Yashiro glanced at the wall clock. Although it was time to head home, he lacked motivation. This wasn't normal behavior for the precise and enthusiastic manager. Yukihito was in a funk. For weeks, he had noticed little inconsistencies things with his charge and it was driving him to distraction.
Yashiro traced back through recent events. No one thing was obvious in its strangeness. It was the sum of the minor details that raised warning signs in the older man's mind. Ren seemed a bit less formal when they were alone. He completely ignored him whenever he said anything about Kyoko-chan. Granted, the actor often ignored a lot of things Yashiro said about the cute LoveMe actress but his charge no longer seemed motivated to even growl at his manager when he was teasing him about his feeble romantic ventures.
The slight changes revealed itself insidiously. It was not just manifestations of minor personality quirks. Yashiro shifted the papers on his desk. He tapped the project proposal for which Tsuruga agreed to audition. It was a less mainstream film that centered around the struggles of a half Japanese medical student who was raised abroad and was struggling to find a place where he belonged in the more reserved Japanese town while attending university. Just like Black Jack, this character strayed from the typical male lead roles that Ren normally portrayed. The character was harsh and full of angst. He was not a likeable character.
Sighing, Yukihito considered his additional observations.
Ren had excused himself from some of the filming sequences while on location. For the actor who insisted on watching as much filming as his manager could work into his busy schedule, Tsuruga had strangely avoided the climactic interaction between Yuuko and Atsushi.
He even stopped antagonizing Murasame.
Probably most telling for the pesky manager, Ren suddenly resolved his acting issues with Kyoko-chan. The talented actor went from desperately struggling through scenes to nailing his performance in single scene shots. It was eery.
Yashiro sighed again. He was not discovering the underlying issues sitting idly in his office. Storing his work material, the concerned manager headed out the door to do battle with the subway as well as his worries.
Two floors above Yashiro's late departure, President Takarada accepted an elegantly addressed envelope from his aide. Curiosity aroused, the eccentric gentleman carefully slid his gilded letter opener along the top of the migraine inducing pink stationary. As he unfolded the elaborate missive, little pink and yellow hearts and glitter fell from the packet. Lory couldn't help but chuckle at the silly touch as he swept the colorful debris from his lap. An amused smile twitched under his mustache as he read the words from his original LoveMe member.
Dear President Takarda:
I cannot thank you enough for the opportunity that you provided me by creating the LoveMe section. Your compassionate creativity in giving me a place at LME has truly been a life changing experience.
Despite the decidedly cursed uniforms you forced on the section, I have not been cursed by being a part of your pink embassadors of love. I may not have enjoyed every task I was given or understood the reasons behind some of the strange request you presented to the section, but I know that I have greatly benefited from the skills I have acquired and the people I have met through the LoveMe section. You and your LoveMe section have afforded me the opportunity to develop deep friendships with a number of talented and caring people.
Now you may be wondering why I am writing to you about my experience with the LoveMe section. It is very important that you know how much I feel connected to LME and my co-workers as a part of my time with the LoveMe section. Having expressed this, I am hoping that you will think about my attachment to the section in the next couple hours. I desperately hope to be able to one day leave the LoveMe section hand in hand with my other precious friends who are just as lucky as I am to have the support of LME as we learn to be better actresses.
Thank you so very much.
Sincerely, your original LoveMe girl, Mogami Kyoko
President Takarada read the letter once more before sweeping from his office. Since it was a few minutes after shift change, the cos-playing gentleman saw very few employees as he hurried to the Talento Section. Despite the after hours trip, he knew his target would be behind his desk still working diligently. Arriving in the large open office space, Lory stalked towards the head of the department while waving the electric pink letter like a signal flag.
Sawara Takanori cringed at the sight of pink paper that could only mean one thing, a new headache involving the LoveMe section.
"Sawara-san," demanded Lory. "Has something happened in the LoveMe section?"
The over-worked executive frowned in confusion.
"Nothing that I can think of..." he postulated to his superior.
"Then what is the meaning of this letter?" Takarada demanded as he handed it to the younger man.
Sawara skimmed the letter then reread it. He finally admitted that he had no clue about its source. The two concerned men imagined a number of horrific reasons for the missive but neither offered a truly viable catalyst. Perhaps it was a testament to their understanding of Kyoko's adamant disregard of love that prevented either gentleman from even speculating that the cause of the letter could be the rediscovery of her missing emotion. Vowing to set his best resources to discovering the underlying issue, Lory assured his talento director that he would uncover the cause. Regally, the president swept from the room leaving behind an even more stressed executive to continue his silent worrying.
Across town and as promised, Ren arrived at the Daruma-ya an hour before the movie premier for The Mirage. Dropping his keys into the pocket of his pants, he unconsciously patted his other pocket. Taking a deep breath, the actor entered the small restaurant. He nodded in greeting to the intimidating man working at his cooking station. Although the younger man had been cowed by Kyoko's landlord the first time he met him, he finally realized that the scowling man didn't hate him. The two men came to an understanding a few weeks ago while Ren waited for Kyoko to return from an errand with the okami-san that was taking longer than she expected. The older man had admitted that his wife was purposefully detaining their young tenant so that he could corner her suitor.
"You should have introduced yourself sooner," the Taisho had reprimanded the younger man.
Ren instantly apologized.
The hard-faced man nodded in acceptance.
"You have been in her life for quite a while. Almost from the beginning of her time at LME, " the older man acknowledged and this time the actor nodded.
"I think you are good for her. You protect and guide her and she is happy when she mentions you."
"I care for her and I will support her any way she will allow me," Ren promised earnestly. He had silently withstood the Taisho's probing gaze for a stifling moment that seemed like a lifetime to the daunted American.
"You will do," the stoic gentleman stated with another nod.
Tsuruga, feeling like he earned the keys to the city, felt a nagging tension leave his body and he could not help but smile at the grudging endorsement from the closest thing to a father figure in Kyoko's daily life.
Since that time, Ren made a point of parking and entering the restaurant whenever he arrived to pick up Kyoko. He did not want to lose the respect he had earned with a lax in his manners.
This evening, the Okami-san bustled into the room trailed by her young tenant. Although the older woman offered the actor a pleasant greeting, Ren only had eyes for his date. She took his breath away as she glowed with excitement. Her dark blue evening gown was flattering yet conservative and Tsuruga had purposefully matched his tie and pocket handkerchief with her gown in a subtle statement of their solidarity. Before the night was over, he planned on making sure everyone knew that his co-star belonged to him and he to her.
"You look ravishing," the smooth playboy offered.
"And utterly ravish-able," he added softly into her ear as he offered a short, affectionate hug which he figured was acceptable because he had not seen her all day..
Kyoko blushed but did not reprimand her companion. She would have been mortified for her landlords to ask about his whispered playboy tactics. Instead she reminded her escort that they did not want to be late for their own party.
"Of course not, my lady," the tall, handsome man responded with an elaborate bow. "Your carriage awaits."
Kyoko placed her delicate hand in Ren's outstretched one. Her eyes sparkled with amusement at his playfulness as she replied, "Lead on, my lord."
After a quick good-bye to the older couple, Ren tucked his love's arm around his elbow and escorted to his car. The car pulled into traffic and the couple fell into the comfortable silence that the young celebrities have enjoyed since they began their secret relationship.
Kyoko opened the glove compartment of Ren's silver sports car so that she could store her house keys and purse. She planned to slip her miniature make-up kit and her cell phone into the pocket of her escort's coat once they reached the theater. Shifting some paperwork to make room for her items, her hand encountered a large roll of something strange. Pulling the tightly wound packet from the storage area, Kyoko's eyes widened in shock.
"Ren!" she exclaimed.
"Why do you have these?" she demanded as she waved the roll of at least thirty condoms at her companion.
"Ah, shit," the driver cussed in his native tongue as he scrambled for an excuse.
"What were you planning for tonight?" his date accused as she tossed the suggestive items back into the glove compartment and slammed shut the little door.
"Would you believe me if I told you that I didn't buy those?"
"Uh, no?" Kyoko laughed lightly.
Ren stole a glance at his love as he insisted that he did not purchase the condoms. The expression on Kyoko's face conveyed her obvious skepticism.
"I really didn't purchase them," Tsuruga insisted.
When Kyoko just shook her head in amusement, he continued in his defense.
"Remember when I told you that I got that split lip filming an action scene on that guest slot for the police drama last week?"
Kyoko nodded. She had been horrified to see the damage and had scolded him about caring for himself better.
"Well, I didn't get it filming," he admitted.
Kyoko frowned. Like most people, she didn't appreciate when someone lied to her.
Before Kyoko could rail against his dishonesty, Ren elaborated.
"Your best friend bought them," he explained to Kyoko's utter consternation. "She cornered me in the LME garage and shoved that coil of contraceptives at my chest. When I caught them in my hands, Kotonami-san punched me in the jaw. Then she started yelling about me stressing you out with my reckless behavior and that your career would be ruined if I got you pregnant."
"Uh... sorry?" Kyoko apologized as she felt responsible for her friend's aggressive behavior. She clasp her hands together nervously as she contemplated some of the facts that she conveniently forgot to mention when she admitted to having made love with Ren while on location. The normally modest teen had failed to reveal that she was the one who started the entire affair. Sheepishly, the actress realized that she had made Ren seem like an unconscionable seducer to the second LoveMe girl. Kyoko immediately apologized again.
Ren chuckled and assured her that it was fine. Unable to resist the evil impulse, the actor then teased her that she could make it up to him by testing out her friend's gifts with him. Despite their deepening relationship, Kyoko still flushed at the teasing although she quietly admitted that she would consider his request. Ren hummed happily at her guarded answer.
Once more, Kyoko opened the glove compartment. She shook her head and closed the door again.
"What does she think we are? Rabbits?" she muttered in disgust.
Her companion's laughter sustained for the rest of the ride.
As they approached the theater and the media circus surrounding the premier, Ren laid a calming hand on Kyoko's thigh. He could feel her slight trembling under his fingertips.
"You will be fine," he promised. "Better than fine. You are going to have them eating out of the palm of your hand."
Kyoko offered the man she loved an appreciative smile. Nerves and worries still plagued her though.
"Do you think we should have told Yashiro-san?" she questioned anxiously. "He isn't going to be happy when we blind-side him with our relationship. He is the one, after all, who will need to wade into the impending frenzy."
In Ren's mind flashed images of the innumerable times that his ever helpful manager had harassed, prodded and generally obsessed about his non-existent pursuit of the lovely lady beside him. The hint of a cruel smile tightened on the actor's lips.
"No, he deserves a bit of pay-back for some of his interference with me love-life."
"Remind me not to get on your bad side," Kyoko solemnly intoned.
Ren chuckled as he pulled into a parking spot near the theater. He grinned and swirled the shape of a heart on her leg with his fingertip.
"You, my lady, can handle anything and everything that I can possibly dish out," he promised. Kyoko rested her left hand on his thigh and petted him gently until his slightly evil expression faded to something entirely different.
"Well, I still need practice handling the Emperor," she whispered as she blushed from the heat and intensity of his expression.
"You can tame him just as easily as you tame the Demon Lord," promised her escort as his hand slid seductively up her arm to caress the back of her neck.
"We can practice now if you want," he murmured huskily against her neck.
Though tempted, Kyoko scowled.
"That would make us late," warned Kyoko as she reluctantly escaped from his touch.
For once, Tsuruga cursed his timely habit but chuckled as he reached for his door handle. He couldn't help but tease his date one final time.
"It seems to me that you know just how to put the Emperor in his place."
"Only in public," Kyoko whispered after he closed his door. Again, a blush lit her cheeks.
Assisting the teen from the car, Ren led his date towards the theater. He offered her a companionable arm but did not draw her close like he would in private. As they planned, they would start the evening as co-stars and friends. Ren grinned roguishly. After the film premiere was another matter entirely. That happy contemplation kept him smiling through their media-thick arrival. It helped him remain centered while he greeted the other cast and settled into his seat for viewing the movie. The contented glow slowly dissipated though as he became engrossed in the film. Despite his participation in the production, Ren found himself drawn deeply into the story. If he had glanced around the theater, he would have seen every other member of the audience similarly entranced. Goosebumps rose on his arms as he watched the woman he loved perfectly portray Yuuko. He marveled anew at how well Kyoko skirted the line between sanity and insanity. She expertly straddled the mental fence with a dexterity that was awe inspiring even for the other cast and crew who witnessed the creation. The final production just accented her superior performance.
Ren tensed as the film reached the filming sequence that he purposefully avoided while on location. He had known he would have been compelled to seriously maim Murasame if he had watched the filming. A small hand reached for the fist clenched against his thigh. The tiny appendage gently nudged the fist to unclench. Surrendering, Ren relaxed his stressed hand and laced his fingers with Kyoko's digits. Her delicate thumb stroked tiny soothing circles across the back of his thumb as she leaned her head against his shoulder. Content once more, the actor returned his attention to the action on the screen.
"Hello, Precious," Atsushi purred as he wrapped his arms around Yuuko and pulled her back against his chest.
Before Yuuko could scream, the larger and more power man covered her mouth with one of his hands while the other kept her firmly trapped against his body. The young woman struggled with all her might to escape her captor's hold. She kicked and flailed violently. Unfortunately, the petite college student was no match for her stronger opponent. Chuckling coldly, Atsushi nipped her delicate ear.
In response to the bite, Yuuko returned the favor and bit into the soft flesh of the hand covering her mouth.
"Fuck!" cussed Atsushi as he ripped his hand away from Yuuko's mouth. The piercing scream that issued could have woken the dead if any were in the vicinity. Unfortunately, there was no one to hear her at the remote seaside hiding place where Masanori had made her promise to stay until he returned for her.
Unconcerned by the racket, the older man shifted his grip to the woman's wrist then whipped her around to face him. Retaining his grasp on her arm, Atsushi's oprn palm struck his captive harshly across the face. Yuuko staggered. With an efficiency of movement and practiced ease, he hit her with the back of his fist on the return swing. The teen dropped to one knee. The trapped young woman raised her head and glared at the bastard who had injured her.
"So the puppy has some teeth after all," Atsushi taunted as he stepped towards his intended victim once more. He rubbed his injured hand against his thigh to help sooth the bite.
Yuuko warned "You will get caught."
The meticulous killer laughed.
"Impossible," he chuckled arrogantly. "There won't be any body and I'm studying for exams with my best friend."
"Can't you tell?" he taunted as his friend moved closer and helped restrain their victim.
From her trapped position on the ground, Yuuko promised that Masanori would make them pay. Both her captors laughed at her naive conviction. As Atsushi's friend dragged the girl onto a large plastic tarp, his companion delighted in informing the defiant young woman that her supposed savior was currently fighting to save his job after the harassment and misconduct charges filed against him.
"It truly is horrible for an officer to abuse their power just to appease their crazy girlfriend," Atsushi stated as he pulled a long knife from his pocket. Yuuko screamed as she writhed on the ground while Atsushi used the weapon to shred his captive's clothing.
Kyoko felt Ren shudder and turn his head from the film. Even with his averted eyes, the pleas and cries continued and ate at the actor's soul. The hand holding his own left his grasp and reappeared on the side of his head. Kyoko pulled his face so that they were eye-to-eye.
"It's Yuuko, not me" she promised as she covered his ears and leaned their foreheads together. Concentrating on the gentle touch and the breath of his companion, Ren ignored the abuse on the film. Kyoko finally released her grip once Masanori arrived on the scene to save Yuuko from her depraved attackers. While the beaten and violated woman slowly bled onto the plastic, the irate officer subdued the killers. Sirens sounded in the distance as the officer knelt beside the severely injured woman.
"I didn't imagine it," Yuuko slurred.
Masanori assured her that he knew. He promised the ambulance would arrive soon. He pleaded with her to stay with him.
"I love you," he stressed.
Yuuko lifted a blood covered hand to his face. She left a trail on his cheek with her fingertips.
"I love you," she whispered in return as the film ended with unanswered questions. Just like the audience wondered through most of the movie if the murder was a mirage or reality, they was no resolution on Yuuko's life or death.
As the credits ran and the audience clapped, Ren stood. He grabbed Kyoko's hand and pulled her towards the exit. Leaving the darkened theater, Ren glanced quickly in both directions before ducking into the currently unmanned coat check alcove.
"What's wrong?" Kyoko inquired in concern. She worried that her companion was still distressed over the movie.
Tsuruga smiled nervously. "Nothings wrong, Kyoko," he admitted. "I just... well... I needed a moment before the media circus."
Ren reached into his suit pocket and freed a small box. Kyoko's eyes widened and her breath froze as Ren clasped her hand.
"Umm... I wanted to do this traditionally but I 'Bo'ed' so here goes," he rushed.
"You insisted that words were inadequate to express your feelings for me. I needed to show that I feel the same way," the young man explained as he slipped open the black box and held it towards the flabbergasted teen.
Kyoko's hesitantly poked the small yet shimmering stone. Ren remained completely silent as Kyoko lifted her eyes from the flawless, colorless, and perfectly faceted stone. The sly actor chose this smaller yet more expensive gem because it would make both of them happy. The anxious young man banked on his love not knowing that not just carat but also color, clarity and cut affected the value of the ring.
"Are you sure?" Kyoko whispered in awe and just a hint of fear.
Still silent, Ren plucked the platinum ring from its nest and held it towards Kyoko. His eyes pleaded with her to accept his offer. Unable to resist the call of the puppy-eyed man she loved, Kyoko silently offered her hand. Smoothly, Ren slipped the promise into place. He then captured her fingers and lifted them to his lips. Kyoko's heart fluttered as she watched his lips gently brush the tip of each of her fingers. Turning her hand, Ren placed another kiss on her palm.
"Thank you, Kyoko. For accepting my past, loving me today and agreeing to share my future," Ren whispered against her hand. "I promise to show you every day just how precious you are to me."
Kyoko melted against her companion. She slipped her free hand around his neck and delved into his soft dark hair at the nape of his neck. In that moment, it no longer mattered that there was a media circus waiting to interview them about the speculation on their relationship. It didn't matter that they had kept secrets from important people in their lives. It didn't matter that The Mirage was making an unexpectedly successful debut that would cement their equal acting status in the eyes of world-wide fans and critics alike. It didn't even matter that Fuwa Sho, in a fit of childish anger and despair, had stormed from another theater in the middle of the closing scene because he realized his childhood friend had truly abandoned him in her dust. All that mattered was that specific moment in time when the two lovers chose to show each other just how deeply their emotional ties bound their body, minds and spirits.