge of the shoulder. "Not just mine," she disagreed.
"Your future is bright too," she explained with ease.
Rolling her eyes at Kyoko's tendency to nick pick, Kanae nudged her back and said, "I guess so."
Kyoko smiled tenderly. "Exactly…"
"…and it's only going to get brighter once you're engaged."
And there you have it! First off, I want to express my deepest thanks to all the readers. It means the world to me every time I see someone review, favorite, or follow any of my stories. Now more than ever, I feel a greater passion for writing and I certainly owe that to you all. I hope you enjoyed this sequel and continue to read my future works. Thank you all again! 3