Kyoko was a professional actor, and like any professional she was determined keep her mind on the job regardless of any personal feelings. Right now her job was to play Setsu Heel and pretend to be Tsuruga-san's sister. So what if her heart went pitter-patter every time she saw Tsuruga-san smile? So what if this role meant living a creepy parody of her entirely unsisterly feelings towards him? None of that was relevant to the job at hand, and so none of it would affect her behaviour.
That was the plan, at least. And it almost worked.
Living as Setsu was actually kind of fun, most of the time. Setsu certainly didn't angst about things like professionalism, all Setsu cared about was what felt right in the moment. Keeping an eye on Cain during filming was kind of a drag, but they found plenty of time to have fun, and it would all be over soon. Then the two of them could lay back and relax full time without worrying about early morning starts and small minded film crews for weeks, if not months. It was going to be great.
Of course once filming was over Setsu and her brother would actually just...cease to exist. Thinking about it made Kyoko feel melancholy, almost like it was an actual person who was about to die and not just a role she was playing.
Also, despite all her vows to be professional and work towards being an emotionally mature adult...Kyoko had to admit that a large part of her melancholy was the knowledge that soon she wouldn't be living with Tsuruga-san any more. No more early morning hugs, no more affectionate smiles, no more anything. Soon Tsuruga-san would go back to being her colleague and nothing more. Knowing it was all fake to begin with should have helped, but it didn't. It just made her feel worse about enjoying it in the first place.
But it wasn't until the last day of filming that things finally started to crack.
Cain performed his scenes with an intensity that even Setsu found unnerving, and a talent that left Kyoko breathless. He'd been antsy this morning, impatient to get it all over with, and Setsu worried he might start a fight with someone on set just to get the nervous energy out of his system. But thankfully he just settled for being extra unfriendly, glaring at any crew that crossed his path with such ferocity that one of the younger interns started reflexively apologising every time his eyes met Cain's.
And then it was finally over.
"Do you want to hang around for the after party?"
Setsu thought it looked dull, and Kyoko just wanted to be done, but it might be good for Cain to wear himself out somewhere relatively controlled before being let loose on the city.
"You call this a party?" Cain shot a mocking sneer towards the the cast and crew, who were standing around politely sipping wine and talking about upcoming projects. Even Kyoko had to admit this party had nothing on the spectacle of Dark Moon's celebration.
Setsu laughed. "So, you wanna go somewhere less boring to celebrate?"
Cain just grabbed her hand and grinned, his teeth white and sharp.
They ended up in a little club in the basement of a half derelict old building, the bouncer's scepticism at Setsu's age evaporating in the face of Cain's snarl. The club patrons were a mix of bored young people and tired workers wanting to unwind, all dancing to the overloud music with a sort of weary determination. Setsu leapt happily into the crowd while Cain stood languorously by the wall, watching her shake and sway in the swirling coloured lights. Setsu watched him watching her and shook and swayed all the more.
Cain wasn't the only one watching. A group of teenagers whooped and jostled around Sestu as she shimmied in their direction, and she bathed in their happy energy until they wandered off in search of beer. She danced with a pretty girl, which made Cain smile, and some more pretty boys, which didn't. Part of her was worried he'd get jealous and cause trouble. Part of her liked the idea. But Cain just watched.
After dancing by herself for a while Setsu felt a hand on her ass and turned to find herself being stared down at by a guy who must have been at least thirty, his eyes half lidded and his white business shirt sticky with sweat.
"You're hot," he said.
"Duh," said Setsu, while Kyoko was torn between wanting to cringe and wanting to smack him in the face. Setsu just turned and walked away, leaving the crush of the dancefloor and going to stand with Cain. There was a dangerous light in his eyes as he stared at the creepy guy, but his expression softened as Setsu approached. She leaned her chin against his chest, tilting her head and getting a good look up his nostrils (which should have felt gross, but just made her smile), and put her arms around him.
"Sick of dancing?" He looked down and gave her a small knowing smile that made her feel all warm inside.
"Sick of dancing by myself."
"Didn't look so lonely from here."
"They're not you. Come dance with me."
Cain gave a short laugh. They'd known each other a lifetime. She knew he didn't dance. Setsu grabbed his hands and tried dragging him towards the dance floor but he stood his ground, smirking as she pulled fruitlessly on his arms.
"Fine," she said, pouting. She stopped pulling and started swaying their hands to the music. He laughed properly now, and let their fingers intertwine. His hands were large and warm.
As they walked back to their apartment it started to drizzle. The Muse hadn't put much thought into practicality when designing Setsu's outfit, and Kyoko shivered and thought nostalgically of her bright pink jumpsuit. Cain pulled her close, under his jacket, and she was grateful for the warmth. Their hips rubbed against each other as they walked and Kyoko wondered if this was the last time they'd be together in character. Would Tsuruga-san stay as Cain until tomorrow? Or would he go back to being himself the moment they were inside? What was he thinking right now? Would he miss living with her too, or would he be glad it was over? How horrified would he be if he knew how much she was enjoying this?
"What's wrong now?" Cain's voice was harsh, but Setsu could hear the affection in it.
Cain rolled his eyes and pulled them into an alcove out of the rain. "Come on, out with it."
"I said it was nothing."
Cain put his finger under her chin and lifted her head. Setsu looked up at him, sincere in her unconcern. She wasn't the one who was sad. But Cain looked unconvinced.
"Don't tell me you're going to miss all that movie shit," he said, the rumbling murmur of his voice turning the words into a growl. "Or d'you like having uptight Japanese on our asses all day?"
"Nah," said Setsu. "Now it can just be you and me."
"Yeah." Cain slid his hand around to cup her face and Kyoko had to fight not to sigh again. She leaned against him, breathing in the musky sweat on his shirt. Cain ruffled her hair then put his arm lightly around her shoulder.
She didn't want to let go. She, Mogami Kyoko, not Setsu. But Tsuruga-san had enough issues to work through without her unrequited feelings on top of it all. Kyoko took in a deep breath and thought "You are Setsu Heel. You are a rebel who doesn't care about anything but your brother. And you are happy."
And then Tsuruga-san...no Cain leaned down and kissed the top of her head.
Inside Kyoko screamed in frustration. He was not making this easy. She was so close to getting out of this role, surely she could manage a graceful exit without embarrassing herself in front of Tsuruga-san. It had been bad enough having to admit her shame to the President.
She gave him a squeeze, tightening her arms as much as she could. His chest felt solid and muscular against her arms and Kyoko tried not to think about what it looked like naked.
"Oof," said Cain. "What was that for?"
"Just cos I love you," said Setsu.
"AAAAAAAAH" thought Kyoko. LOVE. There was that horrible word that had caused her so much trouble! Setsu had no idea how lucky she was to be able to say it so easily.
"Is that all."
She slapped his chest. "You're supposed to say you love me back."
"Yes. You're supposed to say I'm the best sister in the whole world, that you'll love me forever, and that noone else is as cute or wonderful as me."
And oh, how he looked at her. The remaining shred of Kyoko's objectivity admired Tsuraga-san's skill in imbuing that look with so much love when what he must actually be thinking was "why is this silly girl making me stand outside in the rain?"
He leaned down, his chin brushing the top of her hair. "Words are overrated."
She stretched up on the tips of her high heeled boots and moved her arms to circle his neck. "Then show me," she said.
His eyes opened in surprise, and for a second he looked nothing like Cain. Was she being out of character? What would Setsu do?
Well, one thing Setsu certainly wouldn't do is back down. "Like I showed you," she said. Was it really Setsu saying it? Kyoko couldn't tell any more.
"You sure?" asked Cain, raising an eyebrow. "I thought you didn't want me using the skills I learned on other women. And aren't you worried what people will think?"
"YES," thought Kyoko.
"When do I ever care about that?" said Setsu. She leaned up the last short distance between them and kissed him lightly on the lips.
"What did I do that for?" thought Setsu. But she kept her lips pressed against his. His mouth was soft, softer than his skin, and damper than his shirt. He kissed her back, just for a moment, his lips moving against hers and applying the slightest hint pressure. Then he let out a soft breath of a laugh. "Ok then," he said against her cheek and then moved his mouth down to her neck.
Kyoko's mind became one horrified, ecstatic wail of confusion. Her wig partly covered her neck now but come tomorrow she would be back to her usual short hair and sensible teen actress life. What would people say if they saw a massive love bite on her neck? Would they think she'd been out seeing boys on the side? Or, worse, would they realise it was Tsuruga-san and cause some sort of scandal? This was terrible.
But it was also amazing. He kissed down her neck and across her shoulders, each kiss leaving her skin feeling tingly and warm.
There was a noise behind them and Cain looked up, his hands tense on her shoulders. Setsu (Kyoko?) had to stop herself making a whine of disappointment. Cain's eyes narrowed and Kyoko wondered if they were going to stop. They should stop. She really, really hoped they weren't going to stop.
He looked down at her, frowning, and she looked up, her eyes impassive and unafraid. Daring him. He smirked.
Cain pulled her shoulders to make her turn and she followed, confused, into the shadows until she felt the cold solid weight of the wall behind her. "Keep an eye out for trouble," he said.
"Sure," she said. He looked down past her shoulders like a soldier facing down his foe, and ran his thumb down her chest, stopping just the point her breasts started to swell out of the top of her bodice, and then pushed the top down slightly and to the side. "Somewhere private," he said. "So only I know it's there." Kyoko's breath caught.
"And me," said Setsu. "I'll know."
"Mmm," said Cain as he put his mouth to her. His voice buzzed against her skin, his lips moved and she could feel the light brush of teeth, the suck of his lips and the liquid warmth of his tongue. Tsuruga-san's hand was cupped against her breast as he held open the top of the bodice, his leg braced against hers, his other arm held next to her torso. Kyoko was hyper aware of every place their bodies touched, of the flat wall against her back, of the gentle tickle of his hair as his head moved.
Dear god. Were love bites usually this...intense? Did it feel this way for everyone? Had it felt this way for Tsuruga-san? No wonder the film crew had looked at him askance. There was nothing innocently affectionate about the sensation of his mouth against her skin, nothing chaste about the mixture of pleasure and pain she felt as he left his mark upon her.
Kyoko let out a groan that was half desire, half despair. What was she doing? What was Tsuruga-san doing? Did he still think she was just acting? He must do, or he'd have never let things go this far. But just how far was he willing to go? What would he do if she kissed him again, only deeper this time, like a lover not a sister? Would he realise then that she wasn't being Setsu any more? Or would he...
"Tsuruga-san," said Kyoko sadly. "I..."
He stopped. He lifted his mouth from her chest, let the hand on her breast drop, stood straight and looked her in the eye. "Mogami," he said, softly, and despite the makeup and the clothes he was entirely Tsuraga Ren.
Cain Heel was entirely comfortable being squeezed up close to his sister in a dark alleyway. But Tsuraga Ren was far too much of a gentleman to ever do such a thing with a girl like Kyoko. He stepped back. Kyoko felt suddenly self conscious in her short skirt and tight top.
"I'm sorry," she said.
He shook his head. "I understand. Let's get back to the apartment." And that was that.
They walked the rest of the way back in silence. She thought about saying something but what was there to say? She felt like she should apologise, but that would mean admitting what she was apologising for, and she couldn't stand the thought of Tsuruga-san rejecting her right now. Instead she let the pieces of Setsu's personality fall away from her mind like a dog shaking off water. She was Kyoko Mogami again now, and nothing more.
When they finally got inside Tsuruga-san turned up the heat and took out some cups to make coffee. Kyoko grabbed some towels and they dried off their hair for a while before it occurred to Kyoko that she could just take off Setsu's wig. She put the rain soaked hairpiece down on the side board and had the sad realisation that she would probably never wear it again.
"Do you want to go home?" asked Tsuruga-san. "We can get someone to take care of your things."
"Yes," said Kyoko giving her best 'happy Kyoko' smile. "Thanks. I have a Box R shoot tomorrow, so it would be good to get some sleep in my own bed." She certainly wouldn't get any sleep staying in the same room as Tsuruga-san.
"Right," said Tsuruga-san. "I'll call for a car once you've had a chance to grab anything you want for tonight."
As he poured out the coffee he said "Mogami-san... you did a really good job acting as Setsu."
Kyoko's heart filled with pride. "Thank you," she said. "Though I felt like I got her wrong lots of were amazing as Cain. And Black Jack too...he was so scary! I hope I can be that scary one day."
Tsuruga-san smiled. "Thank you." They sipped in silence. Somehow the coffee tasted different when Tsuruga-san made it than when Cain did. "But..." She looked at Tsuruga-san and he looked back at her, frowning. Here it came. The inevitable criticism. She steeled herself for it to be bad. "I don't think you should have been made to do this role. It's too much."
"Too much?" retorted Kyoko. "What did I do wrong? Are you saying I'm not ready for this kind of work?"
"You didn't do anything wrong," he replied. "But you're too young, it's not...appropriate. I'm sorry, I should have said something at the start."
Now Kyoko's pride was hurt. Yes, she'd screwed up, but only because she was emotionally compromised, not because she was too young.
"But you said I did a good job," she said, trying not to sound like a whining child.
"Yes," said Tsuruga-san, irritated. "Too good of a job. You shouldn't have to...it's not..."
He pointed to his neck, where the faint hint of a bruise still remained. Kyoko flushed.
"You shouldn't be giving love bites to anyone regardless, but you absolutely shouldn't be required to give them for work. It's disgusting."
If Tsuruga-san thought it was disgusting...did he think she was disgusting? What was so horrifying about a love bite to a playboy like him? "I wasn't required to do it. It was just...the only solution I could think of at the time."
"How is that any different? You shouldn't be getting into situations where that kind of thing comes up at all. It reflects badly on you, and on the company."
"It's just acting, Tsuruga-san. It's our job."
"Are you really saying it doesn't bother you?"
Kyoko found herself in a bind. Tsuruga-san obviously thought their actions were wrong. If she said she wasn't bothered by them, he would think badly of her. But if she said she was bothered by them she'd be admitting she wasn't up to the job, and he would still think badly of her! Curse this impossible man.
And... why was he bothered so much? She tried to imagine things from his point of view. He was obviously comfortable doing all sorts of things with women in his free time. And as an actor he must have kissed dozens of women when it was called for in the script. But perhaps...perhaps it only bothered him when he was improvising. As Cain Heel he didn't have the same control over his actions he did as Tsuruga Ren, nor the security of knowing what was required he had when acting from a script. He couldn't easily escape the situation if it would be out of character to do so, meaning he was carried along by the scene as Kyoko created it. Kyoko thought about when she'd been trapped or forced into physical situations that made her uncomfortable, and how miserable it had made her feel. Had she done the same thing to Tsuruga-san?
Ah, no, she was crying! Stop it, eyes!
"Don't cry," he said. "It wasn't your fault. This kind of scenario...it's hard for something inappropriate not to happen. I should have just done the job alone."
"What? No! Who would have made you eat? And kept you...kept you safe?" The thought of Tsuraga-san facing this job alone was intolerable.
"I don't need a babysitter," he muttered, ignoring mountains of evidence to the contrary. He handed her a handkerchief and she thought sadly that if they'd still been in character he would have given her a hug. "I knew this situation had to bother you, whatever the president said." He gave a wry laugh. "A pure hearted girl like you acting as someone like Setsu. Living as that kind of girl!"
She didn't feel very pure of heart right now. "But I didn't mind it," said Kyoko sadly. "Not until now!" He raised an eyebrow at her and gave her another handkerchief to wipe her streaming eyes. Right, she was doing a pretty bad job of coming across as someone who wasn't bothered. "I didn't mind it for my own sake, Tsuraga-san. Not really. But if you found it disgusting...I'm so sorry for making you do those things. My behaviour was unprofessional and...and I won't ever do anything like that again."
He stared at her. "You apologise...for making me do things?"
She nodded sadly. "I thought it wouldn't bother you, because you've been with so many...because it was just acting. I mean...you told me that we actors get to decide what counts...counts from the heart, right? But I obviously misunderstood. I'm so sorry, I didn't realise it disgusted you."
"But other than that you don't mind?" He seemed doubtful, almost incredulous. Was it so terrible her not minding? Should she have lied?
"I must admit...sometimes being Setsu require me to do things I didn't like. But I could usually find some way to change the scene if it bothered me too much. And I could always go back to being Kyoko if I had to."
She nodded, and tried not to blush. "Yes."
He rubbed his face. "You are...a very strange sort of innocent, Mogami-san. You put an awful lot of trust in me, as a man."
She looked at him in shock, and he stared back with his usual unflappable calm. What was he implying? "But...you are always professional, Tsuraga-san! You would never..." Never put her in danger? Never let his personal feelings force him out of character? They both knew that wasn't true. But that had been that...other self, the one he'd promised never to let control him any more. She had not seem that self tonight. "I trust you, Tsuraga-san...I wouldn't do this role with just anyone. But the President said it would be ok, and...and I like acting with you."
"You even liked that?" he pointed a long finger towards her chest. She looked down and was alarmed to see a dark red blotch of bruised skin peeking out from under her top.
She felt her face turning beet red. Yes, she had liked it very much indeed. "No, no, of course not!" Wait, no, but she'd just been persuading him that she wasn't uncomfortable. "I mean...it wasn't that bad, haha! Just part of the job, right?"
He looked unconvinced. No surprise: wasn't she the same girl who'd freaked out every time any man had shown the slightest hint of interest in her? Even a kiss on the cheek from Tsuraga-san had been enough to through her off her game, once. But that was before.
"So why did you make me stop?"
"Because..." What could she say that didn't expose all her vulnerabilities? "Because...because I wanted to. But...I knew I could trust you to stop when I asked, Tsuraga-san. And you did."
"I...yes. You can trust me to do that, at least."
Yet he couldn't trust her not to take advantage of him. She felt like such a hypocrite. "If you'd prefer then...we can avoid these kinds of roles. And I wouldn't do something like this with anyone but you. So you don't need to worry about my reputation."
"Good," he said. "That's probably for the best."
"I really am sorry, Tsuraga-san."
He nodded without looking her in the eye. "Come on, get your things and I'll call for the car. It's getting late."
The mark took several days to fade, going from red to purple to a faint brown. Tsuruga-san had placed it low enough that Kyoko could hide it by wearing a high cut bra, but sometimes she caught sight of it in the mirror as she bathed. "This is a mark of shame" she scolded herself, "a reminder of what happens when you let personal feelings interfere with work!" But the feeling that came over her when she looked at it was not shame at all.
"Setsuka Heel" had gone back to England with her brother, so Kyoko had no more direct contact with the production of Tragic Marker. She heard details about post production through the grapevine, though, and things sounded like they were going well. Would this be another success for Tsuruga Ren? She wondered when LME would reveal the truth about the Heel siblings and what the reaction would be.
Kyoko's feelings for Tsuruga refused to vanish quite so easily. She wasn't useless like she had been around Sho, and now that they weren't working together she didn't have to spend so much time worrying about accidentally revealing her feelings. But she yearned for him, it was embarrassing. "Get over yourself!" she thought irritably, after she found herself thinking soppy thoughts at a poster. "Are you so easily defeated? Just because you're in love doesn't mean you have to be weakened by it! Ignore the pesky feelings and be strong!" But her feelings, as always, refused to listen to her commands. She took this as further proof that she had to keep fighting, lest her feelings develop further and she descend deeper into foolishness.
Beyond the self reproach she felt for letting herself be so weak, there was the guilt of betraying Ren's trust. All the times she'd railed against the dangers of men and the evils of those who forced their attentions on another, and yet she'd done exactly the same thing herself! She would have to make it up to him somehow.
Meanwhile her other work continued apace. She was in talks for yet another drama, this time playing the sweet middle-school-aged daughter of a corrupt yakuza. It sounded a bit melodramatic, but it would certainly be a change from Mio and Natsu. Assuming she could pass as 12: she was short, but not that short. Perhaps she should spend some time with Maria to get more of a feel for the cadence of children's speech. The only other child she knew at all was Moko-san's friend Hiou-kun, and she had a feeling he would not be a good or willing example of typical childish behaviour.
For the first time in a while, she wasn't working with Tsuruga-san. She missed it, and not just because of her silly crush. He was a truly great actor, and working with him always pushed Kyoko to improve her craft in ways she'd never even considered. She really hoped they could work together again some day. He'd said they shouldn't work together on any more roles like the Heel siblings, and she agreed, but that didn't mean they couldn't collaborate on something less risque. And if their careers didn't intersect again for a while they could still work together in their off hours to help each other like they had before, right? He was her mentor, her sempai. There was no reason that had to change.
Moko-san picked unhappily at her salad. "The movie I'm working on always has these delicious looking traditional meals," she said morosely. "It makes the cafeteria food seem even more unappetising than it did before."
"Do you ever get to eat any of it?" asked Kyoko.
"No," sighed Moko-san. "It looks delicious, but it's mostly lukewarm and full of artificial colours so it doesn't go bad under the stage lights. I'm thinking I may have to take myself out to as good old fashioned restaurant to satisfy all my cravings."
"Or I could cook for you!" said Kyoko. "What sort of dishes were you after? Kabayaki? Chanko nabe? I can cook those! And I can teach you, too!"
Moko-san scowled. "I don't want to cook them," she said, "I want to eat them."
"Ok," said Kyoko sadly. Moko-san pretended not to notice her sad expression for a while and then gave a long suffering sigh.
"Fine, you can come over and cook me some old fashioned food. I guess," she said, as if being cooked for was a terrible imposition. "I'll ask the set designer what the names of the dishes are."
"Yay!" said Kyoko. She went back to eating her decidedly untraditional cafeteria noodles with a great big grin on her face. She'd bumped into Tsuraga-san in the queue, and even though he'd been perfectly friendly just seeing him had made her a little melancholy. Thank heavens she could always rely on Moko-san to cheer her up.
"Hmmph," said Moko-san, trying not to smile. "Anyway, how's your work going? I don't remember you being signed up for very much at the moment yet I never seem to see you around." She leaned forward and grinned. "Have you got something secret on the side?"
Kyoko coughed and tried to remember how to breathe without filling her lungs with noodles. On the one hand: yay! Moko-san paid enough attention to notice all the time she'd spent working as Setsu! On the other hand: boo! Kyoko had to lie to Moko-san to keep her life as Setsu a secret! There were way too many secrets in Kyoko's life right now.
"Nope," said Kyoko with a forced smile. "Just doing school and...stuff. And lots of little random jobs for the President, you know how he is."
"Do I ever," muttered Moko-san, successfully distracted. "You know the other day he told me I should audition for a role in full body makeup? Me! Playing a bug eyed alien! With this face!" Her horrified scowl took away somewhat from the prettiness of the face she was gesturing at.
"Well, maybe it would be good for you," said Kyoko. "When your face is covered up you have to put a lot more expression into your voice and body language. I know this sounds a bit silly, but I've learned a lot from playing Bo."
"Oh yes, I'm sure you gained great insight into the psychology of giant chickens," said Moko-san. She held up a bean sprout with her chopsticks. "Would this look tastier to you if you imagined it as a worm?"
"No," said Kyoko. "Costumed chickens don't eat worms. We only eat the finest corn on the cob, covered in butter."
"Is that so?"
Kyoko looked up towards the unexpected male voice and was faced with a beautiful, terrifying smile. Her stomach felt like it was trying to fall to the floor, taking her noodles with it. Tsuruga-san...
Always the perfect gentleman, Tsuruga-san didn't make a scene. He just smiled at her, sparkling with fury, until she made her excuses and followed him to somewhere they could talk in private.
"It's funny," he said. "Whatever your other flaws, I always admired your honesty, Mogami-san. But I suppose now I should admire you for being an accomplished liar. With all my years as an actor, I never suspected my friendship with Bo was anything other than genuine. You must tell me your secret."
The sparkles from his smile were so bright she almost had to shut her eyes. "It was genuine!" she said. "That's why I didn't tell you!"
"What an odd definition of friendship you must have," he said. "Oh! But as you know, Japanese isn't my first language. It must be me who has misunderstood what it means to be a friend."
"It wasn't...I didn't want it to be like that," she said, distraught. This was not how she wanted him to find out. To be honest, she'd kind of hoped he'd never find out. But it could definitely have gone better than this. Now he was going to hate her forever. She wanted to cry. "I just...you seemed to really need a friend. And you'd have never have let me be that friend as...me. I never told anyone anything you said."
"But you know. You know...you know...and yet you pretended to be ignorant all this time. Why?"
"Ignorant?" she said. "You mean about...you having trouble with Japanese? Or...about...that girl? What would I have said? It wasn't any of my business."
"That...girl..." said Tsuruga-san. He stopped and rubbed his hand over his face. When he looked at her again he was much calmer, as if the main weight of his anger had evaporated. Kyoko felt a wave of relief. "You...you're right. It wasn't any of your business. And you found out about it under false pretences."
"You're right, I did," she said, "I'm sorry. Really I am. I'll try to wipe the knowledge from my brain."
"Good." He let out a frustrated sigh, and then scowled at her. Kyoko had to stop herself from smiling back. She much preferred an honest scowl to a fake smile. "I can't believe it was you the whole time. I was so convinced you were a man. Some of the things you said..."
Kyoko laughed nervously. "I was in character."
"It's not 'being in character' when the person you're with doesn't know you're acting. That's just lying."
"Right," said Kyoko, chastened.
"It's going to take some time to get used to this," said Tsuruga-san. "Knowing that you and Bo are the same...It makes me question who you are exactly. Is there anything else you're not telling me?"
"No...?" said Kyoko, in a high pitched voice.
Tsuruga-san glowered at her. "I take it back," he said. "You're not a good liar at all."
Kyoko had imagined all sorts of reactions from Tsuruga-san when he found out what a love struck fool she was. Pity was one of them. Disdain another. Sometimes she'd wondered if he wouldn't be surprised at all, if he'd known from the start but had just been too polite to mention anything.
But one emotion she had never predicted was despair.
"How long?" he said. "Wait, no, don't tell me, it doesn't matter. This is...this is terrible. We would never work!"
"I know," she said. "I'm not asking you to date me. I know you could never see me that way, and I don't expect anything from you. I'm only telling you that I...have...romantic feelings because...because I let them influence me, when I was playing Setsu. You asked if there was anything else I wasn't telling you and...this is the only other thing."
"Influence...you..." he said slowly.
She nodded, and looked away. "I thought I was just...being in character, but I wasn't. That's what I meant the other night when I apologised for being unprofessional. I let my own preferences taint the character, and the scene. It was...the worst sin I could commit as an actor, and a horrible betrayal of your trust. Another betrayal of your trust. I'm so sorry, Tsuruga-san. I hope you can forgive me."
She steeled herself for his response, but he said nothing. She took a deep breath and looked up, expecting his face to show anger or horror but instead it was just...blank. Like he was so overcome with negative emotions that his brain had totally short circuited and now all he could do was blink. But what did she expect? She'd made a promise to him to remain pure of heart, to behave as befitted a young employee of the company, and she'd let herself be overcome with inappropriate sentiment and lust. And towards him, who had dedicated his life so sincerely to the craft.
They sat there in silence for a while, Kyoko trying to get her heart to stop racing and Tsuruga-san just...blinking, his eyes focussed on some point behind Kyoko's head. Then he blinked once more and finally looked her in the eye.
"You...don't need to apologise to me," he said. "Well, not about this. I'm still annoyed at you for the thing with chicken." He grimaced and she ducked her head in shame, but then he gave her a sad smile full of compassion, impossibly calm. She didn't understand. Why wasn't he more angry? "You can't help having...having feelings. If anything...I should ask your forgiveness, for...anything I may have done, to make you feel this way. I'm sorry. I never wanted to cause you pain."
He was apologising to her? This was so wrong. "But I do need forgiveness!," she cried. "Or at least...it's me who's done you wrong. You never did anything to make me believe that I...that you..." Kyoko felt terrible. "And...even if I couldn't help having feelings, it was still wrong to act on them. Is this because I'm a woman? That doesn't make it ok! Consent is important for men too!" There'd been a whole campaign about this recently. Chiori had been on some of the posters.
"It's not because you're a woman..." he said, his voice tinged with irritation. "Well, in a way it is, but... You see, Mogami-san..." He stopped, and it was if his face glitched again, his jaw sticking out at a stubborn angle as he screwed up his eyes as if in pain. He let out a deep sigh. "You've been honest with me. Admittedly, it took some prompting, but eventually...you came clean and told me...that you...that you have feelings for me." He stopped and looked at her again, as if waiting for her to correct him. Obviously he was having trouble getting his head around the idea. "You told me your feelings even though you were worried you would get hurt. So I..." He made a groan, like he was lifting a heavy weight. She'd never seen Tsuruga-san like this before. Usually he was completely in control, unless he was completely overcome by anger. But this wasn't anger it was just...awkward. Unpracticed. "So I'm...going to be honest too."
"About what?" Kyoko knew Tsuruga-san had his secrets, but as far as she could tell none of them had anything to do with her.
His expression settled into something closer to the controlled Tsuruga Ren she was used to. "You let your feelings influence you when you were playing Setsu. That was unprofessional, and if you find yourself in that sort of situation again the right thing to do is to take a break, or quit if you have to, until you can approach the role with the required level of emotional distance." She nodded seriously. That is what she should have done. He frowned and again lost some of his usual smooth veneer of charm. "But it would be hypocritical of me to rebuke you for that. Because...I...I did it too."
What on Earth was he talking about? "You mean...with BJ? And the...the fighting?" They'd never discussed Tsuruga-san's episodes, but as someone with her own inescapable inner demons Kyoko had only compassion for Tsuruga-san's battle with whatever dark forces were raging within him. "That's not the same!"
"No, not that," he said. "Though you're right, I did have...issues. With the violence. And I'm so sorry that you...maybe one day I'll...But I meant with Cain. And you."
It was Kyoko's turn to stare blankly now. "With...Cain? You feel..." She squinted and tried to understand what he was getting at. "You feel...brotherly towards me?"
"Brotherly?" he cried, his voice cracking in disbelief. She stared at him in concern and he grimaced and then gave a short bitter laugh. He stepped towards Kyoko and put his hand on her shoulder, looking down at her with half lidded eyes. That expression... "How can you be so brilliant and yet so dense? No, Mogami-san, I don't feel brotherly towards you."
The gears in Kyoko's brain slowly digested the new information and tried to jam it into the apparently flawed model of Tsuruga-san she'd been working with until now. As the implications set in she felt her face going red.
She took in a slow deep breath, and then let it out in one short sharp cry. "Playboy," she hissed. She might have let her feelings influence her, but they were at least feelings of love. Well, mostly love, she couldn't pretend there wasn't some lust mixed in there, but that was only to be be expected, and...and he hadn't know that! And has taken advantage of the situation! Just because he had feelings of...
...of desire? For her?! Her face got so hot she thought she would explode. Tsuruga-san desired her. She'd thought she was too young, too "pure of heart". Except she wasn't pure of heart, was she? And neither was he. Oh this made things even more complicated, and they'd been bad enough before. How could they work together now? Even now part of her was imagining what it would be like to just...let go, let him have his way with her, and hers with him. But that would only lead to disaster.
"What?" replied Tsuruga-san. "That's not..." He winced and then took his hand off her shoulder, crossing his arms. "Fine. Yes, I was being a playboy. You didn't seem to mind. In fact you enjoyed it, you said so yourself! We were both being unprofessional, but as long as we learn from the experience and try not to fall prey to temptation again, no real harm was done. Let's not make a big deal about it."
"No...real...harm?" Kyoko was so overcome with emotion she couldn't speak. How could he dismiss the whole situation so lightly? How could he not see it as a big deal?
And then it hit her. He'd just dismissed the whole situation and didn't think it was a big deal. Being Bo, having romantic feelings for him, even getting him to kiss her on the breast, he wasn't angry at her about any of it. He didn't hate her. Tsuruga-san knew the truth about Kyoko and didn't hate her.
Kyoko sniffed as her eyes filled with tears. She gave Tsuruga-san a big smile. "Thankyou," she said. "I thought...I thought you'd never want to talk to me again. Or that we wouldn't be able to work together, that you'd want to...But...ok. I trust you to treat me with respect. And I will always treat you with respect from now on, I promise. This doesn't have to be a big deal. If you can forgive me for...for everything, I can forgive you too. And we can try...try not to let our feelings control us again. I really like working with you, Tsuruga-san. I hope this none of this will get in the way of that."
"Never," he said seriously. "I won't let it. Mogami-san..." He closed his eyes. "I really like working with you too."
"That's the really important thing, then," she said, letting out a sigh of relief. "What's love to that?"
He gave her a beautiful smile, sad and sincere. It made her want to kiss him.
"Stop looking at me like that," she said, looking away. "I'm trying to get over you."
He laughed. "Should I frown then? Or stick out my tongue? What expression is least endearing?"
"None of them! Don't look at me at all!" Kyoko laughed as well and felt a weight lift off her chest. They could still be friends. Love didn't have to ruin everything after all.
"If you insist," said Tsuruga-san, and looked pointedly at the ceiling. "This could get difficult though, I may bump into things." The advantage of Tsuruga-san staring at the ceiling was that she could stare at him openly without feeling self conscious. How handsome he was. And so kind. Most of the time, anyway.
"It shouldn't be for too long," said Kyoko, trying to convince herself as much as him. "I'm sure I'll get over you soon."
His face twitched. "Really? I hear I'm quite loveable."
"To a normal woman, maybe," said Kyoko, stoutly. "But I am a warrior against the scourge of romance! I am waging a battle on my affection for you as we speak."
"I wish you luck," he said.
"Thank you," said Kyoko. "And I'm glad you understand."
"I...as you know I have suffered the same affliction," he said, still staring at the ceiling as if it was the most fascinating thing in the world. "I wish I could offer you advice, but despite my best efforts my own war has not been very successful."
"Oh," said Kyoko, feeling a pang of jealousy for this girl she'd never met who Tsuruga-san apparently found so charming. "Well that's...actually that's good."
"It is? I thought you were a warrior against the scourge of romance."
She let herself smile at him and his sad, beautiful face with all the affection she'd been holding tight inside. "For me, yes. But not for you. Just because I...like you, Tsuruga-san, doesn't mean I want you to be alone forever if I can't have you to myself. If you still like this girl after all this time, I think you should say something. You deserve to be happy." Kyoko felt proud of herself for getting the whole speech out without bursting into sobs. What a liar she was! She didn't want to Tsuruga-san to be happy with some other girl! She wanted him to be happy with her! But that wasn't going to happen, and just because her heart was a selfish fool didn't mean she had listen to every foolish thing it said.
He looked down from the ceiling into her eyes. She did her best to smile. "You only think that because you don't really know me," he said. "I'm not...I couldn't make any woman happy. Especially not...not someone like her."
"Isn't that her decision? If it was me, I'd..."
His expression got cynical again. Why did everything she said always end up making him angry? "You'd what? Tell me romance is a disease that must be rooted out, and give me advice on crushing the inconvenient feelings?"
"Uh..." He had a point there. "I'm a bad example. But if it was any other girl..."
"Yes, but..." He frowned at her again, and then sighed deeply and looked away. He turned and took a step towards the door and then turned back to look at her again, rubbing his face.
"Mogami-san, I just..."
"Mogami-san, what if it was you? Would you really want me to tell you my feelings?"
Tsuruga-san eyes darkened, and he looked at her, looked at her as a woman, a woman he apparently desired enough that it interfered with his iron clad professionalism. Kyoko blushed. It had been bad enough when he'd flirted with her when she'd been in denial about her feelings. Now that they both knew the truth the fire in his eyes was unbearable.
The tears she'd been holding back until now started to prick at her eyes. "Don't tease," she said.
He leaned in close again. Her heart started thumping faster and her breath quickened. He was so horribly, irresistibly handsome. She wanted to touch him so much. "Kyoko," he said, "I'm not teasing. What if..."
"Leave me alone!" she shouted, and ran towards the nearest door, slamming it behind her.
She hit her against the solid wood in the dark and tried to catch her breath. What was he doing? Why was he messing with her like this? Or did he really mean that he...nonononono she wouldn't even let herself think it.
"Mogami-san," said Tsuruga-san with infinite gentleness, "That's a cleaning cupboard."
"I know that now!" she shouted back. She groaned in embarrassment. "But at least I'm safe in here from you and your...seductive ways. I thought you promised not to try and take advantage of me again."
"Mogami-san..." said Tsuruga-san. "I'm sorry you feel unsafe. I'm not trying to seduce you. I'll go away if you want."
"I didn't say that!" As terrified as she was, she couldn't handle the idea of them just pretending this whole conversation never happened. "I just...need time to think. Please, don't go."
"...I'll stay." She heard him sigh and sit down on the floor by the door.
Kyoko made herself comfortable between a mop and a pile of buckets and tried to figure out how on earth she was going to escape this cupboard holding on to the slightest shred of her remaining dignity. And to think the day had started out so well.
The wood of the door made Tsuruga-san's deep voice echo, like it was coming from far away. "Mogami-san...do you feel better now that I know how you feel? Even though you have no hope of us being together?"
What a way to put it! "...yes," she said. "It hurts, but...I don't like there being lies between us. And I'm glad that you don't hate me for it. Are you glad that you know?" She was glad he couldn't see her face, it made it easier to talk.
He didn't answer for a while. "...yes. Yes I am," said Tsuruga-san at last. He didn't sound entirely sure of himself. "And...I don't like there being lies between us either. Though...you know me. I am not a man honesty comes to easily. Not about certain things."
"I know," said Kyoko.
They sat quietly for a while.
"Mogami-san...I want to tell you something, but I can't just..." He let out a harsh breath. "Would you be willing to take on a role? For a little while?"
"Yes. It's someone you've played before."
Someone she'd played before? What was he doing? "Ok." She trusted Tsuruga-san enough to see where he was going with this.
Tsuruga-san's voice became cool and calm, like he was narrating a story. "Your name is...you are a young man. You had...troubles, in your youth, that you don't know how to deal with. So much pain that you don't know how to deal with being yourself. So you decide to become someone new." Kyoko didn't have to imagine what that was like. "And so you become...Tsuruga Ren, the perfect Japanese gentleman actor." Oh. So this was the role she was to take on. "After five years of hard work you are popular, successful, and alone. And that's just the way you like it." Tsuruga-san described himself impassively, like a stranger, and Kyoko tried to put herself in the head of this stranger without letting her feelings get in the way.
"Then you meet this girl..." His calm voice hesitated, just for a moment. "...and she sees through your perfect persona to the flawed man underneath. She sees the anger and frustration, the loneliness, and yet instead of being repulsed by it she tries to help you. All while being the most promising young actor you've seen...ever. Beautiful too." Beautiful? Don't think about it, Kyoko, stick to the scene. "Watching her perform is a joy, and performing with her is like nothing you've ever experienced before. So you fall in love with her." Kyoko took in a sharp breath, but whether Tsuruga-san heard her or not he didn't stop talking. "You don't say anything of course. She's young, and inexperienced, and you're damaged goods. Worse, she's been hurt before, quite badly, and needs time to heal her wounds before she's ready to even think about romance. So you say nothing. You don't even admit your feelings to yourself until they are pointed out to you by a giant chicken." Kyoko coughed out a laugh. "Not realising of course, that the giant chicken is the girl herself. Truly she is an an actor of the highest calibre." Kyoko laughed again and then stopped. Oh. Oh. But...
Kyoko forced herself to imagine Tsuruga-san as a just another role, not the man she knew, and examined his feelings with this added layer of distance. He loved...this girl. She knew that. She'd told him that. And this girl made him happy. But he had been determined to keep them separated because he thought he couldn't bring happiness to her.
And this girl was her. It was her.
But it couldn't be, that was too wonderful and terrible and huge. What if she was misunderstanding him? What if she wasn't, but they hurt each other? They had both already been hurt so much already...
No. It was too much. Better not to think about Tsuruga-san being in love with Kyoko. Just think of that girl as...that girl. Kyoko pushed her anxieties aside and put herself back into Tsuruga-san's head. It was more comfortable there.
"So...I...covered my feelings all this time," she said. She thought back through all the times she and Tsuruga-san had been together, this time imagining herself in his role. Suddenly some things that had been confusing made a lot more sense. "I...pretended to flirt as a joke to cover my real desires," she said slowly. "And to see how she reacted to the idea of me being interested in her." All the times her heart had raced at his touch, his heart had been racing too. All the times she thought he'd barely noticed her...
"And she reacted with disgust every time," said Tsuruga-san. "Which made you disappointed, but also glad."
She didn't feel anywhere near as bad for her "impure" thoughts now. What a hypocrite Tsuruga-san could be sometimes. Kyoko deepened her voice to an approximation of the mocking tone Tsuruga-san used when he was being sarcastic. "But I kept flirting with her anyway because I like seeing the woman I care about suffer."
Kyoko closed her eyes against the black of the cupboard and breathed. She imagined herself as Tsuruga-san, watching...this girl struggle with her fear of touch and affection. And watching her deal with other men as they expressed interest in her as well. Hmm. "Am I perhaps...the jealous type?" she asked.
"Very," said Tsuruga-san. "And this jealousy may sometimes lead you to be a tad...unscrupulous. Even violent."
Kyoko sighed. "Which just further cements my resolve to remain single." Tsuruga-san critiquing Kyoko on her love life, Cain snapping when Sho called her...it all made so much more sense now. She really was a oblivious fool.
Tsuruga-san's voice had gotten quieter. "Exactly."
Kyoko waited for him to continue, but even when she put her ear right against the door she couldn't hear anything. For all she knew he might have left.
But there was no way she was going to let the story end there.
So. Tsuruga-san had been in love with...this girl for at least a year. He'd had no intention of ever letting her know and yet somehow, things had changed. "So...just when I'd decided to give up..." What had triggered the change, after all? Oh, of course. "Ah, yes. My meddling boss decides to stick his nose in." It seemed it wasn't just the Love Me section who had to accept his interference. "Does he know about my feelings?"
"Yes," muttered Tsuruga-san, with an annoyance Kyoko had no trouble empathising with.
"Ha!" Kyoko made a fist. "I knew he was up to something!" That President... "He knows about the girl's feelings too, you know."
"Oh?" There was a pause. "But we haven't gotten to her feelings yet. You're getting ahead of yourself."
"Right. I am." She sent herself back to the when this had all started. "So. I have feelings for this girl, and my boss knows it. She...she respects me, and is attracted to me, but is still in denial about the possibility of anything more. My meddling boss makes us share a room to encourage these hidden attractions to bloom. Though we are playing siblings, which adds an extra layer of weirdness." She had been uncomfortable enough with the situation, it must have been excruciating for Tsuruga-san. No wonder he'd tried to object.
"Not that it wasn't weird to start with."
"True," said Kyoko. In some ways the bond between siblings was not unlike the bond between sempai and kohai, and the forbidden love angle reflected Kyoko and Tsuruga-san's determination not to give in to love with anyone, let alone each other. "I am tempted to express myself to this girl but I...I hold myself back." Kyoko put herself in the role of Tsuruga-san in the role of Cain Heel, older brother. "I'm affectionate, maybe a little doting, but not...inappropriate. And then...the girl..." Kyoko bumped her head against the wall behind her head, the mild ache a comforting distraction from the self hatred twisting her stomach. They'd both been in the exact same situation but it was only her who'd crossed the line.
"You're missing the part where you become dangerously unbalanced," said Tsuruga-san. "Parts of yourself...parts of yourself you thought you'd sealed away forever start to take over. You put the girl you love in danger. And then..."
"And then she calms me down." The car crash, the fights, the phonecall...Tsuruga-san had been taken over by his darker self, and he'd needed her to bring him back. Seeing herself through Tsuruga-san's eyes made her feel...honored. Like she was something more than a silly amateur actress constantly needing his help.
"And she calms you down," repeated Tsuruga-san. "And keeps you happy, and sane. She is clever and calm and caring. With her help you finally start to integrate your broken younger self into the more stable adult you've become. And you can't tell her any of it."
Kyoko wiped her eyes with one of Tsuruga-san's handkerchiefs. "Until today."
"Until today, when you find out that she cares for you too. Maybe not as much, and certainly not for as long, but she..."
Kyoko knew exactly what it was like to consider yourself unworthy of love. And she had some idea, now, of the level of self doubt that had held Tsuruga-san back all this time. "She loves me," she said firmly. "With her whole heart." Because she did. Yet...she had held back too. Was still holding herself back. Was still deathly afraid. "I am...everything to her. She has admired since almost the moment we met, and loved me...loved me for longer than she wants to admit. But she won't do anything about it, because she doesn't want to get hurt. And she can't believe that her amazing, handsome, impossible sempai could feel the same way about her."
Tsuruga-san's voice was less smooth now, almost hoarse. "She loves you," he said. "And you love her." Kyoko put her hand against the door, and saw herself as Tsuruga-san on the other side, afraid and hopeful and despairing and alone.
She heard him sigh, and shift closer to the door. "But the last thing you want to do is hurt her again," he said. "So you sit against the barrier she's put between you, and you tell her your story, and you let her decide what to do next. Even if you have to go back to the way you were, at least now...she knows the truth." Tsuruga-san's voice had gotten soft, and Kyoko was pressed against the door to make sure she didn't miss a word of it.
"And now I have to decide what to do next."
Kyoko's inner demons were shouting desperately at her to run, to deny her feelings and seal them away again, this time with chains and extra locks. She knew she could be colleagues with Tsuruga-san, maybe even friends. Anything more than that was terrifying and dangerous and everything she had vowed she would never risk again. But...she was not Mogami Kyoko right now. So those vows did not apply.
She took a deep breath and opened the door.
After five minutes or so Tsuruga-san's beatific smile began to waver a little at the edges.
"Uh...Kyoko?" He'd called her Kyoko.
"Yes...Ren?" Her voice came out as a tiny squeak. At the sound of his name Tsuruga-san...Ren smiled even wider, but he still looked a little confused.
"Are you...coming out or staying in?"
Kyoko stood awkwardly, leaning against the doorframe to the cupboard after having pushed open the door. A dirty mop had fallen against her back and she was quite uncomfortable. "I...haven't decided yet."
"Oh." She could see his face starting to fall. Ah, this was terrible! This was what love did to people! It made them sad!
But...he'd been sad to start with. And she'd made him happy, hadn't she? Even without meaning to. And now she had the chance to make him happier still, to make them both happy, if she could just step through this door. Unfortunately, there was an army of angry spirits pushing back at her shouting about how she'd promised not to do this again.
They stood a minute or so more, just standing and staring at each other. This had all seemed much easier when she couldn't see his face.
Ren took a step forward, and then stopped. He leaned forward and asked, with exquisite politeness "Then would you mind if I came in with you?"
"Um..." She took a deep breath and gave her bravest smile. "That...that would be acceptable."
He smiled again and stepped in beside her, giving her as much space as he could in the tiny little room. He gave a happy sigh and her supposedly hardened heart turned into warm gooey caramel.
Kyoko squeezed her eyes shut to block out the brilliance of his smile. She felt his fingers reach for hers, enfolding her hand in the warmth of his. It made her feel safer, somehow, and she opened her eyes.
He was so close. She looked up at Ren and smiled. To her amusement Kyoko noticed that he was blushing. This reminder of his own self consciousness made her feel brave, and she leant her head against his chest. She felt his chest rise and fall before he gently put his other arm around her, and kissed the top of her head.
Oh, how she loved this man. She had to fight the urge to flee now before she fell any further. "You're not allowed to break my heart," she said. "You have to promise."
She felt Ren's arm tighten around her, and then go slack. "Kyoko, I..." He leaned his forehead against her, his voice a strained whisper. "I can't..." She looked up, and there were tears in his eyes. "I can't promise you that."
He took a step back and she held tight onto his hand. "Where are you going?" she asked.
"I'm sorry. This was...I should go." Was he running away?!
She tightened her grip further. He wasn't going to escape that easily. Not after all this.
"Tsuraga Ren," she said coldly. "I have just violated every rule and safeguard I had so carefully placed around my heart. I have expressed my most secret, innermost feelings. I have admitted to impure thoughts. I have..." She paused for emphasis. "Let you hold my hand. I'm still deciding if I want to pursue this...frivololity but you are not going anywhere without us discussing it like adults."
He widened his eyes in surprise. "But I..." She tugged impatiently on his hand to bring him back into the cupboard and he passively stepped back towards her. She glared up at him and he smiled, then laughed.
"That's...that's fair," he said. "But...the problem is...Kyoko, Tsuraga Ren doesn't talk about his feelings. Not...not the ones that are holding me back now. That was the whole reason he was created."
"Then be someone else," she said. "Someone who is not Tsuraga Ren, but is still you."
He shook his head. "The me I'm being when I'm not Tsuraga Ren, he's...there's a reason I became a different person."
"I know," said Kyoko. "I..." She put her free arm around him and hugged him tight. This was all so difficult. She kissed his chest and tried to preserve the sensation in her memory for safe keeping. She sighed. "Ok. If you have to be Tsuraga Ren, and Tsuraga Ren is not able to discuss his feelings, then...then I suppose that's all there is to it. We can just go back to the way we were. We can still..." She sighed and pressed her head against his chest, trying not to cry. "We can still love each other, it's just that now it won't be a secret any more." She stood up straighter and gave what she hoped was an inspiring smile. "Maybe it's for the best. This way our love will remain pure, right? It will be like one of those historical dramas, where the samurai falls in love with the nobleman's wife and they nurture their forbidden love in secret but neither of them want to betray the nobleman so they don't act on their feelings and then after many years of yearning the nobleman dies but before they can do anything tragedy strikes and they both get mortally wounded but in their final breath they pledge their eternal love and then die tragically in each others arms. Except with acting."
She looked at Ren. He was wearing a pained expression. "Do we have to do the dying part?"
She frowned. "It's more romantic that way."
He laughed. "No wonder you're against love, if that's your idea of romance."
"Just because I'm a little old fashioned doesn't mean I don't understand romance" she said. "I get criticised enough about that by the President."
Actually, that was a point...what would the President say if he knew what they were doing? Was this really appropriate behaviour for representatives of LME? Kyoko imagined him coming across them with a shocked expression...but then the President in her head stopped frowning and started smiling and throwing streamers. The only people likely to object to Ren and Kyoko dating were Ren and Kyoko themselves.
Kyoko stared at him seriously. "So, what do you say?"
Ren sighed. "You're right, we should should probably try and go back to the way we were. But..." And then Ren gave her that infuriating, impossible smile. "Do we have to talk about feelings at all?" he said, his hand playing lightly at the back of her neck in a very distracting fashion. "Couldn't we just...express ourselves a different way?"
"NO CHANGING THE SUBJECT."
"NO SEXY EXPRESSIONS."
He smirked. "Sexy, am I?" Kyoko blushed.
"You know you are," she muttered.
He gave her a big cheesy grin. "Are you sure I can't persuade you? You just admitted to having impure thoughts..."
Ack! Ren! Damn him always making her flustered when he wanted to throw her off track. And damn her for always falling for it.
Well, fine. Two could play at that game.
"Fine," she said. "You can kiss me..." His eyes widened in surprise. Ha! She knew he was bluffing! "You can kiss me once you tell me what you're so worried about. You know what happened with me and Sho. What happened to you to make you so afraid of love?"
He sucked in a shocked breath. "I can't talk about that," he said.
"Then you don't get to kiss me," she said. "And in fact you shouldn't even be in this cupboard with me. We might bring shame onto LME with our scandalous behaviour!"
Ren smiled briefly in amusement but there was a fear in his eyes that made Kyoko worry. Had she pushed him too far? But if they couldn't talk about what he was so worried about there was no way they could move on. They might as well give up right now. "...you don't have to tell me everything," she added quickly. "Just...what do you think will happen to me if I go out with you that's so terrible? I know you would never hurt me deliberately."
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. When he opened his eyes again he was more himself. Or at least, more Tsuraga Ren. "And if I tell you I get to kiss you? For how long?"
"How long?" People timed that sort of thing?! "Uh...um...until I tell you to stop!"
"That doesn't seem very fair. Really, it seems to me you get two rewards here. You can't pretend you wouldn't enjoy kissing me."
She crossed her arms. "Take it or leave it. And no complaining about my lack of technique, I haven't done this before so..." She gaped in horror. "This is going to be my first kiss!" she wailed. "And it's in a cupboard."
"You could always count the time..."
"THIS IS GOING TO BE MY FIRST KISS," she repeated. "You said I got to decide, and I'm deciding it's now." She looked away and blushed. "I suppose the location doesn't really matter, as long as it's with the right person."
"Ah..." sighed Ren. "How could I saw no after that?" His tone was light but brittle. "Ok then. One answer for one kiss." He took a half step away and then flopped ungracefully to the ground, causing a clatter of brushes and pans.
Ren looked intently at his hands in front of his face for a while before speaking. She stood silently and waited. "I...Kyoko I worry that if you're with me, that I'll do something to hurt you, something so bad that you'll hate me forever."
She'd already guessed that. What she wanted to know was specifics. "But..."
"No buts!" Ren held up an admonishing finger. It shook slightly. "No questions, no complaints! I answered your question and now I want my kiss."
Even this vague answer had obviously taken a lot out of him. Kyoko was proud of him, and grateful that he'd been willing to try so hard for her. If they were going to do this, he'd have to learn to open up more than that, but it was a start, and it gave her hope. "So demanding!" she said with mock annoyance. "Very well then. Even though that answer made no sense I will accept it and deliver your payment."
Kyoko moved to face Ren. He was still sitting on the ground, his hands grasping at the concrete floor like a life raft. She kneeled down to face him, but his eyes didn't seem to entirely see her. She put her hand on his face, running her fingers along the line of his jaw, his cheek, and his lips. He closed his eyes. She put her other hand on his knee for balance. Nervous but determined, she leaned forward, and put her lips to his. When he still didn't respond she moved her hand again, running her fingers through the hair at the back of his neck. It was smooth and fine, like soft fabric. She kissed him again, harder this time, and kept her lips there. Was this...right? Then he opened his mouth a fraction and kissed her back. Happy, Kyoko kissed him again and again. Ren sighed and finally moved his arms, lightly placing his hands on her back. Wanting to touch him with both hands herself she leaned forward and moved her hand off his knee and onto his chest. He made a sound and Kyoko worried that her weight was too much at this angle, but then he pulled her close, clutching her to his chest and burying his head in her shoulder. She kissed the side of his face and held him to her.
He lifted his head and smiled. She smiled back. She felt almost unbearably happy.
"That was nice," she said.
"Yes," he said. "But it wasn't nice enough."
"What?!" How could he say such a thing? It had seemed so lovely! "I warned you I don't know much about kissing! Buyer beware!"
"No, it was fine from my end," he said. "In fact I quite enjoyed it. But it wasn't good enough as your first kiss. I was distracted. I can do better." He gave her a very Ren Tsuraga smile. "You don't have to of course. But I guarantee you'll enjoy it."
Part of her was a little offended that he'd ruined the moment with teasing, but she got the feeling this was just part of his way of coping with his buried emotions. "Um..." He ran his fingers lightly down her back, causing all sorts of tingling sensations to ripple through her skin. "Uh...I..." His eyes sparkled at her Imperiously and she blushed. "...ok." She could do this without freaking out! She could! He leaned down to kiss her neck and she stiffened with tension.
Ren lifted his head and looked into her eyes. She responded by intensifying her fierce gaze of concentration. SHE COULD DO THIS. Ren burst out laughing, then gave her a kiss on the cheek and drew her into another hug, his arms squeezing her tight with a happy sigh. Slowly the tension left her body and she relaxed into his arms. This felt right. She felt happy and safe. There had to be some way to make this work.
"That was ok," she said. "But I think my kiss was better."
"Mmm," he murmured into her hair. "Obviously I should get you to teach me."
"Maybe later," she said, putting her arms around him and resting her head on his shoulder.
Ren's hands did little circles on her back and his mouth tickled the skin of her neck. "Yeah," he said, his voice soft and full of love. "It can wait."