A/N: Hi there and thank you soooo much once again for the amazing feedback and encouragement. So my muse has been working overtime to produce the next chapter. Hope you guys like it as much as you seem to have, the previous ones.
To JustADreamer : I was so excited to read that someone else was a fan of Extravagant Challenge. I think it was on Taiwanese TV and though I don't know the language, I managed to love the series with all my heart. And I absolutely adore Choi SiWon... he was as close to a perfect Ren (or Dun He Lian as per EC) as one could ask for. I had to stop myself from squealing like a crazy schoolgirl every time he smiled... and props for Lee DongHae too, for making a great Sho (or Bu Po Shang). Although it didn't have too much RenXKyoko and it ended far too soon, I loved it. It is a pleasure to get to know another EC fan and I hope you like this chapter too... :)
To Guest : Oh I just love you! I couldn't stop giggling when I read that piece of conversation supposedly between Ren and Kyoko... that was so perfectly Yashiro that I could almost see a chibi version squeeing in a manga box all by itself... So cooool!... Oh and btw, he definitely didn't make the food. Yashiro might've brought some by or something. Ren is perfect in a lot of ways but he still can't cook. :)
I think that's a big enough Author's note... now we can get to the next chapter. :)
Edit Note: Thanks for the heads up on Rick's girlfriend's name Shizuhoe... I've changed it to Tina. :)
Today was the day. Or rather, today would be the day.
Kimagure Rock had just finished filming and Kyoko, with some nifty talk, had managed to find out enough of Ren's schedule from Yashiro-san, to know that he also had filming at the TBM studios that afternoon. So all she had to do now, was to make sure that she stayed in the chicken suit and find a way to meet Ren while he was filming there. And of course, all of this had to be done in such a manner that the actor didn't become suspicious. After all, it really wouldn't do to let him know she was the person under the Bo costume before she'd even had a chance to talk to him.
Kyoko's confidence had grown exponentially this last couple of weeks. Whether it was because she was now secure in the knowledge of her feelings for her sempai, or because she felt that maybe she hadn't really lost that all important human emotion that had led to her being put in the Love Me department, she didn't know. Maybe it was the knowledge that she had so many friends, so many people that cared enough about her to worry.
In her childhood and most of her teenage, Kyoko had never mattered enough to the people around her. She never knew her father, her mother had abandoned her at the tender age of five, never to be seen or heard from again. The Fuwas, who'd taken responsibility for her had been quite strict with their treatment of her. Though Shotaro's Oka-san had been Mogami Saena's friend, she had never really warmed up to Kyoko any more than was necessary to teach her about the running of the Ryokan. She was an unfailingly polite but distant and closed off person who, like her own Hahaoya, expected and demanded perfection in everything that was done. It was the reason behind the fame and success that the Ryokan had experienced, but it had never been the foundation of good human relationships.
Shotaro's Otou-san had been the one bright spot in the grey area that had been Kyoko's childhood. It was from him that she had learned how to cook. Fuwa Oji-san had always had a soft spot for the little girl with golden eyes and had taken her under his wing. Teaching her the ways of a traditional Japanese chef when she was barely six years old and branching out into other cuisines as she grew older, the Fuwa Taisho had taught her to love the art of cooking and the pleasure of feeding others good and nutritious food. But even he could do only so much, busy as he was with the responsibilities of running a successful Ryokan and managing a rebellious child of his own. Fuwa Oji-san was the only one who she had felt truly bad about deceiving, when she'd left Kyoto for Tokyo with Shotaro.
After that had been a whole year of slavery with the bane of her life, the bratty superstar Sho Fuwa. But the way Kyoko viewed his part in her life had changed drastically once her priorities had changed in the last couple of weeks. Till now, she had been giving him a whole lot of importance and too much control over her emotions, letting herself wide open to his insults and taunts. Till now, she hadn't understood that the only way she could get over her past was to let go of it. And somehow, in the process of discovering her lost, or not so lost feeling, she had grown as a person. She had matured enough to understand that blaming Sho for all her misfortunes would never get her where she wanted to go. Most of her actions were hers alone to blame. As he'd told her before, he'd never demanded anything from her, she'd been more than willing to enslave herself to him.
His only mistake had been to take her for granted and behaving in a bratty manner, something that she'd always known he was capable of. Now that Kyoko was able to view the past events of her life from this perspective, her hatred of the young singer, along with her revenge grudge had diminished over time. Even now, she hated the things he'd said about her, hated that he'd had the guts to steal her first kiss, hated that he still thought he had some sort of right to her... all her grudges that had survived Ren's smile assault, a truly pitiful number, were still waiting for him to fall on his face so that they and their mistress could laugh at him in a maniacal manner, but she'd somewhere along the way stopped hating him.
The understanding of her disinterest in pursuing the revenge drama with Sho, along with the knowledge that there were people around her who worried about her, who liked her for the person she was, had been an enormous injection of confidence to Kyoko. She'd found out the day after she'd passed out, that not only Ren, but Yashiro-san, Moko-san, Amamiya-san, Takarada shachou, Maria-chan, Sawara-san, the directors she worked with and even the Ishibashi brothers had been worried about her health. They'd all come by the next day with some reason or the other, to make sure for themselves that she was doing fine.
The love and affection she'd felt from all of them, and an extremely candid conversation with a more than angry Moko-san had opened her eyes to the fact that she wasn't some insignificant person who hadn't made an impact in other people's lives like she'd thought previously. If so many people genuinely cared about her, she couldn't really be as useless a person and a ne'er do well as she'd been told by her mother she was and always would be. Kyoko knew that Kanae might be rough and blunt about most things in life, but she definitely liked being and wanted to be Kyoko's best friend. Though she wouldn't express herself with words, Moko-san's expressions and actions did the job for her. This time, her frank and eye opening conversation with a mopey Kyoko had desired effect, making the young woman start seeing her self worth.
She hadn't changed all that much... she was still the extremely modest and hard working person she was but her inferiority complex that had been instilled by her mother and fostered mercilessly by Sho Fuwa, was now waning in it's hold on her, making her original personality shine through. This Kyoko was still as sweet, as oblivious and as hardworking and happy, but she now knew that the people around her that she considered friends and family, did indeed care about her a lot. She didn't put herself down so much nowadays, though that habit was a hard one to break.
It helped that her friends recognized the effort Kyoko was putting in and they reciprocated in a suitable manner. People were a lot freer around her with comments about her work, her friends started to not only support her, but also critique her work. The differences, while small had a huge impact on the young actress. The seventeen year old finally felt as if she was really a part of something... a part of a family. And then there was Ren, for she couldn't think of him as anything else now, much to his guilty pleasure.
Ren had been more than just a supportive sempai and a good friend. He had literally taken to bearing her burdens, making sure she was as happy as she could be. Which explained why she had been so non freakish about finding herself at his home when she woke up from her exhausted slumber two weeks back... for she had spent a lot of time, even some nights in his home and guest bedroom. The relationship between the two of them had changed subtly over time, not enough to alarm Kyoko or her delicate sensibilities before, but just enough for her to start viewing the tall, handsome actor as more than just a highly respected sempai.
But now as she trawled the halls of TBM studios, hoping to bump into the very same man, Kyoko couldn't stop some very disturbing thoughts from swirling around her mind. Involved in her recent personality reform, she had completely forgotten the main portion of what Ren had discussed with Bo before. She had completely forgotten that Ren was already in love with some high school girl, someone he thought deserved better than him. For some not so unimaginable reason, Kyoko felt as if someone had drawn a rusty dagger slowly across the surface of her heart. It pained her in more ways than she could comprehend that he was in love with someone else.
Even as she tried to get over the revelation, Kyoko couldn't help but laugh bitterly at her own chauvinism. Till now, she was determined not to fall in love and hadn't wanted anyone to fall for her, but now that she knew she had some sort of deep seated feelings for her sempai, she was feeling hurt because he loved someone else. Who knew?... maybe the girl he loved deserved him more than she did. In fact, going by Ren and his penchant for perfection, the girl he loved must be the most beautiful and the most talented person in Japan, if not the world. How could she compare to any of that? While Kyoko wasn't trying to put herself down per se, she knew that she wasn't beautiful in any way, nor did she have any sort of stellar talent, even if she was a decent or even good actress.
It was with these bleak thoughts dimming her mood, with a small army of grudges basking in the dark vibes rolling off of her, that Kyoko found herself face to face... or rather, face to chicken head, with the primary object of her aforementioned thoughts. Ren Tsuruga was back at the usual spot where he met the chicken suited er... person. And for the first time in a long time, he actually looked... not exactly happy, but relaxed. It definitely didn't look like he needed her help with something... then why was he there? Knowing that he hadn't seen her yet, Kyoko slowed her steps. Closing her eyes and taking a few deep breaths, the young actress felt herself slip into the character she'd formed for the fun loving and irreverent chicken mascot, and when she opened her eyes, she was Bo.
"Yo! Tsuruga... Long time no see"
It was an almost startled Ren that turned to face her but an instant later, Kyoko was astonished to see a genuine smile stretch across his handsome face. It wasn't something that usually came out in everybody's presence. This smile came out so rarely in fact, that Kyoko had never thought she would see it at that moment. And so unfortunately, a few more Kyoko grudges died a premature death, their dark selves literally combusting due to the brightness of his smile. Suppressing a shiver at the reaction her body wanted to give to that expression on his face, Kyoko forced herself to calm down before taking a couple of steps towards the actor.
"Hello Bo... how're you doing?... I wondered if I'd be seeing you here today"
"Well of course you would've... I know just when and where I am supposed to be. So how's everything going? Confessed to the girl yet?... or are you still..."
Here, Bo had to stop for a bit and snicker to herself before she continued
"... too chicken?"
Bo couldn't restrain herself anymore and was in the throes of laughter, making Ren roll his eyes at the chicken's bad sense of humor.
"Yeah, yeah... laugh it up. Because that was really an outstanding joke."
The chicken's laughter coming down to occasional snickers, Bo waved it's hand... er wing at him to continue, at which Ren sighed a bit
"I haven't confessed to her... yet. I... I just don't know. She's still too young... and there are things about me she should know... but I don't know how to..."
"Kami-sama man!... Are you man or mouse? When are you planning to tell this girl?... After she gets herself a boyfriend or gets married to some other guy?"
Bo knew that she had pushed some buttons she shouldn't really have, at least not this early in the conversation, but Kyoko's inherent frustration and bad mood were seeping into Bo's character, slightly disrupting the chicken's train of thought. She just wanted to know that Ren was serious about this high school girl he was supposedly in love with. Once he confessed to her, Kyoko would get rid of her feelings for him in peace, knowing that he could never l-love or even like her back that way.
However, seeing the Demon Lord preparing to surface, Bo hurriedly tried to change the subject, hoping that this time when he yanked at her head, it wouldn't come off, revealing her identity to him. She wasn't ready for that to happen... at least not yet.
"Okay, okay... forget about confessing to her for now. Tell me what it is that is stopping you from telling her though... It's not just the fact that she's a high school girl right? Because that just seems like a convenient excuse you're hiding behind man..."
Bo knew that this too, was a sketchy topic to touch upon. But right now, she didn't have anything else to go on. Besides, she wanted, no... needed to know what it was that made him so closed off to people and emotions. What it was that had made him create Tsuruga Ren. She'd half expected Ren to react either by walking away or yelling at her, but again, the infuriating man managed to surprise her. Her smiled.. it was a soft, bitter smile, but a smile nonetheless. But there was a dark, depressed aura that surrounded him, which caused a few of the braver remaining grudge Kyoko's to come out to celebrate the occasion.
"Look... if it is that difficult for you, you don't have to tell me, but you have to talk to someone about this. Someone needs to know... If you're just gonna keep it all in, it'll just fester and one day it might all just explode turning you into a serial killer or something..."
She'd meant the last line to be a joke, but found that it had just increased the depth of his depressed aura even more. Sighing to herself, Bo tried to resolve the situation but before she could say anything more, Ren spoke
"You're right. I do need to speak to someone about this... and since you asked so nicely and I know that you're not gonna go repeating this to people, I am gonna tell you. But you have to promise me that this'll stay between you and me. If I find at any point of time that anyone else knows of this, your head will be mine... okay?"
Though the lines had been delivered in a deceptively smooth voice, the cold, hard expression in his eyes and the dark emotion the last line conveyed had rocked Bo to her shoes. She found herself nodding fearfully, sealing her promise to not tell anyone else. Seemingly satisfied at that, Ren sat back and gestured the chicken to do the same
"Remember the first time I met you... I told you that I had started working when I was pretty young?"
As the chicken nodded its head, he continued
"Well, I was a different person back then... different looks, different language and a completely different attitude. I am the son of two very famous people and from childhood, everyone expected me to be perfect at everything because of who and what my parents were. I honestly tried my best for quite some time... But then I started doing small acting jobs, and the directors would expect the perfection of my father, who was a super star then, from my nine or ten year old self. I obviously couldn't do it and got mercilessly fired a whole bunch of times."
When Bo had asked him about his reasons for not confessing to the girl he liked, she hadn't really thought that it would require this sort of in depth delving into his history. But it seemed however, that she was going to have to listen to him now, no matter what, and there was nothing she could do except make the right sympathetic noises at the right time or remain silent.
"At that time, all I wanted to do was get out of my father's shadow. But that wasn't gonna happen... So by the time I became a teenager, I'd started acting out. I was the typical rebellious teenager. I did everything I could to go against everything my parents stood for... smoking, drinking, drugs, street fights, you name it, I was part of it. By the time I was fourteen, I was part of a street gang in L.A., where I made friends with this guy named Rick. He was the only one who actually cared about me. He was the one who could control me when I went into one of my rages. Back then, I was as reckless as I was daring. I was beyond caring for anything other than the fact that I wanted to be free... free of everything."
Here, she could literally feel Ren's body shaking with the suppressed tension. Wondering if it was going to get worse, Bo nodded her head slightly, encouraging for him to continue. There were only bits and pieces of the information he was giving her, that were processing at the moment. She would rewind and playback the whole conversation in her head later at night, but for now, Bo was determined to hear him out completely. She recognized that this wasn't something that was gonna happen again and again and if Ren was opening up to her, she would utilize the opportunity completely and try to help him as much as she could.
"And then.. it happened. I'd gotten into a fight with a rival group over something trivial... I wasn't aware that they were trying to take revenge on me for beating up their leader. One evening when I wasn't there, they attacked the gang I was part of. I didn't get the news till it was too late and by the time I got there, they were long gone... but they had left behind one thing. Rick's corpse... They'd mercilessly run him over with their truck, leaving him dying on the road. Which was how I found him, lying in a pool of his own blood, with his girlfriend sitting beside him, her hands coated in it. She was yelling at me... yelling that I was a murderer... that I had killed Rick..."
A shaky breath left Ren, as he tried to calm down, his emotions scattered into pieces, completely beyond his control for the moment. Bo couldn't do much more than put a sort of comforting wing on his shoulder and send a prayer to heaven that this man, this tortured soul could find its salvation... and that she could help him with it. For a minute, it looked like he was done... like he wasn't going to sy anything more. But just when Bo was foraging her brain, trying to find something to say, he spoke again... his voice sounding almost dead
"That was the turning point. I'd finally done something that couldn't be made right. I'd taken a man's life... I'd killed a friend. After I came back that night, I couldn't sleep, eat, talk or even move for literally weeks together. My parents got so worried that they contacted Lory... he's a friend of our family. He came over and brought me back to Tokyo with him... he gave me a second chance at life, complete with a new identity, a new home, new everything, provided I left my old ways and transformed into something that deserved the new life. And thus, Tsuruga Ren was born"
At the end of it, Ren lifted his head slowly, as if the simplest effort was beyond him, and looked at the chicken sitting beside him silently, his expression inscrutable
"I... I don't know what to say..."
"I know... But tell me... What girl would want to be with some one... some monster like me? If she comes to know of my reality, she will just run away. And I don't want to hurt her, to lose her trust like that"
Bo had to think for a minute. This wasn't something that could remedied in a minute. This was actually a big, dark problem that Ren would have to deal with at some point or another in his life.
"Look... aren't you losing her trust right at this moment too?... You've been lying to her about yourself. What if she liked the guy she thought you were, only to find that the real one hiding behind the mask is someone completely different? Isn't that like cheating her of her choice? Don't you think it's going to hurt her too?"
She didn't want to see Ren like this... so depressed and so down in the dumps, but by the slump of his shoulders, Bo knew that what she had said was getting through to him. That was enough for now. He was an intelligent man and could work out the rest of it by himself.
"Look man... I appreciate that you trust me enough to tell me what you did. I also wanna promise you that I will never divulge what you have told me to anybody... ever. Even under the threat of torture... scout's honor. And I think it's high time you stopped blaming yourself for something you didn't do... because hear this clearly... you. did. NOT. kill. that. man. okay? Your friend's death, while a tragedy, was not completely your fault. You weren't even there when it happened. You-"
"What do you it wasn't my fault?... Of course it was. Rick was a good guy Bo... and I killed him... He was gonna propose to Tina that night and now, she'll never get her happily ever after. I not only killed Rick, I also killed any chances of Tina having a happy life."
"Stop. Just stop it. Rick died that night. I get that... but you should understand that you didn't kill him. He got killed by those idiots from the rival gang. They should suffer for it. You did not kill him... you might've started to fight that led to the final confrontation but you weren't even there for it for Kami's sake! Why won't you understand that? You haven't killed anyone."
"How can you say that?...I..."
"Okay. Let's see. Did you beat up Rick?"
An incredulous but silent shake of the head indicating 'NO'
"Did you point a gun at his head and pull the trigger?"
Another shake of the head
"Okay.. so did you run him over with your truck?"
"Shh... Did you hurt Rick physically in any way that night that he died?"
"So there... you didn't kill him and you didn't physically contribute to his death. He died because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I am not completely absolving you of blame here. I am just saying that while the fight you started might've gotten Rick killed, you did not kill him yourself. So stop feeling this sort of survivor's guilt. It belittles your friend's memory. Honor Rick's life by living yours to the fullest."
Ren seemed deep in thought at what the chicken had said and Bo could see his manager coming near then from the corner of her eye.
"Just... just think over what I said okay?... You'll know what to do. And please... tell the girl you like her. You of all people should know that life is short and that we should utilize all the opportunities we get..."
With that, Bo stood up and executed a perfect bow. Just then, the manager came to them and seeing Ren sitting next to a huge chicken, was staring between the star actor and the chicken curiously.
"Ah!... Yashiro-san... Good afternoon. I was just leaving... Hope you have a nice day... and Ren, think about what I said"
With another low bow, Bo got her yellow backside out of there, walking away as fast as she could before Ren or Yashiro managed to call her back. Once she was safely inside the prop room where the Bo costume was stored and where she knew no one would come looking for her, least of all Ren or Yashiro-san, Bo took off her head and became Kyoko again.
Kyoko was close to hyperventilating. She couldn't believe that just asking Ren to tell her the story behind his refusal to tell the girl he loved, as Bo, had resulted in this sort of knowledge. Now, she didn't know what to do. She'd promised him that she wouldn't tell anybody, but that in itself was a false promise because now, Ren wouldn't expect Mogami Kyoko to know about his history and she would... and did. Oh Kami! How in the name of heaven would she face him now? She'd never been very good at lying to him and the first time she went in front of him, he would know. Oh why hadn't she told him earlier?... Why hadn't she stopped him from telling her all fo this? Why was she feeling so damn guilty now?
With all of these questions and conflicting emotions circling around in her head, Kyoko didn't even notice the movements she went through to get out of the chicken mascot costume and put it away. By the time she realized what she was doing, Kyoko was back in her normal clothes (read Love Me overalls) and was already outside the studios, making her way to the Darumaya on her trusty bicycle. Of course, Sawara-san, Takarada shachou, even Ren had told her how dangerous it was to ride her bike, now that she was a famous actress, but Kyoko knew that while people might recognize her in one of her characters, they wouldn't even spare her a second glance now that she was out of it. No one except the people who worked with her knew the real, everyday face of Mogami Kyoko and for once, Kyoko was absurdly thankful for the fact.
Pedaling furiously in an effort to get as far away from the studio as she could, Kyoko found herself at the Darumaya in under fifteen minutes. Since it was already close to dinner time, Kyoko fought to keep her whirling thoughts aside for just a couple of hours more, opting to run straight from her work to the restaurant after changing out of her LME overalls. Kyoko knew that she needed to relax a bit after the emotionally trying afternoon she'd had and knew that serving people food and making small talk with them was going to be the best remedy.
And so it was almost twelve, by the time Kyoko found herself lying back on her futon, trying in vain to get her brain to stop whirling. Sighing at the knowledge that she would definitely not be getting any sleep that night, the young actress sat up and made her way to the window, staring out at the inky night sky with small diamond like stars shining from millions of miles away.
Thinking back to the evening and the conversation she'd had with Ren as Bo, Kyoko couldn't help but feel a bit proud that she'd managed to make Ren trust at least one part of her enough to tell her one of his most guarded secrets. While the knowledge that he trusted her enough to tell her made her happy, the content of the disclosure still made her ache for the young man that had been through so much. She'd always seen Ren as the sophisticated, mature man of the world till now. But after hearing him speak of his past today, Kyoko could see the hurting, lonesome young man hiding behind that worldly mask. And found herself wanting to do anything and everything she could, to make him feel better.
With what she had heard from him today, Kyoko knew that she was in the best position to understand the complex, infuriating, and captivating young man that he was... and this time, it didn't bother Kyoko all that much when she felt another of the small number of locks that still hung off of the box inside her chest loosen and fall off. Ren was going to succeed in opening all of the locks that she'd put on her heart without even being aware that he was trying, and she for one, couldn't wait for that day to come. She would set him free and he would do the same for her... And together, they might just be able to create that happily ever after that she'd heard so much about when she'd been a child. Okay... so maybe that was still a pipe dream, with the high school girl he loved still in the picture, but Kyoko was in too good a mood now to contemplate any of that.
But first, she had to figure out just how she was going to face him with the knowledge she currently held in her hands. That was going to be the first and one of the major hurdles in her journey towards freedom. But Kyoko knew that with time and effort she would traverse the distance... she would get there. After all, he was worth the effort and she had the time. So what if the situation right at the moment wasn't perfect?... she could work with it. Things would be just fine.
A/N: So there it is... another chapter done. Aaannd that marks the halfway point in this fic. Till now, most of it was in Kyoko's POV with little bits of Ren's POV slipping in. From now on till the end, we're going to see Ren's side of things. So stay tuned for the next chapter, which is Feelin' Red...
Oh and for the parts where Kyoko wore the Bo costume, I addressed her as Bo, because Kyoko is a method actress who literally becomes her character. Also, it is a lot less confusing for me as well as Ren, to keep track of things.
Please don't forget to review your thoughts and ideas, I would love to hear from you...
And last but definitely not the least, Thank you to all my readers, reviewers, people who put alerts and favorites on this story... I love you all!
Lotsa luv and cookies
P.S. I just had to share this with you guys... I found this on some Skip Beat forum:
Come over to the Dark Side... forget cookies, We have Ren Tsuruga!
I am going over... are you? :P