Disclaimer: I don't own Skip Beat! I do wish, however, that we'd get more regular manga updates!
"We interrupt your regular program for some breaking news. We have just learned that Japan's top actor Tsuruga Ren has gotten into a car crash…"
Car Crash Sends Actor to Hospital
#1 Guy in the Entertainment Industry Lands Himself in Hospital
…Last night around 21 o'clock, the star of Dark Moon and leading man of Japan's Entertainment Industry Tsuruga Ren was in a car crash. LME spokesmen have assured us that while Tsuruga-san was held down in the hospital, his recovery will be short and he will be back on his feet soon. Initial reports suggest that the reason for the accident was the storm that hit Tokyo earlier that day, but our sources suggest that Tsuruga-san may not have been entirely sober when behind the wheel…
DRUNK DRIVING? Will Tsuruga Get Away?
Police Neither Deny Nor Confirm Rumors
Has Tsuruga Ren Finally Lost His Cool?
The headlines were everywhere. She couldn't turn around without them blazing across her line of vision and branding in her brain. Kyoko had been up since 4 and, quite frankly, after a whole morning, she was pretty sick of trying to avoid them. Sadly, the only way she could get rid of them was by setting fire to every news stand in Tokyo and short circuiting the news and radio grid, and she was pretty sure that qualified as felony.
She sighed. It was chaos, and she hadn't even gotten to LME yet. The media had been buzzing about it since last night, and everywhere she went, people were discussing the accident, stipulating, wondering, weighing theories… In short, doing everything but putting her mind at rest.
Kyoko, of course, had been on the phone as soon as she heard - talking to the President, Yashiro… even Kanae, who usually gave her grief about calling her at inappropriate times, had been sympathetic.
"Accidents happen," Kanae had said. "Nobody's dead, so that's the important thing."
Accidents happen… so why had Yashiro been so vague on the phone? Kyoko had had to threaten him so that he could tell her the extent of Ren's injuries, even though he knew she wouldn't rest until she was satisfied.
Not that she had slept anyway, but still… he usually told her everything.
No, Kyoko thought. If I have to be honest, that's not what's bothering me.
She wanted to see Tsuruga-san herself. To see with her own two eyes that he was fine, in body and in soul. But Yashiro wouldn't hear of her coming over, and she doubted he'd be more sympathetic now. He'd been adamant that she wouldn't pass the threshold of the hospital, and if Yashiro, cool, gentle Yashiro, didn't want her coming, then the situation must have been really bad. So bad, in fact, that some lowly kouhai couldn't be permitted.
President Lori was a man of many virtues, but subtlety and demureness were not among them. The man simply couldn't go to a place without drawing all the attention to himself – it was just what he did. So when he came to the meeting wearing a suit and tie and didn't even bring a marching band to play the "Godfather" theme for him, Yashiro knew he was really in trouble.
"Well?" he asked as soon as the doors to his office closed. "How is he?"
Yashiro didn't need clarification as to whom they were talking about. "Physically, he's fine. Mentally, he's a wreck."
That was the simplest way to put it, though hardly the best to describe it. Ren hadn't just been quiet – he'd been dead to the world. Much like that incident on the set of Dark Moon, he'd just frozen, only this time he had been responsive enough to convince the doctors he wasn't hemorrhaging. But whenever Yashiro had tried talking to him, asking for an explanation, he'd shut down again. Like he had been through Hell and wasn't sure he was out yet.
"Did he tell you what happened?" the president asked, interrupting his thoughts.
"No. They found no traces of alcohol in his bloodstream," Yashiro said, and then ventured, "He seemed miserable."
"Yes, I imagine he would be," President Lori said, leaning back into his chair. Yashiro wanted to ask what he meant, but he continued before the question was posed, "This is not to be borne, Yashiro-san."
"Has he said anything, has he given any indication as to why he was so reckless?"
"I don't know. I was hoping you'd have an idea."
The President smiled. "You're a bright lad, aren't you, Yashiro-san?"
"I hope so," he replied coolly.
"But can you be trusted?"
"Of course!" Yashiro flushed bright red. "I've been Ren's manager for four years! I know him better than anyone!"
"You know Tsuruga Ren. Do you know the person he was before that? Do you even think you should make it your business?"
Yashiro closed his mouth. Of course, like most people, he knew that Tsuruga Ren was a stage name. What most people didn't know though, was that Ren had never offered his real name to him, or the directors, or anyone in the industry anywhere. Yashiro hadn't been too suspicious of that – after all the paparazzi were ruthless, and some actors went to great lengths to maintain a modicum of privacy – but now he was starting to wonder.
"If this affects Ren's health and life, then it's already my business. I can't let this go on."
The president nodded. "That's true. As it is, though, I can't come up with a reason why Ren would suddenly snap like that. His assignments are going well, I imagine?"
"No trouble on the Cain Heel front?"
Yashiro hesitated. "Not that I know of. Kyoko is with him most of the time, but she hasn't…"
"Ah…" the president said. "Something happened?"
"Not… really," Yashiro said, slowly. "It's just… yesterday, when I spoke to her, she told me someone had rung Ren's phone while he was busy shooting. She hadn't answered, but she noticed it was an overseas number."
President Lori sat up. "Did he react strangely to it?"
"No. In fact, he didn't say anything about it. She just told me because she remembered the number."
The president was up on his feet, pacing the office. Yashiro watched him mutter curses under his breath. "That idiot," he said. "He promised not to contact him like that."
Suddenly, he turned on Yashiro. Without taking his eyes off him, he disconnected the phone and the intercom. "Alright. It seems things have gotten out of control, so I'm going to have to do tell you. But remember – what we say is not to leave this room. Moreover, you must not breathe a word to Ren that I've told you. Understand?"
Yashiro swallowed. "Understood."
"What is wrong with you?"
Kyoko looked up. "Moko-san?"
"Yes, that's my name," Kanae said, rolling her eyes. "At least you haven't forgotten that."
"What are you talking about?" Kyoko asked, confused.
"You're putting your clothes on backwards."
She looked down and, sure enough, her jumpsuit was pressing her chest a little too tightly. Groaning, she shimmied out of it and put it on properly. "Sorry, Moko-san. I was distracted."
Kanae could see as much – putting clothes on backwards was only acceptable if you were spacing out, or being extremely superstitious. Not that Kyoko was blameless on either account, but there was another level to her usual weirdness that worried Kanae. "Is this about Tsuruga-san?"
Kyoko's shoulders slumped. "You can tell, huh?"
Kanae shrugged and sat down next to her. "You called me last night. You're distracted now, and by the looks of it, you haven't slept. It's easy to connect the dots."
"It's just… Yashiro-san won't tell me anything, and I'm worried."
"You do realize that he's probably busy. All of Japan is probably trying to get a hold of him."
"But what if Tsuruga-san took a turn for the worse?"
"You're neither doctor nor psychiatrist. I don't think there's anything you could do, even if he told you he got worse."
Kyoko bowed her head. As always, Kanae's pragmatism made things seem clear cut and simple. Nevertheless… nevertheless, Kyoko felt suffocated. "But… I was talking to him, right before the accident," she whispered.
It was true. After they'd done their job as the Heel siblings, it had taken a couple of hours with Jerry Woods to bring them to their old selves, and then he had driven her home. She'd seen the time on the clock in his car. "It was half an hour before the accident. He was kind enough to give me a lift home, so that the rain wouldn't soak me," she said. "If only he hadn't driven me, or if I insisted he stay for tea… this wouldn't have happened."
Kanae slapped the back of her head. "You're being ridiculous now. You don't control the weather."
"Moreover, you're doing Tsuruga-san a disservice by thinking of him that way. He's not just a grown man – he's your senior. Don't go insulting his intelligence by presuming his act of kindness to you landed him in the hospital." The best way to snap Kyoko out of it, Kanae decided, was to get angry at her. When her friend looked appropriately repentant, she went on. "I told you, as long as there were no casualties, it's fine. He'll be released from the hospital soon enough, and you'll be able to talk to him some more."
Kyoko nodded, picking a lint off her sleeve. What Kanae said made sense. It was just that… she wanted to see him now. Maybe… maybe she could go directly to president Lori. She needn't be specific, but maybe she could enquire as to what would happen with the Heel siblings. Yes, yes, she thought as the plan started to form. She could ask about that. After all, it was as much of a part for her as it was for him, right? She deserved to know.
"KYOKO!" Kanae yelled. "Are you listening to me?"
"Oh, sorry, Moko-san…."
"If you were not paying attention to my careful advice…"
"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry…"
"Here I am, wasting time on you…"
"I know, I'm sorry, I just…"
"Good morning, ladies," a voice interrupted them. Both girls stopped and turned towards Yashiro, who seemed to have materialized out of thin air. "Sorry to cut in, Kotonami-san, Kyoko-chan. Are you two having a nice day?"
"Oh, yes, Yashiro-san!" Kyoko said, feeling much too nervous. Now was a good chance for her to ask after Tsuruga-san, only… Moko-san was likely to get mad at her. As if reading her mind, Yashiro turned towards Kanae and smiled.
"Kotonami-san, I'm just coming down from a meeting with the president. He wanted me to tell you to meet him as soon as it is convenient for you."
Kanae blanched and nodded, said a hasty goodbye and bolted. Yashiro and Kyoko watched her bounce on her toes as she waited for the elevator, then gave up completely and went for the stairs. However, the momentary diversion was over, and Yashiro felt a familiar intense gaze focusing on him.
"Yashiro-san, you didn't come to this floor on a whim, did you?" Kyoko said, worry seeping into her voice. It only got worse when he shook his head yes. I knew it, he's worse than they say. He's dying. It's…
"Walk with me, Mogami-san," Yashiro said, and gestured towards the elevators. The one Kanae had hailed was there, standing with the doors open, and they made their way in. Yashiro was saying something about the weather, but Kyoko was too nervous to focus. She knew that the manager of Tsuruga Ren wouldn't seek her out for idle chit-chat. So why was he taking so long to get to the point?
Her instinct had been right – as soon as the doors closed, Yasiro took off his glove and laid his bare hand on the control panel. Immediately, that power of his to ruin any electrical appliance kicked in, and the elevator stilled between floors.
"Forgive me," he said as he replaced his glove. "I needed to talk to you and this is the only place in the building that doesn't have a security camera."
"It's… fine, Yashiro-san," Kyoko said, trying very hard not to panic. Not having a security camera? This couldn't be good.
"Kyoko-chan, I have to be direct, so please excuse my rashness. I need your help."
She nodded. "Is it about… Tsuruga-san?"
Yashiro sighed and turned to face her, and she was suddenly struck by how tired he looked. She knew, of course, that he was older than her… older than Ren, too, but his age never seemed to show. Now, however, he seemed to have gained a decade overnight, and he looked at her with the weariness of a man struck down too often by life.
"Kyoko-chan, you are a discreet person, and I am sure that whatever I tell you won't leave this elevator. But nevertheless, this is important information I need to disclose, and I cannot risk somebody eavesdropping." He waited for her to nod, before continuing. "You know well enough that last night Ren was in an accident. There is a lot of speculation going on in the media, and he will be facing a lot of difficulties as soon as he leaves the hospital."
"I know," she said, and felt her gut clench with worry. "Is there anything I can do to… help?"
"I'll get to that," Yashiro said. "Ren doesn't care for the media – he's dealt with them before, he'll deal with them again. But he's also troubled, Kyoko-chan. Surely you've noticed."
She wanted to deny that – how could her sempai, Tsuruga Ren, number one actor in Japan, project anything but zen-like calm. But she knew better – she'd been acting alongside him, after all, sharing meals, even sharing a bed on one occasion (but not in THAT sense). Kyoko didn't like to think about it, but she knew that her sempai was having difficulties. "Is it about his role as Cain Heel? Does it give him trouble?"
"That's not it. Acting comes as naturally to Ren as breathing. No, Kyoko-chan, the problem in question is… a girl."
"A girl?" Kyoko repeated, looking mystified.
"Yes. A girl," Yashiro said. "You see, Kyoko-chan, Ren has some feelings towards a certain girl. No, to be honest, that's not a good enough definition. Tsuruga Ren is absolutely besotted with her, head over heels in love."
Kyoko blinked. "But that's not a bad thing, is it, Yashiro-san? Surely being in love is good!" She, of course, knew that already, but she couldn't reveal that, unless she wanted Tsuruga-san to learn that she was Bo. Her voice carried enough happiness to convey happy sentiments, but as she said the words, she felt a stab in her heart. What was that? Not a grudge… but not a fairy either.
Yashiro winced. He couldn't tell Kyoko the truth, not all of it. To be honest, the president's explanation hadn't been all that enlightening either. However…
He had to run away, Yashiro, Lori had said. He needed to start over, before he couldn't get out. The things he did would have destroyed him, and he's been working very hard to become a different person.
Yashiro had remained silent, partly because he didn't know what to say, partly because he was trying to understand the situation. Fitting the image of a violent fifteen year old with the ever polite, ever calm Tsuruga Ren was… hard to say the least. But underneath the surprise and shock was something else… something a lot more raw and angry. For the first time in years, Yashiro actually felt personally insulted.
However, Lori had continued, just ignoring the elephant in the room isn't enough. He had to face his demons.
And you encouraged him to act the part of a deranged serial killer, Yashiro finished, surprised at the sarcasm in his voice. Of course, there's no way that plan could possibly backfire.
I also thought about that. It's why I told him to only take part in dramas in the past – the roles were much more harmless, and he wouldn't fall off the wagon. But things have changed now, Yashiro. He has a lucky charm.
Looking at the lucky charm in question, Yashiro couldn't help but feel a pang of jealousy. Not romantic, mind you – but he was jealous that Ren had gotten to love this girl, trust this girl, enough to let his walls fall, and yet he hadn't told anything to him, his best friend.
"Kyoko-chan, it's not so simple. This is the Tsuruga Ren we're talking about – he has more than himself to consider. If he were to get in a relationship with this girl, he would expose her to a lot of attention from the media. She would have to relinquish a lot of her privacy. It might be impossible for them to have a normal relationship." Yashiro sighed again. "He's very afraid of hurting her, so he won't possibly approach her unless he's absolutely sure she would return his feelings. And so far… she has not."
That much was true. Ren had tried, in many instances, to give Kyoko subtle hints about how he felt, but the girl was either too dense or too oblivious to actually pick up on them. At any rate, the man had been discouraged.
Subtlety doesn't work anymore, Yashiro, Lori had said. If we are to help Ren overcome his demons, we need to get him together with Kyoko, and fast.
And they would do so, even if it meant lying, cheating and deceiving the poor kid.
Meanwhile, Kyoko was fuming.
Hasn't given him indication? That absolute hussy! How dare she! Her anger seemed to intensify and her grudges took immediate notice. She has the most handsome, most accomplished man in all of Japan in her feet and she dares snub him? Is she daft? Does she not realize what other people would do to have what she has? If it were me…
Her thoughts came to a screeching halt and she hurried to compose herself. Too late. She'd gone down that road, and now memories were starting to resurface. Tsuruga-san smiling at her. Tsuruga-san defending her from the stalker. Him taking her in his arm, whispering that Corn was alright. And then, other, more intimate ones – his cold hands in hers. The weight of his head in her lap. The way he'd held her, trembling, that time at the hotel, as if she were is last link to sanity.
There was no way to deny it – her feelings towards Tsuruga-san were not just admiration and respect, what was natural for a sempai and kouhai. But it was fine – as long as she kept it under wraps, there was no way of it getting out of control. And if he was in love with someone else…
"What can I do to help him?" she asked Yashiro, who only seemed too happy to tell.
"We need to make her jealous, Kyoko-chan," he said, hating himself for the pain he was causing her, but knowing that it was for the best helped him through. "Ren has several events coming up, and if you were to accompany him, I'm sure that she might come around."
Kyoko frowned. "Make her jealous? You mean me? I can't be…I'm not good enough for that! I'm plain and… and… I'm just a second-rate actress."
"You're a LME actress, and you've already starred in two dramas, Kyoko-chan. You can't doubt your ability."
"My ability is passable, but… I can't possibly be beautiful enough," she said in a rush.
Yashiro shook his head. "What about the Dark Moon party? You were radiant there."
"But that was all make-up and a pretty dress," Kyoko said. "It was just borrowed glamour. I'm nothing like the kind of woman Tsuruga-san might like."
"Kyoko-chan, have you actually seen the girl?"
No, she hadn't, but surely she must be gorgeous. Her mind conjured up some weird hybrid of Moko-san and Corn, a girl with a lady-like air, perfect body, perfect hair, clothes that are just right… someone who was worthy of Tsuruga Ren's love.
Yashiro placed his hands on her shoulders and forced her to look at him in the eye. "It doesn't matter," he said. "Kyoko-chan, you're the only person Ren would allow to get close enough in order to do this. I wouldn't be asking you if it wasn't absolutely necessary. You have to appear in public with Ren, and make it seem like there is something between you two. It's the only way."