The morning came too quickly.
They went about their morning rituals as they always had been – brushing their teeth, fixing up their costumes, making breakfast. From the sidelines, there was nothing different about their routine.
But a careful observer would notice the small things – how they would catch each other's eye and smile shyly, almost reassuringly. How either would suddenly get distracted and dreamy, and the other would shake their head. How they always found small ways to touch each other – hands brushing as they handed each other things, his hip briefly bumping hers as he squeezed past her in the kitchen, her fingers sweeping the bangs from his eyes.
And then there was that time he pushed her up against the counter and kissed her.
"The President and Jelly-san will be here soon," she said when they broke apart.
"They won't come up," Ren said and ducked his head in for another kiss.
Funny thing about love… it brought the strongest sense of relief you could have imagined. Kyoko wondered when she had seen Ren so relaxed, and she draw a blank. No, wait… he'd laughed pretty hard after that one time he had pinned her to the floor in his flat and threatened to kiss her.
The thought made her pause. He felt that and pulled back.
"Are you okay?" he asked, concern creeping into his voice.
"Yes. Just remembered something." A smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. "Can I ask you something?"
"When you had problem with the Katsuki role... you know, that time I came over to ad lib with you..."
"Yes." He smiled at the memory, then realized what she'd been thinking about. "Oh..."
"So, was that bit about asking me if I wanted you to teach me how to kiss part of the scene, or was it for real."
Ren deliberated his options. Finally, he shrugged. "Guilty as charged."
"That was mean," she said, punching his shoulder playfully. "I really felt bad about that!"
"I'm sorry. Will it help you to say that it was the first time in a while that I lost myself in a role? You were the more professional of us in that scene."
Kyoko bristled. "Again. Mean."
The kettle boiled then, and she turned around to get their cups out. He helped her lay the table, and the two sat down for breakfast. All the while, he was talking – it was a good thing the President wasn't there, because he would have scolded them for breaking character.
"It wasn't the only time I wanted to kiss you."
"Really?" Kyoko raised an eyebrow. Her mind quickly provided the Valentine's Day episode, and she pushed it down quickly. "Like when?"
Ren appeared to be deep in thought. "Well," he said, "I can't say the first time was during that scene, but it was the first time I realized what this feeling was."
"Right, you have no experience with love," she said, before realizing her slip. Quickly, she covered it up. "Tsuruga Ren, Japan's most wanted after actor, and you couldn't recognize the urge to kiss someone. Even I knew that."
She waited anxiously for him to pick up what she'd just done, but either love was blinding him, or she was a better actress than she thought, because he fell for it, hook, line and sinker.
"You'd be surprised." He sipped his tea. "When I was younger, I was not lacking for female company, but it was never love. It was more about... well..."
"Yes, that." Ren shrugged. "I was a stupid kid. Stupider than most." A shadow passed over his eyes, and he drifted off in the memory. She reached out and took his hand in hers, before he closed up completely.
"So, you were never in love?" she prompted, hoping to bring him back from whatever brink he was tethering over. It worked. He smiled, took her hand and kissed it.
"Not like this. Before that time in my apartment, I'd felt odd around you. When you first told me why you acted, I felt very proud, and happy. Having you come over was great, though it made me kind of angry that Yashiro was putting you up to it. And then... afterwards... well..." He looked suddenly sheepish. "There were so many times, but I was afraid of what you might do, if I started something."
Kyoko blushed and looked down. The atmosphere suddenly felt heavy, so she tried lighting it up.
"So basically, every time you give me that angelic smile, or the Emperor of the Night look, you want to kiss me."
Ren stared at her blankly.
"Emperor of the Night look?" he asked, puzzled. "I think I know the smile you're talking about, but when do I have an Emperor of the Night look?"
"Well, you know, when you're like..." she trailed off, waiting for him to fill the void.
"No, I don't. What's it like?"
Damn that man, he was deliberately teasing her. Swallowing the horrible embarrassment, Kyoko forced herself to look at him in the eye.
"You had that look on during the Katsuki scene. Like... you were all..." She tried mimicking the expression, smiling a secret smile and half-closing her eyes and dropping her voice down several octaves, like she was about to tell a huge secret and she was enjoying every second of it. "Seductive, and stuff."
Ren was staring at her as if she'd just punched him. Wondering what kind of an ugly grimace she'd ended up making, Kyoko dropped the act.
"It's not accurate, of course," she said, busying herself with her chopsticks. "I'm just saying, you have this really mature expression, and it always makes me feel like a deer in the headlights. I have absolutely no idea how to react."
"On the contrary," he said, and his voice made her look up. "I actually think you have a little of the Emperor of the Night quality yourself."
"That," she said. "That, right there. You're doing it now."
His smile stretched wider. Suddenly, her stomach clenched in anticipation. She felt like something was about to happen, and that this something might not be all bad. Swallowing, she tried to ignore him, but he drew her eyes like a flame might draw a moth. Her mouth dried.
"Yes," he said, almost to himself. "I can see exactly what you mean."
Slowly, she set her chopsticks down. He did too. Their chairs scraped as they rose – she, quickly, he, at a more leisurely pace. A little bit of the old Kyoko made her retreat when he advanced, but it was a pretty useless exercise when she had to take three steps for each one of his. So she forced her feet to stay in place and just craned her neck to meet his eyes.
Ren came up to her, careful not to crowd her. His hands slid around her waist and he bent down to brush his lips against hers. "You know me better than you give yourself credit for," he said.
"Ah, is that so?" she asked, while her brain short-circuited. Ren smirked, then, in one quick motion, lifted her until she was sitting on the counter, and he was between her legs. Her hands immediately buried themselves in his hair. Their eyes met.
"Yes, that's exactly so."
And then the damn phone rang. Again.
Kyoko was all in for not answering, but Ren grabbed the handle and answered before she could occupy him otherwise. "Yes?" he asked in English. "Coming."
"Yes. He and Ten-san are wondering where we are." He helped her off the counter, but couldn't help it and kissed her one more time. "Sorry about that."
"It's fine," she said, shy all of a sudden. She cleared her throat. "Are we telling the President?"
Ren hesitated. He didn't want to dump all of his baggage on her in one day, and the President was bound to push him to do so if he knew. On the other hand, Yashiro knew that he planned to talk to Kyoko last night, and his manager wasn't above anything to get the information he needed.
He squeezed her hand. "We will, but not now. You need to get out of the Setsu costume and go to your audition, and I need to go do the filming. We'll tell him tonight."
Kyoko made it to the audition with some ten minutes to spare. Ren had offered to drive her, but that had been impossible if he was in costume. Part of her wondered if he didn't also want to mark his territory around Kijima, but of course, that wasn't possible if they were going to lay low for a while.
"Ah, Kyoko-chan!" Speak of the devil...
"Hello, Kijima-san," she said, as politely as possible. In spite of that, her heart beat fast – now that she had a secret to keep, it felt like she had to put up a performance for every single second of her day.
"Sawara-san mentioned you'll be auditioning for Midori's role," Kijima said, cutting to the chase. "That's great. I'll be trying out for Irukawa – we can probably do the line reading together."
Given the spark in his eyes, she was sure which angle he wanted to play it from. Swallowing her panic, Kyoko forced another polite smile. The countless times she'd been subjected to Ren's gentleman facade were paying off.
"In that case, let's go the best job we can."
"Absolutely," he swept his hand out towards the corridor where the other actors were waiting with their agents. He chattered the whole way through the wait, about this new restaurant and how much he enjoyed the Thai food they served, and how truly divine their coconut rice was, and, oh, yes, you should definitely check it out, Kyoko-chan.
Whether it was the talk she'd had with Ren last night, or the fact that he eyes were now opened up, but Kyoko was starting to find the conversation grating. Kijima now looked a little bit too polished, too good in his pretty boy image. It reminded her of another idiot.
"I'll keep it in mind," she said, trying to balance out the politeness and the disinterest in her voice. It was annoying – if only she could set some firm boundaries, then everything would be okay, but how was she supposed to do that? Kijima had never really given her an obvious sign of his intentions, and without that, she just looked like a hysterical female throwing a hissy fit. On the other hand, they were colleagues, and making enemies of people in the industry was not a good idea.
Yes. It was very annoying.
When the pairings were announced, she tried not to wince when their names were called out. Kijima turned to her with an excited look in his eyes, and she just imagined him pushing the romantic angle on her.
She clenched her fist. No. No, he wouldn't.
Because she would make him act along with her.
The grudges cackled gleefully.
President Takarada stared at his protégé like the latter had just announced his intention to give up acting so that he could pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a flying monkey on the Wicked Broadway Show.
Not that being a flying monkey wasn't hard, but Ren didn't have the talents for the role.
"So you're what... together?" Takarada asked. "And she didn't fly into a panic as soon as you told her of your feelings?"
Ren shrugged. "We've both done a lot of growing up. I think... I think we have a shot."
The president leaned back and lit a cigar. "Of course you have a shot," he said, after blowing out a plume of smoke. "Two young people like you... if you didn't make it, what's left for the rest of us? But tell me... did you tell her everything? Was she alright with it?"
"Only a little bit. About my mother being sick and about the fact that I need to finish this role before I can face my parents again."
"Will you be able to? Is Kuon finally quiet?"
Ren hesitated. Part of him wanted to say no, that it was impossible to lay his past to rest, that it would always be too dangerous. But another, the one born last night, was optimistic.
Takarada scrutinized him as he deliberated. "She really does love you, doesn't she?"
"I don't know," Ren said. "She... she wants us to try. That's something, right?"
"That's everything, coming from her. I know that when she's around, you'll keep a lid on Kuon, but..."
"You haven't told her everything, have you?"
Ren didn't answer. He tried swallowing down the sudden anxiety that threatened to overcome him. Just thinking about telling her everything – about his past, his being Corn, and Rick – it made him sick. More so when he remembered her telling him how sick she was of lies. God, what would she do if she discovered that he lied to her – had been lying all this time? She would never forgive that.
"You will have to, you know," Takarada said. "You can't possibly keep everything from her."
"I know," Ren said. "Just... please, don't tell her everything just yet. Let me do this at my own good time."
Takarada sighed and set his cigar aside as he considered the younger man's request. Experience (and a little bit of world-weariness), made him want to refuse. But Ren was doing so well... surely, he could be trusted.
"Fine," he said, at length. "But if you haven't told her everything before you need to get on that plane to America, I won't answer for what I'll do."
Ren rolled his eyes, thinking that if it came down to the president to intervene, the world must really be coming down to an end.
A/N Hey all! It's been a while, huh? Sorry I didn't update more, there was a lot of stuff going on with the school year starting and stuff. I can't promise fast updates, but I'll do my very best to be more regular.
Anyway, next week, there'll be a series of deconstruction posts of the "Skip Beat!" manga on .com, so if you're interested, do drop by and check them out.
Thank you all for the reviews and the support, you're all lovely! *mwah*