Disclaimer: I do not own SkipBeat! or any of the characters from the Manga.
Summary: Kyoko jumps at the chance to play a fairy-tale princess, even if it is only for a CM. But there's a catch. Why is Sho smirking, and will Ren be able to save her in time?
Author's Note: This story is my response to the Beatskipper's Picture Challenge. The picture I chose featured Kyoko sleeping on a bed in a snow-white style costume with two dwarves trying to decide how to wake her.
Act I: The Suspicious Smirk
Tsuruga Ren schooled his expression as soon as he saw the younger man approaching, but he couldn't hide the disgust in his eyes. They hadn't seen each other since the punk's unwelcome visit to the set of Dark Moon on Valentine's Day, four months before, but it was still too soon for Ren's taste. As the slightly shorter, bleach-blonde singer passed he had an evil twinkle in his eyes and a suspicious-looking smirk on his lips. Neither man spoke or even nodded their heads at each other.
Ren wondered briefly what Sho had been doing at TBM Studios, and what that smirk was about. Somehow Sho's look seemed almost… triumphant… which made no sense to Ren, so he dismissed the thought. Then the singer's shapely manager walked out of the building talking in a businesslike fashion with a tall, goateed man who looked like a street hood. The man looked somewhat familiar, but his name and identity eluded Ren at the moment. As Shouko Aki passed, she nodded a greeting at Tsuruga Ren. Her eyes met his only momentarily before darting away guiltily, which only heightened Ren's feeling that something was amiss.
With no answers forthcoming, he quickly dismissed the encounter and focused on the job at-hand. He stepped through the large glass door of the main entrance. He turned to the right and followed the corridor, acknowledging various greetings as people passed by. Then he turned into Studio D, where Yashiro was waiting with today's script revisions, and forgot about anything but work for the next six hours.
Act II: The Princess Proposal
Mogami Kyoko was practically prancing as she made her way out of LME's side-entrance and up to where Ren and Yashiro were leaning casually on Ren's car. It was a pleasant early evening, much too nice to sit waiting in a car. The day had gone well for Ren, except for the one chance encounter, and now that Kyoko was walking towards him, everything was better still.
Yashiro Yukihito, in his usual devious way, had somehow managed to manipulate Ren and Kyoko's schedules so that they both had the evening free. More importantly, he had also managed to prey on Kyoko's motherly instincts and convinced her to go to Ren's apartment and prepare dinner. Ren could imagine the conversation: "It's so frustrating, Kyoko-chan! I try to make him eat right, but he insists on eating non-nutritious foods like rice-balls. Could you… would you be willing to cook him a nutritious meal tomorrow? You seem to be the only person who can make him eat right."
Ren might have wanted to strangle the man, but he still appreciated the results. Kyoko scolded him severely; her disappointment in him made clear with every syllable… and then she informed him that she was going to make him eat a nutritious meal. So now here he was, watching in fascination as Kyoko smiled her most brilliant smile, sparkles in her eyes as she danced out of LME and up to his car. "Good evening, Yashiro-san, Tsuruga-san," she in an uncharacteristically bubbly tone.
"You look especially chipper today, Kyoko-chan," Yashiro declared in wonder. He found himself almost as enthralled with the young actress as Ren, though his interest was more that of an adoring older brother. "Did something good happen?"
"Hai!" Kyoko replied cheerfully as she pulled out a manila envelope and waved it above her head, "I just accepted a new offer, Yashiro-san, and guess what: not only is it a CM for a makeup company, but I get to play a princess!" Kyoko was often demonstrative, but she seldom squealed like an ordinary schoolgirl… today was that rare exception.
Ren forced his lungs to expel the breath he had been holding unconsciously since she first pranced out of LME. Her sparkling eyes reminded him of the time he had found her blue stone for her and returned it. She was… in a word… captivating. "That's wonderful, Mogami-san. Congratulations! May I see the offer?"
Kyoko proudly extended the envelope to her sempai, smiling brightly. Ren's hands took the envelope automatically, but he didn't look at it right away because his attention was fixated on Kyoko. He must have stayed like that for too long, because Yashiro cleared his throat. Startled, Ren tore his eyes away. When he glanced back he could see a slight red tinge in Kyoko's cheeks. Yashiro prevented him from slipping again by pushing himself off of Ren's car and saying, "Well then, I guess that I'd better get going."
Ren turned and looked at Yashiro, "Aren't I giving you a ride home?"
"Oh no," Yashiro answered casually, "I'm going to spend a little time in my office catching up on paperwork. You two go and enjoy your evening together." He ignored Ren's glare and smiled at Kyoko, "Make sure that he eats well, Kyoko-chan."
Act III: Stunning Sunsets
The evening was still beautiful and warm, so while Kyoko worked in Ren's neglected kitchen, Ren went up to the roof. The apartment owners had converted the roof into a pleasant gathering area. There were flower boxes and even small trees, as well as a pebble pathway that led to several patio-style umbrella tables. Nobody else was using the place, so Ren worked quickly to clean the area and arrange a single table with two chairs in the center of the large, open roof. On the previous evening he had placed a tablecloth, silverware, chopsticks, dishes, and candles into a box. These he carried to the roof and carefully arranged so that they would both have a wonderful view of the sunset. He feared that the setting might seem too deliberately romantic, but he was determined to make whatever excuses were necessary in order to spend the evening watching the sunset with Kyoko.
On other occasions Kyoko might have been spooked by the setting, but the euphoria of her new gig was too fresh and the evening was too perfect for such anxieties. When Ren took the tray of food and led her to the roof, she was immediately taken in by the double views of the Tokyo skyline and the hills which skirted the sprawling city. She was so pleased that her eyes began to sparkle again and her lips to purse in a silent whistle. It took every ounce of Ren's considerable self-control not to wrap his arms around her claim those oh-so-kissable lips with his own.
During their time as the Heel siblings Kyoko had learned more about what her tall sempai liked to eat. For this warm evening she prepared a Chinese sesame chicken salad and seafood kabobs. Ren, having spied her preparations, fished out a bottle of his favorite wine for himself and sparkling cider for her, along with two glasses, which he added to the tray. The air was remarkably free of pollution, the sky was clear, and there was just the slightest breeze… it was the perfect evening.
They talked companionably as they ate. Kyoko had never been on the roof of her sempai's building before and she loved the view. When their meal was finished, they sat in comfortable silence and turned their chairs to watch the sunset. There was a small gust of wind. As it ruffled through Kyoko's hair Ren forgot about the sunset and watched this alluring and elusive young lady.
They stayed that way for a while, until Kyoko turned to find Ren's adoring eyes on her. For a moment she only sat there, captured by his gaze. Then her face flushed, her breath caught, and Kyoko suddenly began to feel nervous. Searching for something to do, she began hastily clearing the few dishes, muttering excuses in her urgency to escape this disturbingly uncomfortable setting. Her heart was racing and she was experiencing thoughts and feelings which were both new and dangerous.
Act IV: The Problem with Princesses
Ren saw her hurried movements and cursed himself for slipping. Desperate, he sought for some means of distracting Kyoko. His eyes fell on her purse which she had carried to the roof with her. The envelope was still hanging out and it gave him an idea, "I never actually got to read you CM script, Mogami-san. May I look at it now?"
Kyoko paused, somehow soothed by her sempai's placid, relaxed tone. What is wrong with me? Nothing happened and I am only being foolish. He wasn't looking at me, he was only off in thought. It's not like Tsuruga Ren would ever look at me anyway. While the thought soothed her frayed nerves, it also made her feel indefinably sad. Returning to her seat, Kyoko leaned over and grabbed the document, extending the envelope to the tall man.
Ren breathed a sigh of relief when she returned to her seat. The last thing in the world he wanted at that moment was for her to leave. He glanced down at the envelope and his eyebrows lifted in inquiry. "Didn't you open the envelope, Mogami-san?"
Kyoko shook her head, "No…" she suddenly felt foolish. Feeling a little like a child who was about to be scolded, she said, "When Sawara-san handed me the offer and told me that I would get to play a princess, I jumped on it automatically. That was right before I was supposed to go to my next job, so I just signed the document and stuffed the offer into my purse. The next job took longer than expected and I only just had time to get back to LME and change my clothes before meeting you and Yashiro."
"Soooo…" Ren prompted, "… you agreed to take the job without actually checking the details?" Though he couldn't explain it, he began to feel worried about this job.
Kyoko nodded sheepishly as her face turned redder. She was positive now that her respected sempai must consider her to be foolish and unprofessional. "It was a princess-role," she said very softly.
Ren looked up at the sky in silent admonishment and asked, "May I open this?"
Ren quickly ran a finger inside and along the fold, ripping the seam. Kyoko watched sullenly as he extracted the sheaf of papers, laid the envelope aside, and began reading. He read silently, his face expressionless at first and then gradually more concerned. He was only halfway through the second page before he closed the document and met Kyoko's eyes. He didn't have the heart to tell her directly, so he decided to let her figure it out for herself. "Mogami-san, you know all of the fairy tale stories, don't you?"
Kyoko smiled and nodded, "Hai."
"And what do all of these fairy tales have in common?"
"Princesses?" Kyoko answered in the form of a question.
"What else? Who are the other main characters?"
"An evil villain, like an evil stepmother, or a wicked sorcerer," Kyoko answered cautiously.
Ren sighed, wondering if Kyoko was being deliberately obtuse. "Okay, let's take Snow White, for example. She was a princess who had an evil stepmother. If I remember the story correctly, she was supposed to be murdered, but instead she was hidden away in the woods until she grew up. When the evil stepmother discovered that she was still alive, she tricked her into eating a poisoned apple… right?"
Kyoko smiled, "You remembered that very well, only you left out the part about the dwarves."
Ren resisted the urge to roll his eyes, "Good. So… she ate the poisoned apple and she fell into a deep sleep that was almost like death. Mogami-san, how was Snow White finally saved and brought back to life?"
"Of course. The handsome prince found her and…" she moved her mouth silently, unable to say the next words as the reality of her situation finally reached her. She met Ren's eyes and he nodded once, just enough to confirm her worst fears.
Then he looked at the document in his hands and began reading. "Kissable, the newest product line from Ethereal Beauty Cosmetics. Scientifically formulated lipsticks that not only moisturize and revitalize the sensitive skin of your lips, but also make them so alluring that he won't be able to resist kissing you."
Ren heard a soft "eep" sound from across the table, but when he looked at Kyoko she looked frozen. He was about to reach for her hand when she spoke in a monotone, saying, "Keep reading."
"Prospective for 'Kissable Lips' CM: Using the theme of Snow White, the CM will feature an actress in the guise of a princess who is hunted down by her evil stepmother and tricked into biting a poisoned apple. The fairy godmother keeps her alive by encasing her in a glass coffin and placing a spell on her that will wake her and heal her completely only after she receives a kiss from a prince."
"Tsuruga… san," Kyoko pleaded, shivering despite the warmth of the evening. All of the good feelings of the past few hours were gone now, and only terror remained. "What do I do? I can't…"
The man in Ren, the part that desperately wanted to keep Kyoko's lips all to himself, thought of telling her to call Sawara immediately and back out of the deal… but the professional actor in him wouldn't allow this. He respected Kyoko as both a woman and as a peer in the world of acting. She had signed the contract and now she must fulfill her obligations. He knew what he had to do, but it wasn't easy, "Are you or are you not a professional, Mogami-san?" He spoke in a stern, cold voice, though it broke something inside of him to see her jerk back, as if slapped.
With many young actresses, such a tone might have caused anger and bitterness, but with Kyoko that was just the tonic she needed. She closed her eyes for a moment, and when she opened them again there was a fire, "I am a professional, Tsuruga-sempai."
"Good. That's the Mogami Kyoko that I know."
Act V: The Eager Enemy
Kyoko composed herself and reached out a hand. "I should read the rest."
Ren held out the document and allowed her to take it. Already the man in him was fighting back, trying to concoct a way to cancel Kyoko's involvement in this project. He had the nagging feeling that there was something he was missing… something bad.
Kyoko flipped to the second page and smiled half-heartedly, "Well, at least Kurosaki-sensei is the director."
"Kurosaki…" Ren mused out loud, "I know that I've heard that name."
"He was the director for the Curara CM that Moko-san and I were in," Kyoko answered softly, her eyes still reading.
An image sprang to mind of the day he stood on the knoll and watched Kyoko and Kotonami Kanae frolicking in the grass. There had been a director there… tall and young… looking more like a hoodlum than a… Suddenly the brief encounter earlier in the day sprang into Ren's mind and he surged out of his seat. Startled, Kyoko looked up from the document and looked at her tall sempai. Before Kyoko could ask, he said, "Sorry. I thought of something. I didn't mean to startle you."
As Kyoko continued reading, Ren paced the roof, trying to stay out of Kyoko's field of vision so that he wouldn't be a distraction. His near-perfect memory replayed the chance meeting from the morning… once again he saw Sho's triumphant, eager sneer… and then he saw Shouko Aki walking with the hoodlum/director while discussing a prospectus. Ren closed his eyes for a moment, fighting off the urge to track down the young singing idol and wring his scrawny little…
Ren's violent thoughts were instantly dispelled as Mogami Kyoko also surged from her seat, banging into the table and knocking over the metal chair she had been sitting in. Ren looked at her eyes first, and then at Kyoko's trembling hands. She had reached the third page of the prospectus… the page which listed the desired candidates for each role. Ren's suspicions were confirmed as he saw her turn into a stone statue, frozen in place, unable to move or think…
…but her eyes met Ren's with a pleading look that clearly said, "Save Me!"
Act VI: So many simply silly schemes
Cut his brake-line… too unreliable. Kidnap him and send him to Timbuktu… Where would I find an airplane? Wait until he steps out onto a sidewalk and run him over… too messy…
Ren grumbled in frustration, gripping his steering wheel even harder and driving even more aggressively with each passing silly scheme. It had been a week since their dinner on the roof and Ren was no closer to saving Kyoko than he had been on that night. How dearly he regretted chiding Kyoko for her unprofessional behavior; he had dug himself into a hole and now there was no chance of persuading Kyoko to drop the job. It didn't matter. He would find a way. He would not let Fuwa Sho steal another kiss.
Borrow the Boss' boa constrictor (he allowed himself to dwell on the image of the huge snake squeezing the life out of Sho)… that won't work… she's a snake; the two of them might turn out to be soul mates. Hire Yakuza… no, I'd rather beat him to a pulp myself… but the Press would get the story and then Kyoko would be upset. This is ridiculous! The CM films tomorrow!
"Are you ever going to tell me why you are so agitated, Ren?" Yashiro asked in his most sophisticated voice. He wasn't fooling Ren. The bespectacled manager was squirming in frustration inside, dying to know the cause of his charges angst. Ren had been frustrated and uncommunicative all week. The mystery was driving Yashiro crazy.
Ren, having failed to find a way to fulfill his silent promise to Kyoko, finally turned to his manager. "Yashiro, I need your help…"
Act VII: The pallid, pensive and pathetic Princess (isn't alliteration fun?)
Kyoko groaned as the cruel, unfeeling digital clock changed over from 4:59 to 5:00 a.m., reminding her once again that dawn would arrive soon… and with it would come the inevitable "end of all things," as she had come to think of it.
It was the "end of all things" because she knew that she was only hours away from the "Kissable" filming, and she also knew that she wouldn't be able to go through with it. She would balk. She would run. She would commit the greatest crime that a professional could make: failing to fulfill her commitment. Her reputation would be crushed. Her career ruined… and worst of all, she would disappoint her sempai. In the dark she kept her eyes open because she knew that if she allowed them to close then she would see his eyes again, just as she had all night long.
It didn't matter. Even with her eyes wide open she could see Tsuruga Ren's disgusted expression. She could hear his sigh of dismissal. She could see his back as he turned away from her and discarded her as his unworthy ex-kohai. Tears welled up in Kyoko's eyes which she did not fully understand. She only knew that the thought of a life without her sempai in it would be a life worse than death.
Abruptly, she sat up, tossing her blanket aside. I need to get up before I go crazy!
She turned on the light and made a quick search of her clothing. She found what she was looking for and changed, ignoring the chill of the morning as the sleek material enfolded her. Moving as quietly as possible, she went down the ladder-stairs and out of the rear door. The night was fading into dawn as she secured her helmet unchained her bike. Within minute she was flying down the almost deserted streets as fast as her strong legs would take her.
All around her the city was coming to life as shop owners prepared to open and delivery trucks made their rounds. Soon, very soon, the streets would become busy, flowing like life's blood. Tokyo was an amazing place, and Kyoko had become a part of it. This was her home now and she belonged here. With her own blood flowing and the breeze washing away the night's angst… and with this washing she found a new strength and determination.
Fuwa Sho had stolen everything from her once. He would not be allowed to do it again. I will do the CM, Shotaro. I'll even let you kiss me… Kyoko shuddered at the thought. She had wondered why Sho would have even consented to being in a commercial with the girl he despised, but then she had realized that he must intend to humiliate her. He knew her well enough that he probably expected her to back out or run away. Well I won't, Sho! I'll finish this commercial no matter what, and all of your big effort to make me look bad will be wasted!
Having overcome her anxieties and reached her determination, she turned her bicycle and powered back toward the Ryokan.
Tsuruga Ren had also experienced a near-sleepless night. He had tried to think of an answer; had imagined a thousand solutions, but everything he thought of was mere bluster. Today was Kyoko's CM with Fuwa Sho, and Ren had failed her. Grimacing at the thought, he turned his attention back onto the road in front of him.
After several more minutes he pulled into the semi-circular driveway in front of Yashiro's condo apartment. Ren was tempted to harangue his manager for not finding a solution, but he knew that it was wrong to blame the man for failing to do what he himself had also failed at. Still, it irritated him when he saw the bespectacled man smiling as he waited on the curb on this horrible morning.
Yashiro climbed in as soon as the car stopped and said, "You're schedule has changed a bit this morning."
Ren gripped his steering wheel extra hard as he denied himself the urge to vent. Instead he pasted on his most-gentlemanly smile and said, "What has changed?"
"Oh, not much," Yashiro answered, entirely too chipper. "I've rescheduled your modeling job so that you will be able to be there to give Kyoko-chan moral support."
Ren glanced over at his manager suspiciously, "What makes you think that she'll want moral support from me? After all, I failed to keep my promise to her." He forgot, for the moment, that no words had been spoken at the time. Besides, I might just be tempted to do bodily harm to that…
"Trust me, Ren. You should be there." The man looked smug and self-satisfied, which only served to irritate Ren more, but he kept his cool and steered towards Studio 78, the location for Kyoko's CM.
Act VIII: No-show Shotaro
Kyoko felt a profound regret when she looked at her transformation in the mirror. She was dressed and made up as Snow White, but she didn't feel any joy. For so many years she had dreamt of a moment like this and now it was ruined. Fuwa Sho, I'll make you pay for this!
She felt her grudges rising and quickly stopped her train of thought. She had promised Tsuruga-Sempai that she was acting to find herself, not for revenge. Whatever else she might do, she couldn't allow herself to mix acting with revenge. It would make the thing that she loved into something ugly. You can trust me, Sempai. I won't let you down. You said that I should act even if a family member died. I won't disappoint you. She felt warm as her thoughts lingered on Tsuruga Ren, though she didn't know exactly why.
Kyoko stood and bowed to the cosmeticians as they gushed over her beauty. She felt flushed with pleasure even though she knew that it was only due to the magic of make-up and not any beauty on her own part. Nevertheless, she thanked them politely and made her way to the set.
She was early, as usual, and she was grateful to find that Fuwa Sho hadn't arrived yet. Perhaps she could complete most of the initial scenes before he arrived and made things difficult. She heard movement behind her and turned to see Director Kurosaki approaching. She bowed to him and they exchanged greetings. He smiled and said, "I'm glad that you signed on, Kyouko-san. I have been following your career and I have to say that I'm impressed. You've certainly grown as an actress."
Kyoko blushed and began to murmur denials, but just then the filming crew came in, followed by other cast members, some who she recognized from television. Kurosaki immediately began organizing the first scenes and thereafter Kyoko didn't have time to worry about anything but the needs of the moment.
She was well into the third scene, where the queen tricked her with a poison apple, when she glanced past the set-lights and saw the tall figure and his shorter, bespectacled manager. It took all of her self-control to complete the scene without getting NG'd, but she made it. She was grateful when Director Kurosaki called for a break immediately afterward.
Torn between reluctance and a desire to speak with the man who was her ideal in the acting world, Kyoko hesitated. Then, unable to find a valid excuse for lingering on-set, she stepped around the cameras and walked up to the two men. She bowed, saying, "Good morning Tsuruga-san, Yashiro-san. I didn't expect to see you here." Her last sentence was a much a question as a statement. The truth was that she didn't want this man to be here to see her humiliation.
There was something else too… she didn't like the idea of having him here when Sho… when he… she felt her hands and jaw clenching. She looked up into Ren's eyes and saw something there that touched her heart and made her breath quicken. She almost jumped when Ren finally spoke, "You look very beautiful in that, Mogami-san. You are a real princess."
Heat suffused her entire body as pleasure washed over her, "Th… thank you… um… Sem… Sempai."
The pleasure vanished when she sensed Ren's dark aura as he glance around and asked, "Where is he?"
For the first time Kyoko noticed that her former-friend-turned-enemy was nowhere to be seen. "He still hasn't shown up? How typical of him." Maybe he decided not to show up? Kyoko's thought on that score were divided between hope and disgust. She didn't notice Ren looking inquiringly at his manager. Nor did she notice the smug look on Yashiro's face.
"Has anyone seen or heard from Fuwa Sho?" The director shouted out in annoyance. He might look like a street-hood, but when it came to work he was a consummate professional. When nobody had an answer he frowned and stalked away to start making calls.
Kyoko bowed to the two men and excused herself. The tension in the room was almost too much after a sleepless night and she needed a little time alone. Walking through the set, she looked at the beautifully-crafted glass coffin that would serve as her resting place. On impulse, she stepped into the coffin and laid down on the velvety cushions that covered the bottom. In a dreamlike state she slipped back into character, becoming Snow-White once again.
For the moment Fuwa Sho wasn't there and her trusted sempai was. Alone on-set and feeling temporarily secure, she closed her eyes and smiled.
Act IX: The Unapologetic Kiss-Thief (sorry, I ran out of alliteration)
Several of the other actors and actresses recognized Tsuruga Ren and immediately converged on him. Although he wasn't in the mood for talking, he did his best to be gracious as he waited for Kyoko to reappear.
Meanwhile, Yashiro slipped away and headed toward the entrance. As he expected, the tough-looking director was yelling into the phone demanding to know where Fuwa Sho was. Yashiro winced, feeling sorry for Fuwa Sho's pretty manager. He silently apologized because he bore her no ill feelings. Managers were often stuck with the person they were assigned to, and taking care of the rocker-punk couldn't have been easy.
He dismissed his silent introspection when he heard Kurosaki say, "Well find him" through gritted teeth. The frustrated director closed his phone and wheeled to head inside when he found his path blocked by a bespectacled man who looked slightly familiar. "What?"
"Your pardon, Director Kurosaki, but I might have a solution to your problem."
Kurosaki raised one pierced eyebrow, "Oh? And you are?"
"My name is Yashiro Yukihito. I am Tsuruga Ren's manager."
"Oh." Kurosaki was interested now, "And why are you here?"
"Ren and I stopped by to cheer Kyouko-chan on," Yashiro answered confidently, "He's inside right now speaking with your cast and crew."
Kurosaki's eyebrows both raised at this information. He had no idea that Kyouko travelled in such vaunted company. His brows then furrowed in thought before he said, "You said that you might have a solution to my problem? Were you suggesting that Tsuruga Ren might be willing to step in and fill the role of the prince?"
The makeup artists had been looking forward to seeing Fuwa Sho, but they were ecstatic when Japan's Most Desirable Man sat down instead. The most difficult part for the lead makeup artist was stopping herself from running her fingers through the incredibly handsome man's hair. To think: she was actually putting makeup on Tsuruga Ren!
Ren kept shooting glances over at his manager, but the man simply stood by the wall with an enigmatic smile. I don't know exactly what you did, Yashiro Yukihito, but I owe you one. Then Ren frowned slightly. While the idea of kissing Kyoko had tremendous appeal, he wasn't sure how Kyoko would react. This could set their relationship back drastically, even permanently. He groaned inwardly as he envisioned her trembling in a corner like a frightened chipmunk, or glaring at him and calling him a playboy. Pushing the images aside, he thanked the ladies and stepped out into the main room.
Director Kurosaki looked up as Ren approached and smiled, "Thank you for doing this, Tsuruga-san. Your manager assures me that LME won't have any problem with this, even though it is short notice and your part is relatively small."
Ren attempted a smile while scanning the room, "I'm happy to help, Kurosaki-san. I don't see Mogami-san anywh…"
"I found her, Director!" One of the key-grips sang out. The girl reached over and pushed a button to change the on-screen picture. The new image showed Kyoko looking beautiful as she lay peacefully in the glass coffin that would serve as her prop. The key-grip giggled, "She must have tested it out and fallen asleep. Should I go and wake her?"
Before Kurosaki could reply, Ren said, "Director, I have an idea."
Kyoko dreamed of being Snow White. Her mother naturally took the role of the wicked queen, while the dwarves had the faces of the Ishibashi brothers, Yashiro, Sawara, and others who were men she respected. In her dream she lay sleeping almost contentedly until there was the sound of an approaching horse. On the horse sat a magnificently tall man with dark hair, chiseled features, and a smile that made her heart race. He dismounted, walking towards her slowly as he studied her face adoringly. Then he reached down and softly brushed a stray lock of hair out of her face with his large hand before leaning over her.
She felt his warm, minty breath on her face. It brushed across her lips and created a desire to draw closer. She couldn't move, but he did. His lips touched hers softly at first, so softly that she doubted her dream-senses. But then his lips touched hers again and this time the kiss was both firm and remarkably tender.
Kyoko woke up, but the final moment of her dream remained and melded into the startling reality. A pair of lips were kissing hers! Did Fuwa Sho finally… She opened her eyes and her golden eyes met Tsuruga Ren's chocolate brown eyes. At first the sensation of the kiss was too powerful for her to think, but then his lips pulled away and Kyoko sat up in shock.
"And… cut!" Director Kurosaki shouted. "Great job, you two! That will definitely please the cosmetics company. Okay, let's get the next set ready! We'll need both of you in ten minutes." The others who had been watching the scene clapped or whistled their approval of the pair's performance while Kyoko still sat there, her lips tingling and her heart racing. When the others had moved on, Ren turned to her and softly said, "I apologize for not warning you, Mogami-san. You were so nervous before that I thought it might work out best if we let you wake up naturally."
He smiled that gentle, disarming smile that always disconcerted Kyoko. Then he said, "Congratulations, you've just made it through your first on-screen kiss." With that, he stood and walked after the rest of the group, leaving Kyoko wondering why her sempai was there instead of Fuwa Sho. Then her trembling hand drifted to her lips… lips that had just been kissed by Tsuruga Ren… lips that seemed to long for more…
Act X: People wake up in the strangest places
Fuwa Sho groaned as his throbbing head insistently woke him from his deep slumber. The gentle rocking of his bed, the soft sound of lapping water, and the sweet smell of fresh hay seemed to help a little, but…
Sho yawned and sat up, but just then there was a gurgling sound and his bed lurched sideways. The sudden movements made his already aching head spin, so he lay down again. He took a few minutes to make a slow assessment of his condition. It didn't take long to realize that his roaring hangover was a direct result of over-celebrating the night before. He had been gloating over his triumph all week, anticipating the look on that platform-wearing, talentless pretty-boy Tsuruga Ren every time he saw the commercial that he and Kyok… KYOKO! COMMERCIAL!
He sat up abruptly again, this time ignoring the shooting pains in his head and the unnatural rocking motion that made him feel nauseous. As he sat and scanned his surroundings, he realized that he had been lying in a bed of hay piled high upon a moving structure. He looked around and saw open sky. When he pushed above his cocoon of hay he saw that he was travelling on a river and that he was surrounded by farmland. Scrambling down one side as rapidly as his aching limbs and screaming head would allow, he made his way to the deck. Only then did he understand that he was on the type of barge that travelled up and down the Sumida River.
Sho patted his pants pockets searching for his phone, but found none. Perplexed and overstressed, Sho scanned for the pilot house of the barge and then walked rapidly over the hay in that direction. He reached his destination right when the captain stepped out of the structure to light a cigarette. The man paused with the lighter near his mouth, surprised to find this disheveled stowaway. Then he scowled and gruffly demanded, "What are you doing on my barge?"
The man's booming voice only added to the throbbing in Sho's head, so he answered irritably, "That's what I want to ask you! Where the h*ll am I, and how did I get on this garbage scow!"
No man likes to have his livelihood insulted, and this barge had been Captain Shiokawa's pride-and-joy ever since he had saved up enough to purchase it as a young man. His face turned livid now as he glared at the young man. "Boy, I have no idea who you are, but you had better watch your mouth or you will find yourself treading water."
The menace in the older man's tone got through Sho's aching head. He clamped down on his rejoinder and said instead, "I apologize. All I know is that I was in Tokyo last night and I woke up in the middle of your hay this morning. Can you please tell me where I am?"
The captain studied the young drunkard with disdain, "You are on my barge travelling past Honjo. I have no idea how you got on board, but you'll have to stay on board until I reach my destination…" He studied his watch, "… in about three hours."
Sho wanted to argue, but he could see the same stern expression on this man's face that his own father wore just before he took drastic action. They stared at each other for several moments before Sho finally asked, "Is there a cell phone or something else that I could use to make a call?"
Several minutes later Sho held the phone at arms-length away from his ear as Shouko Aki shouted at him about his foolishness and his irresponsibility. To add salt to his already-gaping wounds, she informed him that Director Kurosaki had needed to replace him with another actor… and that actor was Tsuruga Ren.
Livid, he stalked back and forth on the narrow walkway of the barge for the next three hours, cursing at the world in general and Tsuruga Ren in-particular. The captain, watching the angry teen from the pilot house, shook his head dismissively. He had noted that the boy was both tall and handsome, so he was glad that his twenty year old daughter was not accompanying him on this trip. He had once allowed his barge to be used as part of a film set and his daughter still talked about the tall, handsome actor who had been the star.
Unbeknownst to either man, the captain's daughter was sitting at home in her apartment, gazing lovingly at the personally signed, poster-sized photo of Tsuruga Ren. She couldn't believe her luck when Yashiro Yukihito, Tsuruga Ren's handsome manager, had approached her with the poster and with VIP tickets to the release of the actor's upcoming movie. All she had needed to do was to allow the manager and another man to sequester another man on board. The third man was drunk and his head was bowed, so she never saw his face. A pity; he had seemed tall and he seemed familiar in the one glimpse she had caught of his profile. Oh well…
Epilogue: Kissable, the ongoing saga
Kyoko had difficulty meeting Tsuruga Ren's chocolate-brown eyes as they sat together in LME's cafeteria. A week had passed since the CM and she could still feel remember in painfully vivid detail the moment when she awoke to feel her sempai's soft, warm lips on hers. As she thought of it her entire body became warm and her lips began to tingle. It took all of her self-control not to reach up and brush her hand over her lips.
Over the past few days she had vacillated between feeling angry, embarrassed, and grateful. Tsuruga Ren had explained his action in his usual calm manner: he was there when they needed a replacement. He had free time (Kyoko wondered how that could have happened). And he did it to protect her from Fuwa Sho. If they hadn't continued filming then, then she would have had to kiss Sho at some later time.
Kyoko was grateful for that. Logically, she knew that Tsuruga-sempai was right. But it didn't change how she felt every time she remembered that moment.
Kyoko broke out of her reverie when a clamor rose all about the large cafeteria. Looking around, Kyoko realized that everyone was watching the large screen mounted on one wall. Then she flushed as she recognized the scene that was playing: They were showing Kyoko's commercial. Glancing briefly back at Ren, she saw that his attention was also transfixed on the screen. She couldn't hide a smile as she saw how beautiful the costume people and makeup artist had made her appear. She only wished that she really looked like that.
Kyoko felt a warmth behind her and glanced back. Tsuruga Ren was standing close behind her now and a little to one side. She felt conflicting emotions about his nearness, but couldn't keep the nervous smile from her face. Quickly, lest he see her reaction, she turned to focus on the screen. She saw herself, laying there in state and looking pale and unnaturally beautiful. The camera showed her sempai's expression. She wondered how he could have put on such a look of loving and longing… he was truly the greatest actor in the world. Then the camera focused in on her lips as his face came close… and then closer. Onscreen their lips met lightly and Kyoko relived that feeling once again as he lifted, and then returned for more.
All around the cafeteria girls and even grown women squealed as the handsome prince woke Snow White with a kiss. As the commercial faded everyone turned and applauded the two actors… though some of the ladies seemed to be glaring at Kyoko.
She jumped as she felt warm breath blowing across her ear. Ren's deep voice calmly asked, "That wasn't so bad, was it?" It took several minutes before she could form a reply, but by then Ren was cleaning up his tray in order to head to the next job.
In his office suite, Takarada Lory thumbed the "off" button on the remote, but he continued to look at the blank screen with a smile. Then he turned and regarded Yashiro Yukihito with almost-fatherly pride. "Masterfully done, Yukihito-kun. I am impressed."
Yashiro beamed, "I couldn't have done it without your help, Shacho. I thought that the boy would never pass out. It is a good thing that Jelly Woods is so good with makeup… you don't think that he would ever recognize us again, do you?"
Lory preened, "not a chance. Oh, did you get the contract?"
Yashiro proudly nodded and extracted a manila envelope, "I did. They are both signed on with the 'Kissable' product line for five more commercials and five photo shoots. Over the next three months those two are going to kiss so often that something good is bound to happen."
The two scheming men shared conspiratorial grins, shook hands, and parted ways until it was time to exercise their next scheme to join the two reluctant lovers.
Notes: I hope that you enjoyed this little challenge fic. Have a good day.