Author's note: Sorry for the incredibly long hiatus. My inspiration deserted me for a long time. On a positive note: when I started writing this fanfic 2.5 years ago, it wasn't clear that Kyoko would reconcile with her mother in (canon) Skip Beat. I'm glad things went the way they did! PS. How is everyone doing? Still alive here?
Chapter 6: I wonder why?
The next week had Kyoko rushing between appointments, projects, meetings and - somehow crammed into the mix - school. Apparently taking even one day off to move was a huge deal in the entertainment industry. Her meeting about a new drama role was rescheduled to the same day as the hand cream commercial shoot, so she and Kimura-san had to scramble from the soundstage to an office that was in another suburb of Tokyo. Driving would have taken forever in the heavy mid-day traffic, so they had to take the subway.
"Remember to keep your head down," Kimura-san was saying as she handed Kyoko a pair of sunglasses in the taxi that was driving them to the station. "And try not to talk unless absolutely necessary."
"Kimura-san, you worry too much!" Kyoko laughed, anxious to get out of the car. "I'll be fine!"
As always, Kimura was fretting about Kyoko being spotted in public. If they were swarmed by fans in a subway car, the small-framed manager was not confident she could protect her charge. Though the girl in question was already incognito, wearing a large-brimmed hat and sunglasses, Kimura wondered if she needed to wrap a scarf around her head as well; the less of her face showing, the better.
"It's like you forget that I'm an actress," Kyoko sighed, ignoring the offered scarf.
To her manager's surprise and relief, the minute they stepped out of the taxi, Kyoko vanished. Or at least, that's what it felt like to Kimura-san. Just like magic, Kyoko's stiff posture loosened up and her weight shifted to the tips of her toes, as if the rest of her body was so light that it would float away. The way she held her purse changed from a two-handed death grip to an almost careless hanging of the strap by the edge of her fingertips. Following her through the turnstile, Kimura noticed that even her breathing seemed different, almost bouncy. Bouncy? Her entire aura became that of a cute highschool girl, impatient but well-behaved. On the platform, she pulled out her phone, her ballet flats tapping lightly on the pavement. In a yellow and pale blue dress, it looked like she might be waiting for her date to pick her up.
Kimura chuckled to herself, shaking her head. If she'd wanted to, Kyoko could have taken off her sunglasses and spoken to anyone in the area and they wouldn't have recognized her. What she should have been worrying about was how to keep the young guys on the bench behind them from hitting on her.
It was nice to see that, after what had happened to her last week, Kyoko wasn't afraid of crowds. She was stronger than Kimura expected. In fact, it was almost unbelievable how unfazed she'd been from the incident. Recalling her own trauma, and the way it had warped her ability to trust people, she was both impressed and suspicious of Kyoko's laid-back attitude. However, even if it was bothering her, she was too good of an actor for Kimura to notice.
That's the problem with people in this industry, Kimura-san repined, watching Kyoko out of the corner of her eye, they wear masks so often that they forget what their own face looks like.
To make up for their less-than-spectacular anniversary, Ren made reservations at an upscale restaurant for Saturday night. He knew how much Kyoko loved traditional Japanese cuisine, and how little she liked being observed by the media, so he'd booked a private room at the Shining Octopus Lounge under a false name. At first she'd been hesitant about accepting the invitation, knowing that it was one of the most expensive restaurants in the fashionable Shimokitazawa district, until Ren reminded her that boyfriends are supposed to spoil their girlfriends and that she would be causing him trouble by not accepting. Having hit every one of her weak spots with those phrases, she meekly agreed.
Was it normal to have to beg for a date from one's own girlfriend? Ren wondered with amusement. But that was just the kind of girl Kyoko was: impeccably polite and humble to the point of absurdity. And caring, he added thoughtfully, enough to put herself in danger for someone she loves.
When Tsuruga-san exited the limo - assuring her that he was going to come around and open the door for her - Kyoko nervously smoothed out the skirt of her dress. Suddenly, she felt self-conscious about her choice of outfit. She didn't normally go to such fancy restaurants, so she'd asked both Moko-san and Kimura-san, the most fashionable women she knew, for help. Moko-san suggested that she show some skin, while Kimura-san wouldn't agree to anything that wasn't pants or a full-length skirt. In the end, they'd confused her more than she'd been before by offering completely opposite pieces of advice, and Kyoko had to make the decision on her own. She really did like the dress - a sleeveless gown with a flowing skirt, it felt like something a princess would wear - but that was exactly why she felt nervous.
Tsuruga-san hadn't said anything about it. What if he doesn't like it? Kyoko panicked, biting her knuckle. What if he thinks I'm weird?
As the door opened next to her, she took a deep breath. I am a princess, she told herself before looking up at her date with a winning smile. Tsuruga-san took her hand and she rose out of the limo gracefully. The layers of silver and lilac fabric shimmered in the streetlights as the gown slid across the leather seats, trailing behind her. Her usual short light-brown hair was swept up with a few glittering barrettes. With a gloved hand she patted her collarbone, on which rested Princess Rosa.
The private room was gorgeous. A western style table was set for two in the middle of the room, complete with candles and silverware. The paintings on the wall, on the other hand, were of the traditional japanese style and their waitress was dressed in a kimono, making for an interesting juxtaposition of styles and cultures. Since Ren had called ahead about a special meal plan, there were no menus. Instead, the food came out gradually and in small portions. Soup, salad, tofu and tempura were brought out, artfully arranged on two platters, and set before them. Kyoko was in food heaven, but she held herself back, enjoying it quietly with a serene princess-like demeanor.
Having anticipated a wildly curious and excited Kyoko begging to speak to the chef as to how he managed to bring out the flavor of this or that dish, Ren was a bit disappointed with her reaction.
"Do you not like it, Mogami-san?" Ren asked during the main course.
"Oh, quite the opposite," she assured him after daintily dabbing her lips with her napkin. "I am thoroughly enjoying this lovely spread."
Her answer clinched it for him: she was totally playing a role. Ren sighed. And not just any sigh, but the very famous "No Good" sigh. He got out of his chair to approach her.
Kyoko stiffened up. "Tsu-tsuruga-san?"
"Kyoko," he said, kneeling next to her chair just like a prince. As expected, her face flushed in the candlelight, dark red all the way up to her ears. He was entirely too handsome and too close.
His dashing move backfired. Her blushing face was too cute, too close. He cleared his throat to get his thoughts back on track. "Kyoko, I want to have dinner with you, and I will not share this moment with anyone," he said, gently taking her hand and raising it to his lips. "Not even a character of your own imagination."
Unable to speak with her heart in her mouth, Kyoko simply nodded.
The time it took for Tsuruga-san to return to his seat was just enough for Kyoko to calm her rapid pulse.
"That is a very pretty dress, by the way," he said with a smile. "It suits you. Did you pick it out yourself?"
With that comment, the shyness melted away, replaced with happy pride. "Mhm! You wouldn't believe what Moko-san wanted me to wear!"
"I'm sure it wasn't so bad…" he chuckled, considering Kotonami-san's usually impeccable style.
"And you…" she mumbled, gazing up through her lashes at Tsuruga-san's steel-blue suit, "look very nice as well."
Ren's heart soared. "My thanks," he said, a touch bashfully.
They continued their meal in a more comfortable atmosphere.
"Have you and Kimura-san looked at any more condos lately?"
With a mouth full of fish, Kyoko shook her head. Swallowing, she said, "We've been too busy to visit them, but she's been showing me listings between appointments."
"It's hard to choose, isn't it?"
"Un," she agreed pensively. "It still doesn't feel real, that I can't go back... The Duramaya felt like home."
Watching her smile disappear, Ren understood. "I never knew that you were so close."
"It's weird, isn't it?" Kyoko wondered aloud, staring at her empty plate. "That I could grow so close to a couple of complete strangers but have such a bad relationship with my own mother."
"It isn't, Kyoko. Not at all." He felt it was remarkable that she could feel ashamed of finding companionship and support when her mother and only friend had tossed her aside, and was, itself, proof to how deeply they'd damaged her.
Ren moved his chair closer to comfort his girlfriend. "Saena-san had her own reasons for the way she treated you, and none of them were your fault." Her mother had, at the very least, taken responsibility for her actions. Unlike that Fuwa...
Without thinking, Ren's voice lowered as he said, "If anything, I'd say your heart is too big."
The accusatory tone wasn't missed by Kyoko. "Too big? How do you mean?" 'And why is that a bad thing?' was implied but unasked.
Not having meant to say that last part - at least, not with that tone - he wished he could take it back. The look on Kyoko's face, however, said that she wasn't about to accept some diversion tactic or false answer. Really, it was weighing heavily on his mind, but it was the last thing he wanted to admit. It felt like he was scolding her for being a better person.
Ren became acutely aware of how isolated they were in the private room; no convenient distractions, no interruptions, no escape. He ran a nervous hand through his hair. "You're not going to like me saying this but… I'm wondering if you've heard any more from Fuwa."
Tension filled the room like smoke, making it harder for them to understand each other clearly. Kyoko didn't answer right away, but when she did, her voice was very quiet. "How does that... have anything to do with my heart?"
Ren didn't like that pause. "I mean that sometimes you put yourself at risk if you think it will help someone. You care too much about others, even those that hurt you over and over again."
"I know that you've never liked Shou," Kyoko started, leaning back in her chair, "And I think that it's because I've only told you the worst things about him. So really, I guess it's my fault..."
Banging his fist on the table hard enough to shake the silverware, Ren cut in, "This is exactly what I meant: you're making excuses for that selfish jerk!"
That kind of outburst from Tsuruga-san was starting to become commonplace. Since he'd revealed his true identity to her, the fact the he was her fairy-prince Corn (or, rather "Kuon"), he'd become less careful with his temper. The gentleman Tsuruga Ren didn't disappear altogether, but Kyoko noticed that there were times when his real self peeked out from behind the persona. Lately, if something bothered him he would become agitated, whereas before he would hide those feelings behind a smile. It was hard, sometimes, to communicate with him without fighting. But more than anything, his angry outbursts showed Kyoko that he was truly being honest with her. He was breaking down the barriers he'd built around his heart, and it made him vulnerable which, in turn, made him scared.
Whether to treasure or fear his anger was something that Kyoko was still trying to work out for herself. The important part was to give his "negative self" the respect it deserved, and to avoid making things worse. The knowledge of how much he loved her was her divine shield against his petty attacks. It helped her stay calm.
With a deep breath, she continued. "Shou is a selfish jerk, but there was a time when he was also my best friend. Did you know that he was the only person, other than the teachers, who would talk to me in junior high?"
Being only aware of the details of her childhood that she'd shared with Corn, Ren couldn't do anything but scoff at the new information. To him, that hardly made a difference. In fact, if he was such a good friend, then why would he have used her so completely?
Kyoko continued, "Those years were especially bad for me. The bullying… I wouldn't have been able to deal with it on my own. But I wasn't alone because I had Shou, and I had the Corn stone, and they both gave me the strength to stay positive."
"Weren't they bullying you because of him?! Because the two of you were close and they were jealous?"
Kyoko sighed. "Sometimes, yes. But it was more than that. They bullied me about everything, from my old-fashioned style, to my not having a father, to my lack of friends - which made absolutely no sense, considering they were the reason I didn't have any friends in the first place..." Kyoko muttered to herself. "It got so bad that these girls convinced every school club not to let me join. I had been excited to play badminton with the school team, but I was rejected by an upperclassman.
"Shou's parents could see what was happening and they went out of their way to make me feel welcome in their home. Since I couldn't join any clubs, they let me work part-time in their inn, teaching me how to cook, and how to perform the tea ceremony, among other things. They gave me a place to fit in."
"Alright, but that was Fuwa's parents, not Fuwa."
"But, Tsuruga-san, Shou was the reason they were so nice to me. Saena-san, I mean, my mother, didn't even know the Fuwas until Shou and I met in kindergarten. We became friends and they just kind of gradually took me in. My mother was happy to hand me off to be someone else's responsibility but it was because of Shou that I had the opportunity to see what family life could be like."
"And the whole time you were in love with him."
It was Kyoko's turn to want to avoid answering, but she knew it was important for them to finally deal with these feelings. "Yes, pretty much from the time I met him to the day he kicked me out of his life, I was in love with Fuwa Shou. But you already knew that."
Rubbing his face roughly with his hands, Ren couldn't believe how unromantic a date they were having.
In his anger, he wouldn't even look at her. It wasn't Kyoko that he was mad at, but Fuwa. Somehow, that bastard had driven a wedge between them when he wasn't even there.
"Tsuruga-san, please." She touched his shoulder, and he flinched. It reminded her of the way her mother would jump away at her touch. With that, her old wounds were ripped wide open. Her next words were laced with tears, "You say that my heart is too big, but it's only half - no, a quarter of the size it used to be. When Shou threw me away, my heart shriveled up like a dried prune and everything I thought I knew about love I locked away, in hopes that I'd never feel that pain again. Don't you understand that I haven't forgotten what he taught me that day: that falling in love is the most dangerous thing a person can do? But yet, here we are, with my heart laying bare in front of you. I'm scared because I know that it's dangerous, but it's also everything."
"Can you love me, knowing that I made the mistake of loving someone else?"
The tears, the trembling lips and the most heart-breaking twitch of her eyebrow told him that, after everything they've been through, she wasn't sure of his answer. That she still doubted his love crushed him, pushed him out of his anger completely.
"Of course, Kyoko, that's not… of course I love you."
"Then tell me, Kuon, why do you get so angry about Shou?" Kyoko's voice was strained, but she forced herself to finally ask the question that had been on her mind for years. It took so much more effort to be honest. It was almost painful.
Ren took his time in answering, so long that she wanted to retract the question completely. But the silence that hung between them was necessary. It gave them both a chance to recognize that they were breaking down barriers that they didn't even know existed.
Finally, he said, "Because he never deserved you."
And then, "Because I was there first."
"I don't know about that," Kyoko replied slyly, reacting to his childish affirmation. "I met Shou when I was in kindergarten."
Ren shook his head, with a grin, "I meant, I was in love with you first."
"Oh." Cue beet-red Kyoko.
For a while they were silent.
"I hate to bring it up again, but you never answered my question. Have you heard from Fuwa again?"
"He lives next door to me at the Tokyo Palace Hotel."
Somehow the shock of hearing that Fuwa was living next to Kyoko did not send Ren into another fiery rage. He did, however, escort her all the way back to the door of her hotel room, and made sure that she was safely inside before he left. Lounging in the back of the limousine on the way home, he reflected on what they'd discussed. It had never occurred to him that he could be in the wrong for hating Fuwa. To him, it was common sense. Everything that bastard said or did was tailored to hurt Kyoko. Not to mention how he flaunted their childhood relationship whenever he could, which grated on Ren's nerves. That kid was selfish to the point of absurdity, and he wanted so badly to teach him that the world is a mean place when you don't have anyone on your side. Maybe then he would learn some manners. Still, Kyoko was ready to forgive him, and if he didn't want to fight with her, he would have to follow suit.
In the end, for Ren, it all boiled down to what Fuwa's intention was for contacting Kyoko this time. If he was trying to apologize for what he said at the JMAs, Ren was willing to let things resolve the way Kyoko wanted. Or, if it had something to do with his and Kyoko's shared childhood, maybe involving his family or a former classmate of theirs, sure, they could talk things out. But, if he was up to his old tricks again, making gullible Kyoko follow him around while he abused her, he was going to have to deal with the full brunt of Kuon's anger.
Despite his every intention to leave it alone, Ren was in a foul mood all night, his face locked in a nervous scowl.
Kyoko couldn't stop smiling. She danced around her hotel room, twirling her dress happily. He'd liked it! He said it was pretty and I didn't try to stop him! The date hadn't been exactly perfect, but it was close. Of all their dates up to this point, this one had been the most like the ones in the movies. For the first time, they had been a real couple, free to enjoy their evening together without excuses, disguises or chaperones. And the FOOD! Kyoko didn't think she'd ever eaten so well in her entire life. The flavours were so unique; a few times she had closed her eyes in an effort to identify the secret ingredient. Just remembering the taste left her salivating. With a sigh, she fell onto her bed, not ready to take the dress off just yet.
Her mind was racing with all the possibilities that had been unlocked. Could they go to the zoo next? A theme park? Skating? She giggled to herself. She was dating Tsuruga Ren and she couldn't be happier.
She was humming to herself for a while before she realized which song was drifting through her lips. Again? She winced. Or still? It made sense that Shou's song "Eternal Love" was still on her mind, considering that she'd only just heard it again a week ago after such a long time. But tonight, it bothered her. Even though she'd been defending him all night, Shou was not who she wanted to be thinking about right now. She reached for the remote and turned on the TV, in hopes of shaking the feeling of regret that came with that song.
A chaotic news program leapt onto the screen. There were headlines at the top of the screen and text scrolling across the bottom. The reporting was being done live, in a bustling shopping area. The camera shook and seemed to be having trouble keeping the reporter in frame. Over the volume of traffic and hundreds of voices, she was shouting her questions to each passerby. "What do you think of the scandal?"
Kyoko quickly lowered the volume, cringing from the sensory overload.
The man being interviewed was young, probably a high schooler, wearing thick rimmed glasses and a grey hoodie. His friends were right behind him, chuckling. He smoothed his black hair back shyly before answering, "Well, I think she's still got a lot of dedicated fans, so I think she'll be OK."
Pulling back the microphone, the reporter eagerly asked, "Have you seen the photos?"
The group of friends burst into rowdy laughter, ribbing the main guy.
"Uh, no, no. I haven't seen them. I hear they are…" he trailed off as one of the guys playfully shoved him. As he righted himself, he was smiling like it was all a big joke. He cleared his throat, trying to sound more serious. "I hear that the photos are pretty shocking. I wouldn't want to ruin my image of Kyoko-sama."
Kyoko's eyes snapped to the headlines that were practically jumping off the screen: BREAKING NEWS SCANDAL: SUPERSTAR KYOKO PHOTOGRAPHED IN THE NUDE.