Natsu was on set.
"Did you think I wouldn't notice?"
"N-no, that wasn't-!"
"Did you think it wouldn't matter?"
"I—I didn't, it wasn't, I swear I didn't mean for it to be-"
"Take her to the back room."
"What? I said I was sorry! I didn't mean it to turn out that way, I didn't know he would be like that!" The girl's eyes widened fearfully. She'd heard of what happened to those who disappointed the queen of the school.
Her pleas were ignored by the group. "Of course Natsu. Are you coming too?"
"Not today. Kaori, you play with our dear friend in my absence. I have other things to do." She'd given the stupid girl a chance to prove herself worthy, instead the idiot decided to fall for the ridiculous teacher. Regardless of the failure, Natsu would find a way to extract revenge for the sub-par grade on the midterm exam.
"CUT! Nice expression Natsu. We'll go over the footage, but I think that's all for today. Good work!"
Chiori watched her senpai's character strut off set. She felt as if she hadn't seen Mogami yet, though she'd been with her for the last few hours. She'd come to the morning meeting already in character and now, nearing one o'clock, disappeared into her dressing room without a word to anyone. It wasn't like her to be so aloof.
After changing into her pink uniform she waited by the back door for Kyoko.
"Aren't you going back to LME?" she asked when the short-haired girl appeared.
"What?! Oh, sorry you startled me. No, I'm headed for school. I'll be missing a few days after this so..."
Amamiya observed the way the golden pair of eyes focused on some distant object. It was clear that Kyoko's thoughts were elsewhere.
"Alright. Have fun with that. See you," she gave a slight wave, received one in return and left the first LoveMe member to her own devices.
She allowed herself a moment to think on the recent change in personality. She had seen Kyoko earlier at the office and been totally ignored; whatever was on the mind of her senpai it had to be of the greatest importance.
Once more in the LME building, Amamiya found herself hauling paperwork from one department to another. It was tiring, troublesome work. Privately she thought it a waste of time, but there were eyes and ears everywhere and one never knew which quietly grumbled complaint would make its way to the President. It was a lesson she'd learned the hard way.
As it was she needed her LoveMe position to help regain her desire to be loved by the audience and, according to Takarada, gain an appreciation for the abilities of all actors and actresses regardless of her personal opinions.
That, she was positive, would never happen. How could she acknowledge an actress who only knew how to pout and whine? What was the point of recognizing a teenage drama actor who was given parts only because of his looks?
No. She would never do that. It was beneath her and anyone with half a brain could see that they were a waste of space taking up roles that should have been given to those with actual talent. People like that would be out of the business as soon as they tried to go for a more serious role; their lack of ability would be made clear and everyone would see how stupid they really were.
As poisonous thoughts filled her mind she passed a break room, catching snippets of conversation about a drama currently airing. The lead actress was a breakout star of LME. The most recent episode was showing on the room's television.
"Terada Ai has been in quite a few dramas, but I've noticed she always plays the same kind of character."
And there it was, Chiori smiled darkly. She was witness to someone finding the truth about one of the most popular girls out there. That man had realized that Terada Ai was a shallow actress. Though she had commercial experience, endorsement deals and multiple drama roles, in every endeavor she remained the same:
A bubble headed idiot who only cared about her appearance.
She was used for skin care and makeup products, she'd supported new facial treatments and dieting fads. Her characters were always the popular girl who had all kinds of guys lined up waiting for a glance and girls who wanted to hate her, but found they couldn't because she was oh so innocently unaware of it all.
It was enough to make any serious actress sick.
"Yeah, that's true. Still, I enjoy her acting. She's good for the parts she takes on, you know? I'm no teenage girl, I don't purposely watch her shows, but I don't mind when they're on."
"Right? Anyway, it's not so much about her as the audience. The viewers need to be happy with what their watching."
"Exactly. This is the entertainment industry. It's about the people you're trying to entertain. I always hate when actors go on about who's real and who isn't. Maybe I can't understand because I'm just an office worker, but I don't care if Ai-chan only does one part as long as she does it well."
In a huff Chiori stomped away from the room. What did they know anyway? Like he'd said, he was only an office worker. He didn't understand. Acting was supposed to be more than a silly game! It was about...about...
"Catching the audience's attention," she hissed as she came to a standstill in an empty hallway and crossed her arms.
Still. Terada was just a pretty face taking dumbed-down roles that no one who was serious about acting would want.
"But the audience wants them." Even she could admit that. There wouldn't be so many of those school dramas if people weren't watching them. A show that didn't get high ratings didn't stay on the air.
"Grr," she didn't like this train of thought. "Well, then it's the audience who's dumb!"
But, did that matter? They were the ones to please. Acting was about the people who were watching and whether or not they enjoyed the show an actor put on. Wasn't that something she'd already known? Wasn't that something she'd needed to regain, a love of making the audience happy?
"Of course I want them to like me, who wouldn't? Why else would you act?"
Everything was about the masses.
"I just want them to acknowledge that I'm better than those ding-dong ditzes like Terada!" She threw a fist at the wall.
Was she better though? Terada had hordes of followers, what did she have? The name Amamiya Chiori was hardly recognized. Sure she had a few fans, but nothing to boast about.
"Hmm." She bit her thumb. What did this mean? It couldn't be that, that –
"No," she gasped in horror. "She can't be better than me. I have more talent!"
Then again, what was talent? Someone could be talented at playing the piano with chopsticks, but unless there was a demand for that who cared?
"Better," she muttered dazed. "She's better than I am. Maybe not in talent, but in audience reception."
She had misunderstood the president. He hadn't meant that she needed to accept the abilities of people like Ai, she'd needed to accept that they used what they had for the entertainment of others. That was the whole point of being an actor. Being acknowledged by the audience was everything.
If anyone had chanced upon Amamiya Chiori they would have seen a girl with short black hair holding her hands over her mouth and staring at the floor with wide eyes slowly shaking her head. They would have observed that as her hands changed position, coming together while still touching her lips, her head raising and eyes watering, that she almost seemed to be saying a silent prayer to some higher being.
That person would have seen a girl having a revelation.
To Takarada Lory, who happened to be following the movements of the only LoveMe member in the building on the closed circuit television system, she looked like a girl who was about to graduate from his beloved section.
Kyoko was dressed in her school uniform, blouse neatly tucked into her knee-length skirt. She should have been excited to go to class, yet found herself unable to muster her usual bright attitude. The pep was missing from her step.
She was confused and this confusion ran deep. She could feel it in her veins as it coursed throughout her body making her movements sluggish, her mind muddled. No matter how long she pondered the recent events she couldn't make sense of them.
It shouldn't have mattered. That had all been the Heel's, it had nothing to do with herself, but she'd felt something stirring. It wasn't the cursed emotion, but something similar, though she couldn't say that she'd ever experienced it before. Not only that, but she questioned why wasn't she more concerned about the obvious implications. It hadn't been long ago that a simple kiss on the cheek from Tsuruga-san had been enough to send her into whirling disorder. Why was it that now, when she had participated in a serious romantic scene with the same man, she felt nothing but an odd tingling sensation in her stomach?
Her cheeks burned as the memory came to her. It was crystal clear.
"Emperor of the Night," she mumbled. He, Tsuruga, was dangerous. She felt certain that he held nearly all of the keys to her secured box. There had been occasions for alarm at how many locks opened due to things he'd said and done, and if he'd ever put his mind to it, "I would be in a lot of trouble."
Fortunately he held no such feelings for her; it was impossible that he should have even the slightest inclination to go after her heart. She would be safe as long as she remained vigilant.
Besides, there was another mode of attack that she would have to keep watch for and this one came from within herself.
Setsuka Heel was planning to launch an assault on her creator, one that Kyoko was fully aware of and yet powerless to stop. This was something she'd never expected to experience. How could she stand her ground in a battle with another part of herself? Though she knew Setsu's intentions, to allow the damnable emotion out of its carefully locked container, she didn't know how she planned to do it.
The words of Takarada Maria returned to her. Her examples had been a blow to the box; Kyoko had felt for some time that there were fissures opening in its lid. Speaking of love and the different forms it could take, the little girl had questioned Kyoko's denial of possessing the feeling. That was something she had accepted. Certainly she loved Maria and Kanae, she held them both close to her heart.
"You do the same for Tsuruga."
Kyoko whipped around, drawing stares from passersby; she'd wandered from the studio to the street, pushing her bike, as her thoughts continued. Turning several circles she searched for the owner of the voice before realizing that it had been internal.
"The same!" she exclaimed, oblivious to the odd looks she was receiving. "HA!"
"It's true. What would you do if he ended up hurt?" The voice spoke with a condescending tone.
"Hurt? He would never allow himself to be hurt!" she shouted. Several people sidestepped as they drew closer to the strange girl.
"Oh please, he's done it several times. Don't be delusional. The car stunt, getting sick, nearly dying in that fall. It's only a matter of time before something goes wrong."
Kyoko shook her head violently, yet was unable to deny the facts. It was true that Ren had been in many a dangerous situation and that more were likely to follow. His stubborn insistence on acting regardless of the circumstances and reluctance to properly care for himself could led only to trouble.
Her heart grew cold as she considered the possibilities.
"How would you feel if Kotonami ended up in a hospital? Maria?"
"That would be horrifying," she muttered, tears pooling in her eyes as her hyper-realistic imagination began supplying details.
Kanae involved in a freak on-set accident, hooked up to monitors and unconscious in a hospital bed.
Maria, kidnapped and held hostage by an aspiring rock band who had been turned down by LME.
"What about Tsuruga?"
Ren, refusing help when he needed it. Over working himself. Ending up in a treatment center for malnutrition and sleep deprivation.
Kyoko collapsed on the sidewalk in a dramatic fashion, one hand clutching her blouse in the area of her heart and the other outstretched toward the sky as she called out, "No! Don't step to the left Moko-san, go right, go right!" Her arms waved as if to push her friend out of danger's path. "Maria, you don't need those voodoo dolls, it's a setup! They know your weakness! Tsuruga-san, you have to take better care of yourself!" She prostrated herself on the concrete.
Her display earned many a disapproving remark, though no one dared confront her. Some wondered if she was part of a hidden camera show.
"You see? You feel the same way for all three of them," the smug voice concluded.
This earned a fierce response from Mogami who sprang off the ground shouting, "I absolutely do not love that man in any way! I respect him!" She grabbed an unlucky business man by the shoulders. "It's normal to worry over someone you respect right? Right?"
With that she took her up bicycle and, with furious speed, peddled her way to school where she focused her attention on her lessons.
In the recesses of her mind the spirit of Setsu rolled her eyes. Of course it couldn't be that easy. Kyoko was repulsed by the idea of having love for Tsuruga, but if she played her game correctly the young actress would be forced to admit the truth.
Phase one was already complete. The savage reaction signaled victory. Kyoko would be unable to stop herself from imagining terrible things happening to her senpai and her reactions would loosen a lock or two.
There was a long way to go, but by using her subconscious against her Setsuka hoped to remove every barrier constructed since the Sho rejection.
Her next attack would focus on Kyoko's position on "acceptable" behavior. She scoffed at the virginal views of her creator, as had others. Many were confused by her determination to ignore popular culture and accepted wisdom, but Setsu knew the reality of the situation. It wasn't that Kyoko was unaware that sexual experiences were common place, or even that she truly thought them wrong. The truth was that she was desperate to keep herself from gaining too much knowledge on the subject. She feared what it would do to her. If the lines between lust and love became blurred it would become too difficult to differentiate between them. She had little experience in either and worried that if lust came love would soon follow after.
Setsuka was counting on that. If she could convince Kyoko that sexual desire was normal, nothing to be concerned over and perhaps beneficial the box would lose enough locks to be opened by Tsuruga.
She had no doubt in her ability to influence Mogami, but she could do little when it came to her partner. The handsome actor played his hand so carefully, always fearing that he would send her away screaming in terror. If he couldn't use the openings she gave then all of this would be for naught.
Opportunities would be limited; the longer it took the less likely the change was to occur. Tsuruga needed to step to the plate and take a swing without worrying about where the ball would be sent.
Any hit was a good hit when it came to Kyoko.
Ren's schedule was light, lighter than it had been in years. This had been purposely done to allow him down time between main filming days and to make it possible for the Heel's to have uninterrupted time together.
He'd had a nine o'clock photo-shoot, an interview at eleven and script reading for a commercial at three.
"Kyoko-chan will be glad to know that you actually ate lunch today. No convenience store food!"
"Well, I don't normally have time for much of a meal."
Yashiro nodded. "That's true. It's pleasant to take a leisurely pace. For once we aren't being forced to rush from one place to the next."
"Hm," his acceptance of his manager's statement was conditional. This new routine would have been nice had he not had so many things to think of. As it was the hours ahead would be filled with memories of Kyoko and her uncharacteristic portrayal of Sakura. It would be torture of the sweetest kind.
"So, how have the Heel's been?"
Ren's eyes narrowed; Yashiro had never been subtle.
The curt reply was enough to signal his unwillingness to speak on the subject and his manager allowed him to end the discussion.
The rest of the car ride passed in relative silence, the only words exchanged pertained to the next day's schedule and Yashiro was soon within his own apartment thinking over the days that had passed.
He wanted to know what had transpired between the young actress and his charge, but worried that too much questioning would led the actor to clam up and prevent any future exchanges of information. It was clear that something had happened and he hoped that it was a promising development, though he feared that things had taken a troubling turn.
With a sigh he lightly blew upon the surface of his mint tea, before taking a small sip, as he sifted through the pile of paperwork he'd brought home. There were at least twenty proposals from casting directors, from all avenues within the entertainment business, asking to have Japan's number one actor participate in their projects. Commercials, dramas, music videos... Each subsection was represented.
Yashiro had no intention of bringing more than two to the attention of Tsuruga. His schedule wouldn't allow it and the president had already added an advertisement to the fold, one for the Heels.
A relatively new clothing line specializing in punk-rock attire, RockIt, had been blessed with highly successful internet sales and was planning to open a flagship store in Tokyo over the summer. It was time to drum up public interest. There had been print ads and posters, but the buzz was fair at best. If the store wanted to have a chance at prosperity they would have to step it up.
Kurosaki Ushio, the director of Kyoko's debut commercial, had signed on to the project; Yashiro assumed that the president had convinced him to hire the new actors. The interest in Tragic Marker had likely helped persuade Kurosaki, who was known for his unconventional approach to commercial making. The character of Black Jack and persona of Cain Heel, coupled with Setsuka, would lend an authentic air to the display.
He looked over the proposals and, after checking for scheduling conflicts, choose those he thought might benefit Ren. Neither had long-term contracts or expected long filming hours, essentials when it came to the restrictions placed upon Tsuruga's agenda.
Yashiro couldn't help but wonder what it would be like once the hidden identities of the Heel's were revealed, a disclosure to be given at the close of the red carpet release of Tragic Marker when the cast was presented to the celebrity audience, and hordes of reporters, to stand in deference to the director as he thanked the gatherers for their time and attention.
"Deafening silence." He spoke his thoughts aloud. There would be confusion as the director announced that there had been a deception. "Screams, definitely." The shrikes would come as Tsuruga Ren was identified as the true face of Black Jack. "Perhaps swooning."
He had a more difficult time imagining the response to Kyoko's outing. He thought it likely that it wouldn't be until days later that her role became a topic. Despite her sucess with the role of Mio she was still a newbie actress and was not easily recognized. Her current drama, BoxR, would soon begin it's first season and might heighten facial recognition.
He questioned whether this would be good publicity for her, but decided that the president, who had created an entire section specifically for her, would not have placed one of his favorite talents in a situation that could be detrimental to her career. If anything it would add interest to her resume and show casting directors how deeply she could immerse herself in a role.
Ren's perceived personality would gain an entirely new dimension. Known for his serious approach to acting, and life in general, this would led to even greater appeal across the board. Black Jack was not a character one would think Tsuruga-san to play, much less Cain Heel who had been thought of as an actual person.
However, this brought Yashiro to a new concern. What would this mean for the two as a pair? From the character descriptions he'd been given the on-set relationship between the Heels could hardly be misinterpreted. How would the speculation be handled when all was said and done?
In his heart of hearts Yashiro hoped that the young actors would be romantically involved long before the announcement was made, but he knew of the difficulties they faced. Kyoko wouldn't give in without a fight and he was unsure of Ren's ability to muster the necessary initiative, his fear of pushing her too far might get in the way of real progress.
There were so many obstacles to be overcome, so many roads to travel and so many ways in which everything could go horribly wrong, but Yukihito was an eternal optimist who had come to hold a belief in the power of true love.
Lory's Majestic Entertainment, LME for short, was known for churning out hits. Their talents were some of the most respected celebrities in society, known for their dedication to their respective crafts and genuine appreciation for their fans. This was why the entire building, from janitors to secretaries to the talents themselves, had difficulty comprehending why the Heel siblings had been signed to the company by the president.
Lory had not gone through the proper channels when creating contracts for the Heels. He'd consulted no one, had given no warning and had simply signed them into the acting department. No one knew who their agent was, what experience they had or why the president was so keen to make them part of the LME family.
There was no argument when he insisted on giving a personally guided tour to the newcomers, no one else would have dared to do it, and when he began introducing them to each and every person they happened upon in the building with far too much enthusiasm no one said a word for fear of prolonging the exposure.
They spoke amongst themselves about the strangeness of it all. Who were the Heel's really? What kind of blackmail had they used to get to where they were? Why did they seem more like a couple than siblings?
Lory didn't mind the speculation. Rather, he encouraged it with cryptic comments and thinly veiled insinuations. The further his employees got from the truth the better.
"There's been a slight change in scheduling," he informed his favorite couple. "The release of Tragic Marker will no longer be the end of the Heel siblings. It doesn't make sense to out you before the drama's first season is released."
Ren's eyes narrowed. "How long, exactly, will this charade be extended?"
"At least until the airing of the first episode of The Twist."
Mogami's eyes widened. "That's not until the fall!"
"Correct. In approximately two months filming of major scenes is slated to be complete, BoxR will already be airing and Ren will be thought to be taking something of a vacation. Mogami-san, Yashiro-san has agreed to take on the duty of becoming your assistant for the duration of this act. Because of Ren's greatly decreased work load, though he will continue to make appearances, this will be of little consequence to him. Besides that I couldn't trust this job to anyone else."
"So," he continued despite the beginnings of protest. "There are other things to discuss. I have a new job for the Heels, a commercial for a clothing store. It's appropriate for them. It'll be a day, two at the most, of filming." He handed Ren a piece of paper with an address. "Be there Friday. They've got permits for Saturday and Sunday night, but it would be better to get it done in one go.
"Setsuka-san," he addressed the character, a clear dismissal of Kyoko who was forced to vacate her mind. Lory started at the rapid change, but hid his surprise well. "You are, as usual, in charge of both your own and Cain's schedules. I may give you individual assignments eventually, so please be prepared to...separate."
Her eyebrows shot up. "Separate? Why?" Her tone demanded an answer.
"Sometimes it is necessary to do things on your own, for the sake of a job. We want both of your careers to flourish so please try not to make a judgment too quickly."
The siblings soon removed themselves from his presence, leaving Lory to his musings.
He wondered how long it would be before something more serious than the on-set display happened, hoped that the two were prepared for what came afterward and worried that they weren't. There was only so much he could do for them; though he would have liked to force open their hearts and make them acknowledge the love that was already there, he could not. This was something they had to do for themselves. If he pressed the issue he would cause a setback. Kyoko was not ready to accept the truth and, in all honesty, neither was Ren. Until Mogami could overcome her aversion, until Ren accepted Kuon's existence, it would be impossible for them to move ahead.
Massaging his temples, in hopes of relieving the oncoming headache, Lory released a frustrated breath. He had never been a patient man and this was a true test of his maturity; in all his years he'd never had such a difficult time getting two people who were so obviously meant to be together.
Setsu wound both her arms around one of Cain's as they traversed the crowded hallways. The workers parted as the seas were said to have parted for Moses; there was not one among the workers that wanted to be any closer to the them than necessary.
They exited through the back, into the underground parking lot where they were met by a small woman who'd dressed herself in Gothic Lolita garb to match her clients.
It would be nearly a week before Ten-san would meet with her favorite pair of actors again and it was her duty to provide adequate costuming for the separation.
"The trunk of the car that will take you to the hotel has luggage for Setsuka-san," she told them, careful to avoid sounding too familiar with the pair for fear of arousing suspicion. "The driver knows its there and will see that it is sent to your room. Darling asked me to inform you that, because you are both officially signed to the company now, you will have access to the car service."
She received no verbal reply, though the blond gave a slight nod, before the two left.
She watched the car drive away in interest, wondering how the actors would handle being together, and in character, for such a long stretch of time.
They had her full confidence.