Kyoko shuffled to and fro nervously backstage. It was quiet shuffling, of course. It wouldn't do to shuffle loudly. A man in dark clothes stood near the entrance to the soundstage, listening attentively to something on his headset and flipping through the pages on his clipboard for the millionth time. She was supposed to look to him for her cue.

Until then, she shuffled. There was a monitor that showed what was being filmed, including a feed from the camera facing the audience. She found herself counting teenage girls, wondering how many were Fuwa Sho fans. They seemed so harmless, chatting amongst themselves, laughing and snapping selfies, but she knew how vicious they could be.

Finally, the house lights came up and the audience started clapping and screaming. The hostess, Ayame, an elegantly dressed woman in her early forties, glided out on very high heels that Kyoko sincerely hoped would never be a part of her own wardrobe. The announcer, an unseen man with a low, deep voice, introduced her as she strode in and sat down. As if a switch had been flipped, the audience went silent.

"Tonight, we have the pleasure of introducing someone many of you will not have heard of before, but whom I can say with confidence that you have seen at least once. A relative unknown in the industry—my favorite." She leaned forward and pitched her voice into a stage whisper, "With your help, we will surely be able to say that it was my little show that put her on the map when she becomes famous!" A wink, and the audience chuckled, happy to collude with her. "But first, let's see some samples of her work."

The monitor that had displayed the overlaid graphics of the opening credit sequence flickered to life again, and Kyoko saw a familiar face that made her feel fiercely happy. Beautiful long black hair streamed on a floral background advertising Curara soda. Her own face, happy and free, popped up next, and she deflated a bit. Before she could recover, the scene switched to a clip from her PV with Shotaro—the moment she dropped him over the cliff and her wings turned black—and again, almost as quickly, Mio standing tall and defiant in front of her mother. Finally, it settled on Natsu smiling blissfully as a fellow student begged her to stop before going blank again.

"Whew!" Ayame said cheerily. "That made me tired just watching. Can you believe it's all the same person behind those characters?" The surprised murmuring that came from the studio audience suggested that they, in fact, could not believe it. For the most part, Kyoko couldn't make individual words out, but a shouted, "No way!" did find its way to her ears. Naturally the hostess heard as well, and laughed. "I guess not!"

"But she is indeed the same actress. And now you'll all get to meet her. Please welcome Kyouko!" The man with the headset waved at Kyoko and music—the opening theme to Box "R"—swelled as she walked out.

She was almost disappointed when none of the mishaps that pervaded her nightmares of the night before took place. Walking onto the stage, she didn't trip, freeze up, or fall on her face. Instead, she bowed smoothly and sat down in the plush seat next to the host's desk.

"Thank you for having me," Kyoko said to the cheery woman. She was carefully positioned, per her director's instructions, in three-quarter profile, so as to seem attentive to the host while also allowing the audience to feel as if she were accessible to them.

Ayame smiled broadly. "Of course, it's my pleasure. So, Kyouko-san, you've been getting quite a lot of attention lately, haven't you?"

"Yes," said Kyoko with her own, polite smile. It was also well-rehearsed—less stiff than her usual professional expression but not over-the-top or too familiar. It made her mouth hurt. "It's been kind of a whirlwind since the season finale premiered. Not that I'm complaining," she said with a chuckle. Not to you, anyway, she thought.

"I'll bet you have people coming up to you on the street," Ayame said, "wanting to know all about you and your…experiences on set."

Just ask, lady, she wanted to say. Get it over with. Aloud, she said, "Not really, no. I've actually never had anyone recognize me in real life. I'm afraid I just don't stand out very much."

When Ayame just blinked at her, she cringed internally. Oops, she thought. I hope that didn't sound like I was feeling sorry for myself. Maybe I should have just gone along with what she was saying?

"Oh, is that so?" The host said, changing tacks. "I guess that would make sense. You're such a chameleon. Honestly, I can't even imagine how you managed to change so much from one role to the next."

"Makeup, mostly," Kyoko said automatically.

Ayame seemed a little taken aback, but the audience burst into laughter, and she followed a step behind. "Makeup makes me look like a different person sometimes, too, especially lately," she pressed a hand to her forehead as if to smooth out nonexistent wrinkles there. "I'm not getting any younger, no matter how I try," she sighed. She waited out a few supportive cries from the audience, mostly awws and noes, with a few "You look great"s and a "We love you, Ya-chan!" thrown in for good measure.

"Thank you, thank you," she said dramatically, "but my youthful days are behind me. My lovely guest, on the other hand, is still so young. It must be nice." She looked at the actress pointedly.

"Um…I suppose it is," Kyoko said, feeling like she had to say something, though she couldn't think of anything to support the statement.

"I still remember my days as a high school student—my first kiss, my first love. Ah, to be young again," she said dreamily. She turned to her guest once again. "Of course, as an actress, your kisses tend to be a little more public," she continued. "I can't imagine what that's like."

But I'm sure you'd love to hear all about it, Kyoko thought irritably.

"In fact, as most of you will know, Kyouko-san here has made such a splash in part because of a very special kiss," and the audience began to hoot and cheer, "which I am ecstatic to say I have a clip of."

What? Kyoko thought, panicked, her stupid, painful smile frozen on her face. Nobody mentioned a clip! She'd made a point of not watching that ridiculous scene and had no intention of doing it in now on national television. But before she could protest—and really, what would she say?—the monitor next to Ayame turned on.

The clip opened on a generic school hallway as Sagara rounded the corner and nearly ran into Natsu, who said, "Sagara-sempai, what a pleasant surprise. We hardly ever get to see you in this wing of the school."

Kyoko wanted so very badly to bury her head in her hands or plug her ears, but she was very conscious of all the eyes, both real and artificial, that watched her every move. She reminded herself of what Tsuruga-san told her.

"Be polite. If a question makes you uncomfortable, deflect. It's your job as an actress to maintain a certain public persona and to keep your personal feelings private. Be calm, keep a straight face. Even if you're surprised, don't show it. The host may try to shock you into a reaction; don't allow her to."

And so she sat, face turned toward the screen with a pleasant smile on her face, pretending to follow the scene along with everyone else. In reality, she stared through the screen, the image blurry and distant, and focused on the sound of her own breathing rather than the lines.

One thing shocked her out of her careful ignorance, though. A squeal. A loud, mass squeal from at least twenty of the girls in the audience. Suddenly, she was on alert again, just in time to see herself locked in a passionate, "sensuous" kiss with Shotaro.

Now she wanted to hurl.

In this version, the fully realized, edited version, the scene didn't end with the kiss, but with Chitose's shocked face, eyes welling up with tears. Unlike the graphics or the clips from earlier, the clip paused on that final image and stayed on the monitor.

Once the audience had calmed down again, Ayame said in her jocular voice, "I think there are some of us who can relate to that young lady." Cries of agreement rang out along with smatterings of laughter. "I'm sure many in our audience today have dreamed of being the one to kiss Fuwa Sho."

There's no "one" about it, thought Kyoko.

"But today, we must to admit the truth: Kyouko-san here has beaten us all to the punch." Ayame heaved an affected sigh. "Oh, well. I suppose we'll have to settle for a second-hand account." She turned to Kyoko expectantly.

The young talento sat stock-still, unsure of what she should say. "Be honest when you can," Tsuruga-san's voice reminded her, "so you don't have to work as hard to seem genuine. Save the outright lies for when you really need them."

"Um…well, it was kind of embarrassing, to be honest," Kyoko said, allowing her very real discomfort to shine through her talk-show façade. "Having to kiss someone in front of all my coworkers, my sempais, and, of course," she nodded at the camera, "everyone at home. Luckily for me, Nacchan isn't really capable of being embarrassed, so it went smoothly enough."

"Nacchan?" The host echoed, surprised. "Do you mean Natsu?"

"Oh, sorry," Kyoko said with a shy laugh, "did I say Nacchan? I sometimes get into the habit of calling my characters by nickname." Take the bait, she thought, change topics.

"How interesting," Ayame said, but her voice was polite and distant at best. "And how did Nacchan feel about the kiss, if not embarrassed?"

"Hmm?" Kyoko pondered the question for a moment. "…triumphant, I guess?"

"Is that right?" The host practically purred. "So she was happy she finally got to kiss Fuwa-san's character?" She leaned forward eagerly.

"Oh, yes, she was very happy," Kyoko said, still thoughtful. "She was proud that she'd timed the kiss perfectly so as to maximize Chitose's pain and make Sagara feel as if he were really liked, to better crush him later."

The entire studio went quiet then. "How…interesting," Ayame said again, after a moment's pause. This time, her tone was awkward rather than aloof.

"Be careful to create a separation between yourself and the character. Viewers have a tendency to conflate an actor and his role, especially if the actor isn't as well-known." It seemed Tsuruga-san knew what he was talking about, if their reactions were anything to go by.

"Ah, yes," Kyoko said quickly, "she's such a cruel character, the way she thinks. I love working on Box "R", of course, but sometimes I get tired of playing bullies. Mio was the same way." Mio, there, she was even better known than Natsu; there's no way you can pass that up.

"Yes, you do have a tendency to play crueler characters, don't you?" Ayame rallied. "I've heard from one of your co-stars that you're much kinder in real life. Though I suppose it would be hard not to be!"

"I'd certainly like to think so," the actress said, relaxing a little. "But that's what's fun about acting—you get to explore thoughts and feelings you'd never have yourself," she emphasized, trying her best to look earnest.

"Considering the role of Natsu as an unrepentant bully, did you ever imagine you would end up having a love interest?"

Kyoko imagined turning to face the fake painted-on wood of the backdrop and ramming her head into it repeatedly. How could this woman have such a one-track mind?

"No, not at all," she said, keeping her smile pasted firmly in place no matter how much she wanted to grit her teeth. "In fact, it came as a total shock to me. But my director, Anna-san, can be so unpredictable. Every day's a new surprise with him."

"Oh?" Was she just imagining it, or did Ayame's eyes narrow? "How interesting," she said, for the third time that night. It was amazing how much inflection could change the meaning of a phrase; this time, she almost made it sound like a threat. "But what I was really wondering about was the experience of filming the kiss itself. Did you get to practice much?" She raised a suggestive eyebrow.

Kyoko blushed. She couldn't help it—she had practiced. "Some," she said, when a general "Ooh" sound rose from the crowd, "on my own time, not with Fuwa-san. We did do a quick table read and some basic blocking together, but for the kiss, well,"

and she said this with an obvious touch of pride, "I managed to do the official scene in only one take."

"But I'm sure you were tempted to make a few mistakes," Ayame said conspiratorially, "for the chance to do the scene over again?"

"Yeah, right," Kyoko snorted.

If she thought it had gotten quiet before, it was nothing compared to the silence that descended on the studio now. She was sure she could even make out the whirring of the camera across the soundstage.

It just slipped out, the actress imagined saying to Anna-san. I really did try, she'd tell Tsuruga-san. She caught me off guard, she'd say to Sawara-san. Not that it would help. She'd done it. An audience could get past an actress being a little bitter about not being recognized, or being a bit more sadistic than they'd like. But an audience of teen girls with posters of Fuwa Sho pinned up on their walls and in their lockers? The very same demographic that tended to watch her show? They'd never forgive her for snubbing their idol.

"Um…what?" Ayame asked flatly. A confused rumbling started somewhere in the crowd.

"Ah…that is to say…" she wished Tsuruga-san had covered how to fix a screw-up. All his lessons had been more on the preventative side of things, probably because a mistake like this was simply outside the realm of possibility for him. "…I didn't want to do it over?"

"Why not?" Suddenly, the host's eyes were shrewd and calculating. "By all accounts, the two of you got along well enough." What accounts could you possibly have gotten that from? Kyoko wondered, bewildered at the assertion. "You'd worked together before, and there are even rumors that you were considering making the onscreen relationship a reality." Oh, yeah, a completely empty relationship built on lies and manipulation, that sounds like a blast, she thought, wanting very badly to roll her eyes. …actually, that sounds like the relationship we already have. "Is there some reason you didn't want to kiss Fuwa Sho?" Ayame said the name almost reverently, but her eyes glittered at the promise of drama.

"It's not—I didn't mean—" she fumbled. And of course, of course, she had to mention those stupid rumors, too. If she dared to admit how little she liked him when there was speculation about their relationship, her career was essentially forfeit. "I just wanted to say—"

"Was there a fight?" Ayame pressed, "did he offend you somehow? Is he a different person behind the scenes?"

Yes, yes and yes, Kyoko thought, panicking, but there's no way I can say that! And I have to say something!

"Don't let her control the conversation too much," came a gentle cautioning voice, "Remember that audiences will assume whatever you don't deny is the tru—" Ren-san, she shouted in her head, I love you and all, but shut up! The voice faded. Conference. Everyone. Now!


A collection of spiky-haired spirits rose timidly from within a lead-lined bunker, clothed in hazmat suits and dark glasses. It had been a long time, and they shrank back for a moment when they saw the stage lights before they realized it wasn't the kind of lighting they feared. They gathered around a long table and set to business.

"Okay," said a grudge, floating at the head of the table. "She needs to be polite but genuine, accessible but mysterious, and she really, really can't tell the truth. Ideas?"

"Tell them how immature and useless Shotaro was," said one.

"Tell them how many setbacks he caused," another chimed in.

"Tell them how no one on set respected him."

"Tell them how annoying he is."

"How many texts she gets in a day."

"How entitled and selfish he is."

"How hard she worked while he got to goof off and do whatever he wanted."

"Tell them the long, dark story of how he used her and broke her heart."

"NO!" The head grudge slammed a tiny fist on the table. "This is our interview, about our work. We may have gotten here because these people are obsessed with a stupid—"

"disgusting!"

"nightmarish!"

"grotesque!"

"—kiss," the grudge continued, "but it is supposed to be about us! And we will not give that bastard—"

"asshole!"

"jerk!"

"brat!"

"—the satisfaction of taking over our interview. We will say what we need to say to move on, and then we will make sure that they hear us. Is that clear?"

"Okay~" the grudges grumbled as a group. "Spoilsport," someone added.

"Now, let's get to work."


Kyoko blinked. Ayame was still looking at her, eyes aglow, waiting for confirmation of some lurid affair, but it didn't worry her the way it had. She breathed in deep, straightened her posture, and smiled. A real smile, soft and warm, like she was looking at a friend.

"I'm sorry, I guess I'm still a little nervous," she said, "I'm not really used to these kinds of interviews yet. But I don't want to give you the wrong idea. Fuwa-san and I don't have that kind of relationship," Ayame's eyes narrowed again; how dare Kyoko rob her of her scoop? "in fact, we really don't have any relationship."

"Is that right?" The host asked sharply. "Even though this is the second time you've worked together? And even with what he's been saying in his own interviews? Just yesterday, when he went on Nipponet Scoop to celebrate hitting the number one spot, he said that the song wasn't just a song, and that he found his inspiration on set."

"Maybe he meant Rumi-san? She was his real love interest, after all." Kyoko said. "I'm afraid I barely know him. We did work together on his PV, but," she shrugged, "I was a secondary character. We had less than a minute of screen time together."

"He said the kiss was one he would remember for the rest of his life," Ayame insisted.

"I'll remember it, too. It was my first onscreen kiss," Kyoko pointed out. "I doubt he meant anything else by what he said."

"Then why were you so against kissing him more than once?" The host demanded.

"I wasn't," Kyoko lied through her teeth. "I just meant I didn't think of making mistakes. You have to understand," she explained, "we were on a very tight schedule. He was only able to film for a few days. Any delays would have been catastrophic. I would never disrupt production intentionally. I'm sure," she said, pushing through the pain of what she was about to say, "I'm sure that Fuwa Sho is a perfectly nice person. But there's nothing between us, good or bad." With this line, she stared directly into the camera, willing anyone—and maybe even a particular someone—to understand how strongly she felt the truth of that statement.

"Nothing?" Ayame said, a bit deflated now. "Well, you must have some opinion. Did he work well with others on set?"

"He completed his job admirably," said Kyoko.

"And the kiss? Was it good?"

"It was a convincing stage kiss."

"What about the song? Did you like it?"

"It fit the director's needs very well."

"I don't suppose there's anything interesting you could say about him?" Her voice was raised in exasperation.

"I'm sorry," Kyoko said, stopping just short of borrowing the pointedly obnoxious shrug Tsuruga-san had once used on Bou. "I just don't know him. I'd be happy to talk about the other actors I've worked with, on Box "R" and other projects."

"Just one word. Anything." She was practically begging now.

"Well—" Don't. You've come this far. Deny, deny, deny. Just say no. Stop, drop and roll. Whatever you do, don't engage. "If it's just one..." Dammit, Kyoko.

"Yes?" Ayame leaned in again.

"He's…cute," she said, the corners of her mouth creeping up a bit.

"Isn't he, though?" The host gushed, relieved. "He's the mysterious bad-boy type, of course, but there's something so very adorable about him."

"Like a puppy," her guest suggested.

"Oh, yes. I certainly could never hope to compete with him, I must say. So young and energetic."

"Oh, I don't know, Ayame-san," Kyoko said pleasantly. "I think there's a lot to be said for maturity."


With the help of a commercial break and a subsequent change in topic—hints for the next season, working with the likes of Tsuruga Ren, how she came to be an actress—Kyoko felt that she could honestly say she finished her interview successfully. It was like she'd gotten over an immense hill. The rumors, the kiss...they were behind her. She would give a few more interviews, but with what she'd said today she had a feeling they'd taper off pretty soon. In a few weeks she'd start work on the second season of Box "R" and a new project where she'd get to play a ninja.

Time was marching on, and she was more than happy to let it.

As she got off work, she silenced her phone without a second thought. This was her night and she intended to enjoy it.

She knocked at a familiar door, and shielded her eyes instinctively from the smile that greeted her. The pain that came was a faint prickle, the grudges' having retreated safely to their bunker once again.

"Hello," He said.

"Hello, Ren-san," Kyoko bowed. She wobbled a bit as she straightened up.

"Tired?" He asked, concerned.

"A bit," she admitted. "I had a half day of LoveMe work over at TBM after the taping." He offered her his arm and she flushed. "I can still walk on my own!"

"Of course you can," he laughed, "but you must admit this would be more fun."

Kyoko frowned and stalked past him, ignoring the proffered limb, and flounced down on the couch. She couldn't stop a satisfied sigh from escaping, and his face was all concern again.

"You know, if you're that tired, you didn't have to come over. We could have had dinner some other night," Ren said kindly.

"Of course I had to come over," she said, astonished. "I had to know what you thought of the interview. If you had time to watch it," she amended hastily.

"I wouldn't have missed it," Ren said gently. "You did well. But I could have told you that over the phone just as easily. You're an actress, remember—"

"And I have to take care of my health, I know," Kyoko said, smiling. "I'm just a tad worn-out. Believe me, I've had worse, some of it at your hands." She gripped his hand in hers now. "Besides, I wanted to see you."

"Well," his face softened, and as she tugged at his hand, he sat down next to her, pulling her close. "If you insist. I am a little curious about a few of your answers."

"Is that right?" She asked, smirking.

"You told that woman I was a 'demon king'," Ren said slowly. "And the scariest man you've ever met."

"You told me to tell the truth as much as possible," Kyoko teased. "I was just following your advice."

"And what about me" he put his lips to her ear, whispering, "exactly" the lips traveled down the soft flesh of her neck, sucking tenderly, "is so scary?" they settled just above her collarbone. He could feel her shiver against his chest.

Kyoko tilted her head up to meet his eyes with her own. There was a glimmer there, but not one of fear. "Everything," she said, a lazy smile crossing her face.


Later that night, Ren was once again dropping Kyoko off at her home. They sat outside the restaurant in silence for a while, before Kyoko cleared her throat.

"Ren-san?" She asked. "Is there something on your mind? You've been quiet the whole drive."

He thought about just shrugging it off, but her concerned expression made him think twice. "I was thinking about how we're going to talk about" he gestured at the two of them collectively, "this. You seemed okay with poking fun at me in the interview, and you even sort of hinted at us with that 'mature' comment."

She looked mildly discomfited. "I didn't think it was that obvious. I'm sorry. I think a little bit of Setsu seeped in."

"It's okay, I didn't bother me. I'm just wondering what the next step is. And when it is." He paused, pensively rubbing his neck. "I guess I'd just to like to know how long it'll be before I get to call you my girlfriend in public."

Kyoko's face flushed in that fetching way he loved, and he wondered if it was the word "girlfriend" that had set her off. "It's no rush, and I'm all for discretion," he added preemptively, "really, I don't mind keeping things quiet. And I like having you all to myself. But I can't deny it would be nice to be able to say the word."

"It's embarrassing," she said quietly, avoiding his eyes.

"Talking about our relationship?" Ren asked. He was feeling embarrassingly unmanly himself, with this "where are we headed?" speech.

"No. Well, yes," she admitted. "But…well, it's silly. I sort of have this idea…" She played with seat belt hanging by her side.

"Oh?"

"About when we'd say it. You know, when we'd tell the president or when we'd tell the truth if someone asked."

"So you have thought about it?" Ren said, interested.

"Of course," the actress responded. "But it's…I don't want to say it. You'll laugh."

"I won't," he said firmly, grasping her hand. "Please, tell me."

"You know, when I was a kid…" She twisted the belt around her wrist, then unwound it again, looking everywhere but at him, "for a while, I thought it was me they hated. 'Cause I was close to Sh—to him," she course-corrected. "But then I realized it wasn't just me. I saw so many other girls—classmates and yearmates and even upperclassmen—confess their feelings and get bullied for it.

"But there was one girl, Mika, who asked him out and nobody got mad at her. They grumbled, some, because they liked him, too, but they didn't steal her slippers or put flowers on her desk. She was rich, and pretty, and she'd even started a modeling career. In middle school, that pretty much made her royalty. Everybody said things like, 'if it's her, it's okay,' or 'we can't compete with that.' And that's the thing, isn't it?"

"Fans want to be able to imagine themselves with their idol. If he's dating someone, it ruins the illusion, but especially if it's someone ordinary. If it's just anybody, they can't help but think, 'why not me? Aren't I just as good?' But with Mika, it made sense to them. They saw her as worthy. It balanced out. And she never got picked on, not once."

Kyoko finally turned to meet his eyes again. "I want to be a great actress. I want to be able to do nothing but act, all day long. No other jobs, no LoveMe stuff. I want to have interviews that are about my work, directors who want me for their projects for me, and my pick of characters and scripts." Her eyes lit up with passion. "And…I want to get to a point where I can stand by your side and no one can say that I don't deserve to be where I am." She sighed and flicked a strand of hair out of her face. "Does that sound silly?" She asked, but before he could answer, she plowed on. "I know it'll probably be a really long time, if it ever happens, and I know it makes me sound conceited, to think that I'd ever be as great as—"

Ren put a finger to her lips, quieting her. His heart swelled with pride as he looked at this beautiful, amazing young woman who seemed for a moment to be filled with a kind of irresistible power. He couldn't look away, she shined so brightly.

"You'll get there," he said softly. "And I'll be right here waiting when you do."


Elsewhere, Fuwa Sho paced around his bedroom, seething. Shoko's eyes followed along as he traced one figure eight after another. It was like watching a bee dance, right down to the shock of yellow hair and the black clothes.

"Sho," she said, tired, "she was just trying to quell the rumors. You had to know it would bother her, the things you've been saying. Kyouko-chan's not the type to want that kind of attention. I know you meant well, but—"

"I got her more publicity than that boring girl could ever get by herself," he said, "and then she turns around and acts like we don't even know each other." Nothing, her voice echoed in his head. Nothing? Is that what she called ten years together?

Shoko sighed. "Isn't that what you two agreed on? You've always made a point of pretending you aren't affiliated."

"No, she did," he snapped. "I didn't care one way or the other."

"Well, her career is just starting off," she reasoned. "I'm sure she wants to be known on her own merits."

"She had no problem being 'affiliated' with Tsuruga Ren," he retorted, kicking the leg of his bed, then wincing. His boots were fashionable, but protective footwear they were not. Maybe he should invest in something with a steel toe.

"He's her sempai. That's different. What's between the two of you is personal, not professional."

"Oh yeah, he's so professional," Shotaro spat. "And anyway, we've worked together twice, more than those two have."

"One episode and an entire drama aren't exactly on the same level," Shoko said. For about the fifth time since the interview aired. "Why are you so bothered by this, anyway? I thought you didn't care what Kyouko-chan does. You're just childhood friends, remember?"

"Of course I don't care," he snapped. "I can have any girl I want. I don't give a damn what she does or who she kisses."

Shoko blinked. That almost sounded like a confession of love, if you spoke fluent Fuwa Sho. "Are you still hung up on that? So he taught her how to kiss. So what? Honestly, Sho, you're sounding like a dog in manger."

Sho stopped his apian dance and stared openly at her. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"You know, the Aesop's fable?" More staring. I forget sometimes, he hasn't even finished high school, she thought. And it's not as if he's a great reader to start with. "The dog in the manger. It's about a little dog who stands in a manger and barks whenever the cows get close."

"And a manger is—?" He prompted.

"It's a box with hay in it," Shoko barked impatiently. "Cows eat hay. Dogs don't."

"Okay?" Sho looked at her like she had two heads. "So? What's your point?"

She resisted the suddenly rising urge to snap his pretty-boy neck. "The dog can't and won't eat the hay because he's a dog, but he won't let the cows, who do want to eat it, come anywhere near it. He doesn't care that the hay is going to waste and the cows aren't getting what they need; all he cares about is marking his territory." When his furrowed brow refused to unknit, she put it in even plainer terms. "You're the dog. You say over and over that you don't want Kyouko-chan for yourself, but if anybody else gets anywhere close to her, even if it's totally innocent—"

"Innocent?" He snorted. "There's nothing innocent —"

"—you stand there and whine and growl over it. If you want the hay so badly, just eat it yourself!" She raised her voice over his protestations.

"You think I wouldn't if I could?" Shotaro yelled suddenly. Her mouth snapped shut. Did he seriously just—? "But I can't, can I? I'm just a friggin' puppy, right?" And he stormed out, slamming the door behind him. Distantly, she heard the outer door to the apartment slam, too.

Puppy? Shoko thought, confused. I called him a dog.

In the elevator, Sho started pacing all over again, swearing under his breath. He pulled out his phone and dialed her number, determined to give her a piece of his mind, when the phone beeped to tell him he was out of range. He shouldn't call her, anyway, he realized. That would just let her know she'd gotten to him. He shoved the phone back in his pocket. No, better to let her think it hadn't bothered him at all.

That's why she said that stuff, he knew. To bug him. Which meant she was thinking about him. In fact, she was probably thinking about him right now. Between the song, the interviews, and the texts, there was no way she could ignore him. She could pretend she didn't care, that there was nothing between them, but at the end of the day, he had the biggest part of her heart.

Didn't he?

The End

A/N: I said I'd finish, dammit.

Read on for omakes :)