"Mo, so what's so important that I had to come all the way here?" Kotonami Kanae demanded. "If it's just an acting problem, we could have talked about it in the Love Me Department. Or better yet, over the phone." She glared at her self-proclaimed best friend, who had insisted on meeting in a karaoke box for secrecy purposes. She was half-convinced it was just a ploy to spend time together.
"No, Moko-san," Kyoko said, shaking her head dejectedly. "It's…worse than an acting problem." Sorrowful tears pooled in her eyes, and she clasped her hands together as if in prayer. "It's the worse thing that could possibly happen to anyone, ever."
"Stop being so overdramatic," Kanae snapped irritably. "Just tell me what happened. And stop slouching!"
Kyoko sat up obediently, and launched into a breathless account of what had taken place on set that day.
"…And then I saw the script and it says that Natsu—my character, I mean—has to kiss this guest character and when I wanted to know why it turns out I—Natsu, I mean—have to steal the main character's love interest and kiss him in front of her so that she feels like she's all alone in the world and like I've taken everything from her and Moko-san I don't know the first thing about kissing!"
"So that's it," her friend said finally, tired herself just from listening. "What's to know? You put your lips up against his lips. Didn't you learn about it in acting class?"
Kyoko shook her head. "These days I'm lucky to get to class once a month," she said sadly, thinking of all the money she had spent on something she hardly went to. "And anyway it's more than that, see?" She pulled out the script and opened it to a dog-eared page, pointing to the offending line of direction:
"NATSU, noticing CHITOSE'S presence, pulls SAGARA in for a long, sensuous kiss."
"Long and sensuous, Moko-san! An adult-type kiss! And knowing Nacchan, probably even a" she shuddered "DEEP kiss. Plus, she's the one who has to initiate it!"
"Huh," Kanae said, choosing to ignore the fact that Kyoko had a nickname for her own character, "That could be a problem. Girls usually just have to be kissed, not the other way around. And tongue-kisses can be disgusting when done wrong," she said, thinking back to the annoying couples she had followed when researching for her side job. "Even I haven't learned how to that yet, and I've been studying acting for way longer than you have." Not that you'd know it from watching her act, she thought, mildly irked.
"RIGHT?" Kyoko said. "What do I do?!"
"Well, you need to learn how to kiss someone," she said matter-of-factly. "Go to the acting school and ask for special tutoring or something."
"But Moko-san, I only have two days!" She half-cried. "And the school isn't in session over the weekend!"
"Did you discuss this with the director? Tell him you can't do it? Maybe he'll give you extra time to…y'know, get some practice in."
Kyoko flushed. "But…well…I can't just say, 'I can't do it,' when I'm supposed to be a professional," she said quietly, remembering the director's announcement regarding the upcoming filming. "And besides, we only have about four full days with this…" she flinched, "guest actor. I have to show up completely prepared on Monday. We can't afford any delays."
"Professional or not, you have to be able to say when you need help with doing something," she pointed out. "If they were asking you to perform a stunt or play an instrument it would be the same thing, and you could just ask for the kiss scene to be one of the later ones—" Suddenly something registered. That flinch.
Kyoko was caught up in her own world of despair, so it took her a moment to realize the temperature in the room had dropped considerably. She looked up at her friend and saw the dark, angry face of a demon.
"You're hiding something from me!"
Kyoko flung herself to the floor in a dogeza and cried, "I'm sorry, Moko-san! Really! I didn't mean to! It's just…"
"Tell me!" She ordered.
A minute later, both girls were seated at the table once again, and Kanae was glaring expectantly at a shamefaced Kyoko.
"So?" She prodded.
"I was going to tell you," Kyoko asserted. "I just…it's so awful, and I don't even know what to do about the kiss in the first place, so who it is doesn't matter so much, I thought…"
"Just spit it out."
"Fuwa Sho," she said finally. "I have to kiss Fuwa Sho."
Kanae burst out laughing.
Suddenly, their roles were reversed as Kyoko scowled angrily at her best friend.
"It's not funny!" She yelled.
"I—I'm sorry," Kanae said, wiping a tear from the corner of her eye. "It's not…funny, but…I mean, he's not even an actor. How? How does this keep happening to you? With the PV, it's understandable, but how does he end up with a guest spot on your drama?" She giggled.
Kyoko tried to keep her glower in place, but couldn't. "It's stupid, isn't it?" she admitted, with a weak chuckle. "I keep trying to distance myself from him, and all that happens is he ends up right back in my life. He was Bridge Rock's first guest, he was at TBM when I went there for Japponet Scoop, then in Karuizawa when I went to film on location… then he shows up on the Dark Moon set on Valentine's Day. I couldn't even escape him when I was working at a gas station. It's like we're tied together by some cruel, unbreakable string of fate. " She sat back on her heels, face suddenly thoughtful. "That's probably it. Valentine's Day," she said with a sigh.
"What do you mean?" Kanae asked.
"You know, when he stole my first kiss? Now the bastard probably sees this as an opportunity to screw with me even more by taking my first onscreen kiss, too." She clenched her fists. "I can just imagine him rolling around on the ground, laughing his ass off, thinking about how much I don't wanna kiss him and knowing I can't refuse." She growled. "And he probably thinks it's hilarious that I'm supposed to seduce him when I'm just this plain, boring girl who wouldn't know the meaning of sensuous if –"
"You never told me he stole your first kiss," Kanae accused her. "You just told me Tsuruga Ren was 'overly thankful!'"
Kyoko looked at her, surprised. "I didn't?"
"Mo! We're supposed to be friends, and you never tell me about these things!" She said, trying to mask her hurt feelings with another glare. Tsuruga Ren would know about it, of course—it had been his drama they were filming.
"Sorry, sorry," she said mildly, with a flap of her hand, "it's not…important, that's all. I would tell you if it's something important."
"Your first kiss isn't important?" Kanae asked, incredulous.
"Well, it wasn't really my first kiss," she explained. "It was more like…an anteater siphoning off food. I completely forgot about it afterward, I promise," she said, flushing as she thought of what had happened later on that day.
"An anteater…?" Kanae echoed. Is Fuwa Sho that bad a kisser? "Well if it wasn't a big deal then, then why is it a big deal now? You've worked with the guy before without killing him."
Barely, Kyoko thought. "This is different! First of all, I have to kiss him! And pretend I like him! And not just for a four-minute PV, for a whole extended season finale episode of a drama!" She stood up, one leg on the table, demons flaring up around her.
"Not to mention he's probably not a very good actor," Kanae pointed out. "Which mean it'll take twice as long as usual." In that respect, Kanae wasn't even slightly envious. Having to work with a complete amateur was the worst. "What was your director thinking?"
Kyoko's rage deflated, and she sighed. "Apparently, he thought it would be a good idea to have a sort of…cross-promotional setup. He approached Akatoki weeks ago about having Shotaro do an original song for the season finale episode, with a promise that he'll air the premiere of the corresponding PV directly after the episode. Box "R" is first in its time slot and third overall for the season," she said with a sudden burst of pride, then allowed, "mostly because of how popular Maruyama Marumi is, and Shotaro's got about a gajillion fans. It would be good exposure for both the show and him. Supposedly it's not that uncommon," she said.
"But Shotaro, being the egotistical, self-serving bastard that he is, didn't answer the offer until this morning, and insisted he be given an opportunity to act on the show in addition to airing his PV. And my director just…agreed. Since the character actually fits really well with Sho's public persona, he'll 'hardly even have to act,' he says, and…"
"He figures the hype from having Fuwa Sho in the episode will help the ratings?" Kanae suggested.
Kyoko nodded. "He's the type to pick an actor for their image just as much as for their actual talent," she said, thinking pack to her own recruitment. All that had mattered then was that she was scary; all that mattered now was that Sho was cool.
"That…sucks," Kanae said. "All the work we go through to improve as actors, and he just has to throw a tantrum to get a prominent role."
"Worse, he's probably only doing it to spite me," she responded. "He doesn't have the slightest interest in acting."
"Tch." Her friend clicked her tongue thoughtfully, looking for a solution. She would have to kiss him, that much was clear. No matter how much of a jerk someone was, a professional actress couldn't refuse to work with someone. Especially not someone as famous as Fuwa Sho, who'd been brought in specially by the director. But to not know how to kiss him! It would be humiliating! And as the experienced one, it would be her fault if something went wrong. It killed her to think that someone like him, who didn't take responsibility for anything he did, could just waltz in and ruin her friend's life all over again.
There was one option she could think of, but…she was loath to suggest anything that would help that man. Still…She realized that Kyoko was still talking.
"—just the sort of thing he'd do, too. I mean, he bribed one of the girls at my school to keep track of when I showed up," Kyoko continued, "All so he could yell at me for how I was dressed at the Dark Moon party! Some nonsense about letting men give me clothes leading to those clothes being taken off…"
A vein throbbed in Kanae's head. This bastard…doing whatever he wants, and then trying to give her advice about her love life? As if he had any right-?
"You know what?" she said, making her decision in favor of what was definitely the lesser of two evils, "I think I have an idea."
A/N: Thanks for the alerts, favorites and reviews! And good job on those of you who noticed the "sempai" clue. Ren, who's played a high school teacher before, could hardly play one of Natsu's upperclassmen. Don't worry, though, Kanae's idea is a good one.