Things had been great. Far too great, even. Kyoko honestly could not believe any of this was happening. She must still be dreaming, she thought. She must have fallen asleep before calling Kuon - no, he had been Tsuruga-san then - and taking him up on the offer to make her a princess… and be her prince. There was no way that two days later, he had confessed his love, revealed himself to not only be Kuon (Father's son!) but also Corn, and then had Father and Julie show up and claim her as theirs as well. This all had to be some crazy dream.
Yet here she was. Standing in Kuon's kitchen, with his arm around her shoulders, while he and his mother threw food for Father to catch. It all felt just a bit unreal. That feeling intensified when a befuddled Yashiro appeared and promptly received scrambled egg to the face. And Kuon - her Kuon - laughed - the sound reverberating through her - and invited his manager to come properly inside for an explanation. Kyoko's mind reeled, still trying to take in everything from last night - this morning? - as Kuon gave her a peck on the cheek before stepping away to explain things to his manager.
"What - you - Kyoko-chan - the Hizuris - what?" Yashiro sputtered, when Kuon stepped away from the group.
Kuon grinned, feeling freer than he had in years. "It's simple, really. My real name is Hizuri Kuon and these are my parents. They arrived last night approximately an hour after Kyoko became my girlfriend."
Around the same time on the other side of town, Okami-san hurried to go pick up the pictures she had gotten developed before the Darumaya's lunch rush hit. She reached the photo section of the drug store quickly, and told them what she was there to retrieve - only to be met by stunned stares.
"Is everything alright?" she asked, concerned. "I received a call saying they were ready."
"Oh, no, nothing's wrong!" squeaked the shop clerk. "We just happened to see something… unusual in one of the photos."
"Unusual?" Okami-san thought for a moment. "What do you mean?"
"The one you wanted us to do up like a wedding picture… isn't that Tsuruga Ren?" They slid the envelope over the counter for Okami-san to examine.
She opened it. "Oh, how beautiful! Kyoko-chan is going to love this." It was the picture she had taken of the two of them when he had come to pick her up for their fairytale date. Kyoko-chan looked a bit stiff, and her face was red, but at least they were both smiling. Tsuruga-san seemed a bit stiff as well - poor boy had been so nervous! No wonder, with the way they looked at each other… though her husband couldn't have helped, given that he was wielding a knife. "It's not really a wedding picture, of course, but I thought it would make a nice present when they do get married. A picture of their first proper date."
"Kyoko-chan?" the clerk repeated. "Like, the actress Kyoko?"
Okami-san smiled. "She's still starting out, but yes. She did such a lovely job in Dark Moon, too! It even frightened my husband."
"So she's your… daughter?" The clerk's brow furrowed. This woman owned that daruma-themed restaurant, right? She couldn't remember her having any children.
"As good as," Okami-san replied fondly, tucking the picture back into the envelope with its smaller brethren - mostly family shots, with some food pictures as well. She did own a restaurant, after all! "How much do I owe you?"
"Oh, right! Your total comes to…."
After Okami-san had paid and left, the clerk rushed to the back and grabbed her friend's arm. "Misa-chan! You are not going to believe this!"
"Ow, what?" Misa replied, shaking out of her friend's grip and going back to sorting film.
"I just found out who Tsuruga-sama's secret princess is!"
Misa dropped the film canister she'd been holding. "What?"
"It's Kyoko, Dark Moon's Kyoko! The girl who played Mio!" She whirled around and started digging through a folder.
"No way, Akane," Misa sighed. "I swear, if this is another of your crazy -"
"Look!" She shoved a copy of the first date picture under her friend's nose. "That's definitely Kyoko! And the time stamp is from that morning!"
"Wait, what?" She looked at the picture for a moment, then snorted. "Please. This might be the girl, but she's no Mio. Or do you not remember the nightmares you got from watching that scary bitch's scenes?"
"Ugh, fine, I'll prove it to you!" Akane whipped out her phone and typed furiously for a few moments, then pulled up Kyoko's information on the LME talento's page. "There! It's the same girl, stage name Kyoko - see! Mio from Dark Moon!"
Misa's eyes widened. "Holy crap, Akane."
"I know, right?" she squealed. "And I heard it from her - mom? Mother figure? The lady who runs the Daruma-themed restaurant! She's the one who got the pic developed. I made a copy. But she came in and was talking about how this was their first date, and that she was going to save this picture for a wedding present."
"Akane." Misa gripped her friend's arm. "You realize what this means."
"We know who the mystery princess is!"
"And we have the scoop of the decade on our hands." She grinned. "Do you realize how much magazines would pay for this info?"
"Enough?" she replied, a grin appearing on her own face. "I'll split it with you."
"I'll cover for you here. Go sell that info before anyone else can."
Akane all but ran from the drug store, photo clutched to her chest.
"I… have no clue how to react to any of this," Yashiro said at last, over a plate of scrambled eggs.
Kuon shrugged, still too giddy to really care. "Just… stay my manager? And help us keep this under wraps?"
"Kuon!" Kyoko gasped, making everyone jump.
"What's wrong?" he asked, concerned.
"It's almost nine! You're late!" Her eyes widened in terror, coming to the insane conclusion that this was somehow her fault, as she is Kyoko and there is no known cure. "I'm -"
"None of that, my lovely little sprite," Julie said, catching her new daughter's shoulder as she started to bow her apologies.
"Nope! Not allowed. Not your fault."
"B-" She was interrupted by Kuu shoving a forkful of scrambled eggs into her mouth.
"Listen to your mom, kiddo."
Kyoko chewed her eggs. She really wasn't used to having a father, much less a mom. It was part of what made this whole situation so unreal - almost more than Ren being Kuon and Kuon being Corn and all of him being in love with her. Loving her back.
"She's right. It's my fault, really," Kuon said, rubbing the back of his neck. "I got caught up in things. I'm going to go get dressed. Be back soon."
Julie let out an overly dramatic sigh. "Off to work, just like that! It's like he doesn't care that I only have three days to live!"
Kyoko was very glad she had just swallowed, because otherwise she would have spat out her eggs in shock. "What?"
"She's kidding," Kuu chuckled, seeing an equally panicked expression on Yashiro's face. He extended a hand to the man. "By the way, hi. Hizuri Kuu. Call me Kuu. Thanks for taking such good care of my brat of a son."
"Oh, um, no trouble at all!" Yashiro said, shaking his hand.
Kyoko giggled at that.
Julie gave up on her moaning, since no one was listening, and wrapped Kyoko in a hug. "What's so funny, my pretty pixie?"
Kyoko's brain short-circuited. This woman, this faerie queen, who had declared herself her mom, was hugging her. And kept calling her all sorts of fairytale things! "Um…"
Yashiro smiled, guessing what had made Kyoko laugh. "Right. Er, some trouble. Like getting him to eat enough. And sleep decent hours. Kyoko-chan's made the first one a lot easier, though."
Julie gave Kyoko a tighter squeeze at that. "No surprise! My little girl's a great chef! She could even feed my black hole of a husband!"
Kyoko squeaked, going a lovely shade of red.
"Call me Julie," she said to Yashiro with a smile, holding out a hand while the other still squeezed Kyoko. "I assume you're going to give my little boy some time with his parents while we're here?"
"I'll do my best," he replied, trying not to reel while he shook her hand. He was on a first-name basis with the Hizuris. "Ah, please call me Yukihito."
"Oh, here, give me your number," Kuu said, pulling out his phone. "So we can schedule things when my brat son won't answer his phone."
"Dad!" Kuon groaned, stepping back into the room in all of his Tsuruga Ren glory. Kyoko would have laughed had she not still been in Julie's tight hug. Her brain was frying. "Uh, Mom?"
"Yes, my darling little boy?"
"I don't think Kyoko can breathe."
"Oh!" Julie released Kyoko at last. "Sorry, little sprite."
"Work!" Yashiro exclaimed, jumping to his feet. He bowed hastily to the Hizuris and Kyoko. "We need to go. Goodbye, it was nice to meet you! And Kyoko-chan, congratulations!"
Kuon gave the group a hasty wave and hurried after his manager. "I'll see you all later! I love you!" The door slammed shut behind them before any of them could respond, leaving Kyoko with the Hizuris in Kuon's kitchen.
"And what time do you have work today, little sprite?" Julie asked, tapping the end of Kyoko's nose once. "Not going to leave your parents in such a rush, I hope?"
"Um, I have a job at one. My school's on break right now," she added. She didn't want either of them to think she was a delinquent!
"Then we have you until then!" Julie exclaimed with delight. She sprang to her feet and clapped her hands together. "Oh, I can't wait!" She hurried back to the guest room to fetch something.
Kuu placed a comforting hand on Kyoko's shoulder and grinned down at her. "Your mom's been excited to meet you ever since I told her about how you made me eat the leftovers."
"Father, I -" She caught the sparkle in his eye, and her heart dropped. "Oh. You're just teasing me."
"About the delicious leftovers battle? Absolutely. About my beautiful, crazy wife wanting to meet her new daughter? Not at all." He ruffled her hair. "We always wanted a daughter. And now we have one who brought our son back to us."
"Oh." Her voice was small, but not unhappy. All of this was just… very new.
Kuu's brow furrowed. "Okay, kiddo, what's wrong?"
"Nothing - really!" she exclaimed, clapping a hand over her forehead when Kuu went to flick her.
"Are you lying to your father?"
"No!" She lowered her gaze, defeated, not noticing that Julie came back into the room, purse in hand. "I just… I'm sorry. I'm not used to having… having a mom. Or a father, for that matter, but especially not a mom. I… have a mother. And she -" she swallowed, hard, but forced herself to say, "- she always said that her life would have been so much better if I had never existed. So it just… I just… I'm trying to adjust. To the idea that anyone would want to be my mom." She hung her head. "I'm sorry."
Julie burst into tears and ran to them, the couple making a Kyoko sandwich with their hug. "Oh, you poor darling! Of course I want to be your mom! Even before you brought Kuon back to us I wanted to be your mom."
Muffled by Kuu's chest came the devastating, tearful, broken question: "Why?"
Kuu and Julie locked eyes and silently wished death on Kyoko's mother. Well, maybe not death, but some slow, painful torture. One that would make her regret telling their daughter that - and whatever else that horrible woman had done. Kuon had mentioned last night, with the Corn story, that Kyoko had been crying when they met; that awful woman had to be why. Julie gently extracted herself from Kyoko, pulled her off of Kuu, took her hand, and led her over to the couch. Kuu joined them, sitting on Kyoko's other side.
"Now." Julie whipped out a hankie from her purse and started dabbing gently at the tears on Kyoko's face. "I don't know the extent of whatever that awful woman told you, but I promise you that all of it was lies. You are a wonderful girl, Kyoko, and I am more than happy to have you as my daughter. I always wanted a girl, and if you weren't dating my son I would be filling out adoption papers as we speak."
Kyoko gave a watery laugh. "That - that would be pretty awkward."
"Exactly. As to why, in addition to being a wonderful, brilliant woman who can cook like a professional chef, you are also a fantastic actress - and don't you try to deny it, missy, Kuu and I have been watching your shows - and an incredibly hard worker. You've got gumption and talent pouring out of your ears. I've known you less than twenty-four hours and I know that, so anyone who doesn't see it can go jump off a pier. Or stand at the edge so I can push them," she finished with a laugh, then fluffed Kyoko's hair.
"Could probably work on your self-esteem, though," Kuu added, effectively cutting off all of Kyoko's protests against the stream of compliments.
"Alright!" Julie clapped her hands together again, then stood up, pulling Kyoko off of the sofa with her. "Let's go get you cleaned up, and then we'll figure out what we want to do until you have to go to work!"
"What, no, I couldn't impose -"
"Does my beloved daughter not want to spend time with her parents?" Kuu called after them.
"Of course I do, I just -"
"Then no more silly denials. Let's see, what does my son keep in here, skincare-wise?" Julie had dragged Kyoko into the bathroom, and was now having her sit on the edge of the tub. Kyoko had the distinct feeling that this family she had gotten herself into was going to kill her with compliments and fussing. And she had thought Cain was bad.
Kuon felt bad about leaving Kyoko with his parents like that, but he hadn't really had much of a choice. He just hoped that they wouldn't overwhelm her too much (which, of course, they were)... even back in the day they had been very affectionate, and this period apart would only have increased that. He had no worries about his mom and Kyoko getting along, given how his mom had claimed Kyoko as her daughter last night (this morning?) - he just hoped that she didn't smother her when trying to mother her. But he had his own problems to deal with. For one, he had been very late to his first job. To say that the director was disappointed would be an understatement. His lateness was not unnoticed by the rumor mill, which had been more vicious of late due to the whole mystery-princess-fantasy-date incident. And then there was the fact that he was so damn relieved that he couldn't keep that stupid, non-Tsuruga-Ren grin off of his face. Kyoko loved him back, she knew the truth, they were together, and he had reunited with his parents. All in less than twelve hours. And even with all of the gossip, Yashiro wasn't having too hard of a time rearranging his schedule so he could spend time with his family. Everything went smoothly until around 11 A.M.
At which point all hell broke loose.
Julie was just doing Kyoko's eyeliner when suddenly, her new daughter's entire body started vibrating. Kyoko answered her phone while silently apologizing to Julie, whose own body shook with her efforts not to laugh.
"Hello, this is Mogami."
Julie got a makeup wipe out of her purse (which was Julie's purse and therefore bottomless) and started cleaning off the messed-up liner.
"Oh, Hikaru-nii-san! What's wrong? Did something change with the filming later?" Kyoko switched the phone to her other ear so Julie could do as she wished. She had learned that trying to keep her new mom from doing her makeup resulted in puppy-dog eyes. At least now she knew where Kuon got those.
"Yeah, actually. And, uh, I realize this is kind of a weird favor to ask," came the reply from the other end of the line, just loud enough for Julie to hear, "but you're pretty well-connected. Like, weirdly so."
"Um, okay?" Kyoko replied, confused as to where this was going.
"Our guest star today's super sick and can't make it. Do you happen to know anyone we could interview?" he asked, giving an awkward laugh.
Julie waved her hand to get Kyoko's attention, pointed at herself, and then pointed out in the direction of the kitchen (where Kuu was making food because he is Kuu and therefore a bottomless pit). Kyoko's eyes went wide.
"Um, apparently yes."
"I'm… just going to hand over the phone, because I don't think you'd believe me."
Julie took the phone. "Hello, Hizuri Julie speaking. Yes, really." She laughed, and Kuu came to investigate. Kyoko gave him a little helpless shrug as Julie kept talking. "Now, I happened to overhear that my darling Kyoko's filming needs someone to interview! Kuu and I would be glad to help. It's been so long since we've done one in Japan. We'll see you at one, right? Okay, I'm handing you back to Kyoko-chan."
"Hello again," Kyoko said timidly, as Julie went back to her eyeliner, determined to get it perfect.
"You know the Hizuris?" Hikaru yelped through the phone. "And they're going to be on Bridge Rock of all things?"
"Er, yes." She had no idea how she was going to explain this.
"I… I think I need to go tell people. Or…" he trailed off, thinking hard. "Or I don't. And we just surprise everyone. Because no one would believe me."
"As long as you prepare lots of food," Kyoko warned. "Like, twice what we would need to feed the entire crew."
"Right. Okay, see you at one. Bye!"
"Bye," Kyoko said, hitting the 'end call' button. She stared at Julie and Kuu.
"There!" Julie said, proclaiming Kyoko's makeup done. "Now you're camera ready!"
"Do you not like your mom's taste in makeup?" Julie asked, a bit worried.
Kyoko jumped to her feet. "That's not it at all! It's amazing and gorgeous and perfect and I've never been able to do mine this well! It's just… um, the camera won't see it."
"And why not?" Julie demanded.
"Because on Bridge Rock, I play a giant chicken."
Kuu burst into laughter while Julie pouted. "And here I thought I was going to get to do variety-show games with my beloved daughter!"
"You will!" Kyoko assured her. "I'll just be Bo. The chicken. Well, rooster, technically."
Kuu went back to the kitchen to laugh and finish making his food.
Kyoko and the disguised Hizuris arrived at the filming location for Bridge Rock at 12:30, since Kyoko had correctly guessed that things were about to get very, very complicated. She was right, just for more reasons than she had anticipated - even if she wasn't going to find that out just yet, due to the people she had with her.
"Ah, Hikaru-onii-san!" Kyoko called, waving him over. "Er, I think you know who they are," she added, as he stared, star-struck, at the people who had claimed her as their daughter. She turned to them and said, "This is Ishibashi Hikaru of Bridge Rock. He and my other nii-sans aren't related, but all are called Ishibashi. This is probably going to be a sillier interview than you're used to, but I hope you have fun!"
Hikaru bowed deeply, trying to imitate the way Kyoko did it. "Thank you so much! It's really an honor to have you on our show!"
The other two Ishibashis came over to see what the commotion was, and immediately stopped in their tracks. Yuusei waved Kyoko over for an explanation while Hikaru continued babble and led Kuu over to the food. "Uh, Kyoko-chan, what is going on?"
"Ah. Um." How was she going to explain this? "A long time ago, I did some LoveME work where I cooked for Fa- Kuu-sama and he became fond of me. He and Julie-sama are in Japan, so he stopped by to say hi and get some traditional Japanese food, and so they were there when Hikaru-nii-san called and asked if I knew anyone we could interview last-minute. Julie-sama insisted." That was close enough to the truth. She had insisted.
"Well, you're just having a hell of a day, aren't you?" asked Shinichi.
"What?" she asked. Yuusei and Shinichi exchanged a look. "What is it?"
"Haven't you - aw, crap. Here comes the producer. We'll handle it, Kyoko-chan." They waved her off, and she went to check in with her more-or-less-adoptive parents.
"Are. Are those who I think they are?" the producer asked as soon as he reached them.
"HOW?" he demanded. "And WHY did no one tell me so we could advertise this?"
"We found out," Yuusei checked his watch, "three minutes ago. Check with Hikaru. He's the one who called around asking to see if anyone knew someone free to interview."
Hikaru, for his part, was fairly certain that he had just heard Julie refer to Kyoko by no fewer than three different pet names. This, he thought, was all just a really weird dream. And not something that would be a make-or-break moment in his career. Nor did he think that Kuon would later use this same show to reveal his identity by having Bo 'accidentally' pull off his wig. Hikaru had no idea about any of this. He just knew that Kyoko-chan was an incredible person. In many ways.
And that she would never be his.
Kuon looked over at Yashiro in the car. "I got a text from Dad. Apparently he and Mom are going to be on Bridge Rock today."
"What? That goofy reality show?" Yashiro racked his brains. "With the chicken?"
"Rooster," Kuon corrected with a grin. "A rooster played by Kyoko. Apparently their guest today cancelled suddenly, one of her coworkers called to ask if Kyoko knew anyone who was free, and Mom just… bulldozed the situation. As she does."
Yashiro gave a tense chuckle. "Well, hopefully that will keep everyone distracted. And we know that Kyoko-chan is safe."
Kuon's smile vanished as quickly as it had appeared. "Yeah. At least we know that."
"Okay, everyone," Hikaru said to the live audience, "I know this is a little different than usual. We had a different guest planned for today, but they got sick. And so there was a crazy string of events and coincidences that have brought us to, by far, the best-known people I have ever had the opportunity to introduce - though I guess they don't need much of an introduction! Give it up for Hizuri Kuu and Hizuri Julie!"
There was a beat of absolute, stunned silence as the couple walked onstage - and then the crowd exploded. Bo pretended to faint from shock. The producer felt ready to faint himself. He never had gotten a chance to ask Hikaru how the hell he had gotten the Hizuris. Who did he know that had gotten them here? On this silly little show with a stupid chicken?
Said chicken had 'woken up' and was now fawning over Kuu and Julie, flapping his wings wildly. He mimed hitting on Julie, which gave Kuu the opportunity to get mock-angry. The sight of Hizuri Kuu, a national treasure and an acting legend, having a chest-puffing contest with a giant rooster was enough to send the audience into hysterics. When everyone had finally calmed down, Yuusei said, "We really can't thank you enough for coming to our silly little variety show today. But before we really get started, I think the audience is dying to know what you're doing here."
Kuu laughed, his hair a bit messed up from his tussle with Bo. "What can we say? We're fans of Bo."
Bo mimed shock, looked around as if there was another Bo to be found, and then pretended to faint again. He then peeked through his feathers at Kuu, who laughed.
"Seriously, we are!" Julie chimed in. "Bo was the one who told us about this show - and the way we found out you were missing a guest star. And who were we to leave our favorite rooster on the fryer?"
Offstage, the producer's jaw dropped. No. No way. This, on top of everything else? He had always made it quite clear that he didn't want that girl on his show, but had brought her back because the audience insisted. And now she was the reason the Hizuris were on? This had to be a bad dream. Or the best one. He had no idea.
Kyoko had six missed calls.
"Kuon, do you recognize this picture?" They were in Lory's office - today decked out in a fairytale theme. Kuon had the distinct impression he was being mocked, but was too preoccupied by the photo to care. Even if he did think that Kyoko would actually enjoy the day's theme, for once.
"I believe this is the photo that the Okami-san of Darumaya took before Kyoko and I went on our date." He furrowed his brow. "Though I can't say she strikes me as the kind of person to do this. Nor does her husband. They're both far too protective of her to even think of it."
"Our current information suggests that one of the people working at wherever she got the photos developed recognized you two and sold the information. It appears that they were fans of Kyoko enough to recognize her out of costume, but not enough to prioritize her safety over monetary gain." Lory's lips were thin. "There's going to be a car to pick her up after her job, so we'll be able to figure out the best way to move forward with this together."
Kuon groaned into his hands. "We. Have been dating. For less. Than a day."
"And none of this would be happening if you had worn a disguise!" Lory snapped. "You couldn't even have Ten change you into you for this?"
"I know," Kuon groaned again. "But she didn't know yet. She would've thought I was a fairy. Or was making fun of her fairy. I'm so damn stupid."
"Well, hopefully your parents being in town will be enough to draw away some of the immediate attention," Yashiro added, ever the voice of reason. "Especially with them appearing on Bridge Rock. It's bizarre enough that it might beat out even this."
"Unless someone asks why they're even in Japan," mumbled Kuon. He had been so stupid. Had been so caught up in giving Kyoko a fairytale day that he hadn't thought about a disguise for her safety.
"Your parents have the good sense to lie through their teeth," Lory pointed out, before softening. "You two really do have the worst luck, don't you?"
Kuon responded with another muffled groan.
Kyoko - Bo - didn't know what game they were playing, but she knew that Kuu was winning. Or at least that he thought he was winning. Why was there a game where the penalty was eating raw tomatoes? How would Bo have done that anyway? Regardless, it was time to switch to the last section, so Bo crowed. Everyone else returned to their seats, Kuu taking the rest of the tomatoes with him to snack on while they chatted. Bo flapped around, bowing in as thankful of a manner as a chicken could, before presenting Kuu with a giant tray of sandwiches that one of their stagehands, Kiri, had started making upon seeing Kuu eating raw tomatoes onstage. Whole. Like apples. Because who does that? Unfortunately, they were chicken sandwiches, something that made Bo very nervous. Bo hid behind Julie.
"Don't worry, Bo, I'll protect you," Julie laughed. "I can't say I've ever had this much fun at an interview before!"
"The pleasure was ours, though we really can't take all the credit! Bo's our secret weapon. The show's not half as fun without him." Hikaru grinned over at Bo, who, while still 'hiding' behind Julie, mimed bashfulness. "And we cannot thank you enough for coming today!" He turned to the audience. "Still, let's give it a try, yeah? One more round of applause for the Hizuris!"
Kuu (with his sandwiches) and Julie (with Bo still 'hiding' behind her) bowed. The curtains closed on that episode of Bridge Rock, and Kyoko hurried back to Bo's nest to change. She hoped she hadn't sweated through the makeup that Julie-sama - er, mom - had so carefully applied!
The producer bowed over and over again, fervently thanking the Hizuris for coming on the show. "Really, I can't thank you enough! I hope we weren't imposing too much on your schedules!"
"No trouble at all," Julie said, while Kuu finished his sandwiches. "We were visiting our darling girl anyway, so it just made sense to be on the show when we found out she needed someone!"
"Your darling girl?" the producer repeated slowly. Had they been serious about being fans of Bo?
"Yes!" Kuu grinned, having finished his pile of sandwiches. "Kyoko's the best! She -" and he was off on a fatherly rant, as he is Kuu and therefore will ramble endlessly about his family, be they related by blood or adopted.
The producer's head spun; back in Bo's nest, Kyoko's did the same. She had missed calls from Kuon, Moko, President Takarada, Yashiro, Okami-san, and then Kuon again. Their messages all boiled down to one horrifying truth. She sent Bo off for cleaning, then hurried back to her family. "Sorry for the wait! I just got a call from - er. Did I miss something?"
The producer was quietly beating his head against the wall while Kuu continued to wax eloquent about his daughter, now having climbed atop a chair to do so. Julie was laughing at her favorite fool. The Ishibashis just watched with various levels of bemusement, while the rest of the crew watched with outright confusion. Kyoko slipped up to Julie and tugged on her sleeve; Julie wrapped an arm around Kyoko's shoulders. "Yes, little sprite?"
Kyoko leaned in and whispered, "Kuon called. We need to meet him at the president's office as soon as we can. They sent a car to get us, it's around back."
"Kuu!" Julie's voice cut sharply through his monologue, making him stop mid-gesture, his arms open wide. "Time to go."
He hopped down off of the chair. "Sounds good. Where to?"
Julie shook her head, then bowed to the surrounding people. "Thank you for having us!" Then, before anyone else could react, the three of them rushed off towards the staff entrance around back.
Kuon was pacing back and forth in Lory's office. Sitting still really wasn't an option right now. He needed to be moving to get his brain working - or at least, working in a productive way. If he sat any longer he would keep circling in guilt and despair. Neither of those were useful to the situation at hand. They needed solutions. Fast. Before the press blew this even further out of proportion than it was. Granted, he had not been subtle. It had been a grand, romantic gesture, and it was going to take a miracle to convince the media that it was anything but. And it wasn't like either of them were currently in any sort of production that could be used as a publicity excuse. Was there a way out of this without it hurting Kyoko? This definitely had had the unexpected effect of making her name a household one, but he doubted that many of the lips saying her name were saying it nicely. His fans were too vicious for that. And she would doubtless receive backlash in the industry, as well. What if people thought she was just using him for fame? He couldn't let anyone think about her like that, not with how hard she had fought to get where she was already. Not with how much she loved acting. There had to be some way to blame this all on him. There had to be. Or at least a way to convince the public that it wasn't what it was.
The door to the office opened. Kuon whipped around to see Kyoko and his parents, thankfully all in one piece. He visibly relaxed. Sebastian closed and locked the door behind them as Julie practically flew over to give her son a hug. Kyoko was on the phone, and gave an apologetic bow to the group.
"Moko, I'm safe, I promise, we just got to the president's office -" She was cut off by Kanae, who was disguising her worry with anger as she is Kanae and there is no known cure. "Moko, wait -!" She flinched as her best friend hung up on her.
"Everything okay?" Kuu asked, not used to the girls' dynamic.
"With Moko, yes," Kyoko said, biting her lip nervously. "Um, it's just - she said she was coming up here. Is… is that okay?" she asked, to Kuon more than anyone else.
"Of course. I know she's worried about you." He tried and failed to extricate himself from his mother, then sighed and gestured for her to walk with him. She allowed this, since she knew he wanted to make sure Kyoko was alright. "And if you trust Kotonami-san, then I do, too."
Kyoko nodded fervently, her phone clutched tightly in her hands. "Of course! Moko would never tell anyone!"
At that moment, Sebastian opened the door, just as Kanae had been about to knock. Kanae was, to put it lightly, a bit ruffled. She had run here from her last job as soon as Kyoko told her where she was going, LoveME work be damned. She had known something horrible like this was going to happen. And she would not let her naive best friend get hurt by it, or get swept into something she wasn't ready to handle!
"Ah, Kotonami-kun. Come in," the president said, his voice holding the first humor it had all day.
Kyoko whipped around, beaming, and threw herself at her best friend. "MOKO!"
Julie let go of Kuon. "And how come I don't get such enthusiastic greetings?" she asked quietly, poking him.
"Because she's known you for less than a day and Kotonami-san is her best friend?" Kuon replied, amused.
Kanae, for once, did not dodge Kyoko's hug, instead staggering backwards from the force. "Mo! Will you learn to answer your phone?"
"I'm sorry, Moko-san! I've been with Father and Mom all day, and then we were on set, and then I called you as soon as we got in the car!" Kyoko pulled back. "Are you mad at me?"
Kanae sighed. "No, I just - wait, 'Father' and 'Mom'? Who are you talking… about…?" Her eyes widened as she realized who else was in the room. Who was walking over to say hello as Sebastian closed and locked the door behind her again.
"Hizuri Kuu. Thank you for taking such good care of my little girl." Kuu stuck out his hand to shake hers.
It took all of Kanae's acting abilities to not gape at the man. Hizuri Kuu. Acting royalty. And she was a mess. She forced herself to smile and shake his hand. "Kotonami Kanae. I'm Kyoko's best friend."
Kyoko's happiness at her best friend saying that she was her best friend, unprompted, was enough to make her forget for a moment why exactly they were all here. Her squeals drowned everything else out. Kuon grinned.
Kuu chuckled. Yup, Kyoko was definitely his daughter. "It's nice to meet you, even if I wish it had been under different circumstances. Speaking of which," he said, turning back to Lory and a once-again guilty-looking Kuon, "what are those circumstances? Kyoko didn't have the time to explain anything in the car."
Kyoko blushed and finally let go of Kanae, who rushed to straighten her clothes and smooth down her hair. Kyoko whispered to Kanae, all in one breath, "Last-night-Kuon-and-I-got-together-and-Ren-is-Kuon-and-those-are-his-parents-who-said-I'm-theirs-now."
"What?" Kanae yelped.
"I think," Lory said, as the others turned to look at the frazzled Kanae and blushing Kyoko, "we need to back up a bit. Everyone come sit, please."
Everyone headed over to the couches and sat. Kyoko found herself sitting between Moko and Kuon, while Kuu and Julie sat with Lory. Yashiro plunked down in the lone armchair, feeling very out of place. Sebastian (whose real name is Ruto but has agreed to continue being called Sebastian) made himself imperceptible in the background.
Lory nodded. "Now, where to start? Does anyone have a question?"
Kanae raised her hand, feeling a bit silly for it. Lory nodded to her. "With all due respect, why are the Hizuris here? Kyoko tried to explain but I honestly only caught half of it."
"They're my parents," Kuon said, causing Kanae to whip around and stare at him.
"And we're finally allowed to see him, after so many long years!" Julie exclaimed.
"I… left the US when I was fifteen, to start over." Kuon looked at the ground; Kyoko placed her hand over his and gave it a gentle squeeze. He smiled at her. "And finally had the nerve to get back in contact, thanks to Kyoko. Their visit wasn't meant to coincide with this whole… mess."
"Which is…?" Kuu asked, leaning back against the sofa with his arm around Julie.
Kyoko and Kuon looked at each other, not sure who should explain. To Lory's amusement, Kanae cut in, "Your son took Kyoko out on a super-romantic fairytale date and didn't bother to disguise himself. It wasn't an issue until a photo got leaked of the two of them together before they were in costume - and someone recognized her. So now the media's rabid, not to mention his fans." She glared at him.
"And we need some way to do damage control without letting the media know that they are, in fact, dating, and without any harm coming to their careers," Lory said smoothly, cutting off Kanae as she opened her mouth again. "Especially Mogami-kun's, since she is not as well-established. Handling this improperly could lead to more than her career being hurt."
Kuu and Julie both went through an emotional roller coaster. First, good for Kuon for taking her on such a cute date! Their kids were perfect together. Second, stupid Kuon for not wearing a disguise. Third, how dare someone leak a photo! Fourth, they were worried for Kyoko. Fifth, thoughtfulness; how could they work this? The two had quite a lot of experience with the media, after all - there had to be some way to twist this not just to make it neutral, but to create a net positive.
"You told me that you two were together when I got in the door, didn't you?" Kanae asked Kyoko quietly. Her best friend nodded. "Well, congrats and about damn time."
Kyoko offered Kanae a shy smile.
About an hour later, they had a plan. Granted, it wasn't a very good plan, but it was the best plan they could come up with on such a tight schedule. And the schedule was indeed tight - they needed to act quickly, if they didn't want any harm to come to Kyoko. Especially since the media had figured out where she lived. Okami-san's phone message had told them as much, warning Kyoko that there had been reporters and people with cameras there all day, looking for her.
And so Kyoko found herself sitting onstage next to Kuon (who was back to being Ren), waiting for the interview to start. A live interview. On one of the top evening talk shows. With her LoveME uniform tucked into the bag at her feet. She glanced to the wings, where Kanae gave her a sharp nod of encouragement. Kuu and Julie had been forbidden from attending, for obvious reasons, and were as such watching from Lory's office. Yashiro stood next to Kanae in the wings, fidgeting with his tie.
Their interviewer, a woman in her early forties, grinned at them predatorily. Tanaka Himari was a household name; Kyoko had often seen her show back at the Fuwas' ryokan. She was a force to be reckoned with, as her influence was far and wide in the entertainment industry. If they could get her to believe their story, then they would be golden. If not… well, they didn't have another option.
"Live in three… two… one!"
Himari beamed at the cameras. "Hello, and welcome to Tokyo Evenings! I'm your host, Tanaka Himari. We've all heard by now that Tsuruga Ren, Japan's number one bachelor, may be off the market! No one missed that fairytale date, and now we know the identity of his princess. It is my pleasure to welcome Tsuruga Ren and Kyoko to the show!"
The audience applauded; some people screamed out questions.
"Thank you for having us," Ren smiled.
"Yes, thank you!" Kyoko gave the best bow she could while seated.
"Thank you for being here! I must say, I was surprised when President Takarada contacted us to ask that you be on the show tonight. You're generally so quiet about your personal life, Tsuruga-san," Himari said, giving him a conspiratorial grin.
"Yes, the president was quite upset by our prank, and wanted to clear the air quickly," Ren replied. "And please, call me Ren."
It was a testament to Himari's professionalism that her surprise did not show on her face. "I'm sorry, did you say this was a prank?"
Ren rubbed the back of his neck, looking like a kid caught doing mischief. "I did. It's well-known that our esteemed president is a bit love-obsessed, and well… he has been quite frustrated by my lack of a love life of any sort - private or public."
"I see." Himari raised an eyebrow to indicate that she clearly did not.
"So I decided to tease him back," Ren chuckled. "I asked Kyoko-san to help me, since we had become friends back during Dark Moon, and I knew she wouldn't take it the wrong way."
"And because I'm a member of the LoveME section," Kyoko added, trying not to be embarrassed as she pulled the pink menace out of her bag. "A section created by the president himself. And I'll put this away before it can do any more retina damage." She tucked it back in her bag.
Ren took advantage of the shock created by the color to continue, "So I decided to do the most over-the-top, romantic thing I could think of - which you're all familiar with by now. The president was thrilled until he realized it was all a prank." He gave a self-effacing smile. "And then, of course, Kyoko-san's identity was revealed. We didn't want her to be hurt by this - though of course my fans would never dream of hurting anyone," he added, smiling with ever more sparkles at the audience, "- so we decided to let everyone else in on the joke."
Himari blinked, the hideous pink finally fading from her eyes. "I see. Forgive me if I find that explanation just a bit too convenient, Ren-san. As you said, the date was incredibly romantic. If you were going to play a prank, why not do something simpler? Wouldn't it have been enough for you to have gone on a normal date?"
"It would have, had I been pranking anyone other than President Takarada," Ren replied. Sparkles began to pool on the floor; Kyoko nudged one with her shoe. "I decided that I needed to strive for his levels of theatricality for this to properly land."
Himari gave a forced smile. This interview was not going the way she had planned. Changing tack, she asked instead, "Then why choose Kyoko-san? I'm sure you're friends with many women in show business."
"As I mentioned before, we became friends during Dark Moon - and yes, she is in the LoveME section, so she also wanted to prank the president." The sparkles stuck to Kyoko's shoes.
"The LoveME section?" Himari asked incredulously.
"You're looking at the first member," Kyoko said with a laugh, striking the L-1 pose. "The president made it for those of us who are lacking in what he considers the most essential emotion. Some of my co-members are there to regain their love of acting and love of family, due to unfortunate circumstances. I'm a member to regain self-love - both in the sense of self-confidence and in the sense of letting myself be loved by family and friends."
"And by romantic partners?"
"That is part of it, yes, but not the main focus for any of us. President Takarada may put the most focus on romantic love when it comes to some of his talents," she inclined her head towards Ren, "but is willing to put that aside when there is healing to be done."
"And this would make you want to prank the president why…?"
Kyoko laughed. "Do I need to pull out our uniform again?"
"Please, no," Ren groaned, pretending to shield his eyes from the bag.
Himari narrowed her eyes. Tsuruga Ren didn't usually act like this, and something wasn't adding up. "What does the LoveME section do?"
"In the early stages, it was mostly odd jobs, such as being a temporary manager or helping other talents with paperwork," Kyoko said, tilting her head to one side to think. "Though these days the president does more tailored work, such as having us audition for parts or participate in events outside our comfort zones."
"And would this date be one of them?" Himari asked.
"Sort of?" Kyoko glanced at Ren. "It's not one the president approved, that's for sure, but that's how Ren-san suggested it."
"Then why choose Kyoko-san, and not one of the other people in her section?" There had to be a crack in their story, and she was going to find it.
"I'm not as familiar with Kotonami-san or Amamiya-san, given that we have not acted together before," Ren replied smoothly. "And there are only three members."
"Besides, we figured that the public would figure out that it wasn't a real date," Kyoko added with a smile.
"How so?" the elder woman asked. That smile was suspicious.
"Well, we're not exactly well-suited, are we?" Kyoko replied, still smiling. "For one, I'm a bit young for Ren-san. Four years is a pretty big gap at my age. Plus, he's my senpai! That just wouldn't be professional."
"Not to mention that it would break my fans' hearts," Ren added with an even sparklier smile to the audience. It really hurt hearing her say that, even if he knew the reason.
"Be that as it may, even a four-year age gap isn't that big of a deal," Himari said, "especially in entertainment. And senpai-kohai relationships aren't unheard of!"
"As much as I appreciate the encouragement, I know Ren-san is far out of my league," Kyoko replied, the image of a consummate professional. "Especially in our industry. I have a long way to go before I could dream of being on equal footing with him."
Himari gave the pair of them a tight-lipped smile. "Yet the two of you refer to each other by your given names. Isn't that a bit strange for a senpai-kohai relationship?"
"As Kyoko-san only goes by her given name in professional settings, I thought it fitting to do so," Ren replied lightly. "Especially given the nature of our prank."
Bingo. "But according to my sources, this is a recent change. Some of your co-workers told us that the two of you were referring to each other by your last names as recently as a week ago."
"Which is when we decided to do our prank," Ren said. "Wouldn't it be odd to refer to your date by their last name, especially when it's such an over-the-top outing?"
"I suppose so," Himari conceded. "But in your interview the day after your date, you didn't allude to the possibility of it being a prank. You called it an experiment to help cheer up a friend."
"If I recall, I said that I wanted to divert the president's attention and see how the media would react. And that it happened to help cheer up a friend as well." Crap.
"And did it cheer you up, Kyoko-san?" Here we go.
Kyoko smiled. Careful, now. "It did! I had had quite an awful month, and being able to help out with such a prank was great fun."
"And being with a dashing prince wasn't?"
"Of course it was - the characters I usually get to play are far from princesses." She sent Ren a smile. "And being able to act with Ren-san is always an honor. I learn so much!"
He sketched a little bow. "Likewise."
Himari wasn't done yet. "You know, Ren-san, I can't say that I can recall you being so lively in your previous interviews. Is that perhaps thanks to Kyoko-san?"
"I wasn't aware I was livelier than usual," he said, his gentleman's smile drowning their shoes in sparkles. "I suppose it's an after-effect of a successful prank, and the fun of being able to tell you all about it."
"I see," she replied, teeth bared in a smile. "Then if it was all for a prank, could you two explain this picture, please?" A blown-up version of okami-san's picture appeared on the screen behind them.
"Oh, my Okami-san took that. We hadn't clued them in on the date just being a prank, because we didn't want that getting back to the president - and you know how he is!" Kyoko explained with a sparkling smile of her own. "Okami-san wanted to take a picture of us, since this would have been my first date ever… and she's a fan of Ren-san, naturally."
"I'm honored," Ren said with a smile.
"So this was your first date?" Himari asked, ignoring the okami-san comments.
"If it had been a real date, it would have been. But I guess this counted more as an acting exercise, given that it was a prank?" She tilted her head, and Ren nodded in confirmation.
"Then your future boyfriend will have quite the uphill battle if he wants to impress you!" Himari gave another predatory grin. "Is there anyone vying for that title?"
"No," Kyoko replied simply. Kuon had to bite back a laugh. "And I don't intend to find a boyfriend anytime soon, regardless. I want to focus on becoming a proper actress before I think about anything of that sort."
"So you weren't moved, even a little, by your 'date' with Ren-san?" Himari asked, incredulous. The audience murmured in agreement.
Kyoko gave a tinkling laugh. "Certainly - anyone would be! But I know I'm too young for Ren-san. I'm still in high school, after all."
Himari's frustration was growing. They were lying - she knew they were lying, but she couldn't prove it. They must have planned beforehand what they were going to say. "Ah, but then why are you two such good friends, if the age gap is such a big deal to you?"
"It is romantically; friendship transcends age." Sparkles from Ren's smile now covered Kyoko's ankles.
"While that is a lovely sentiment, Ren-san, I find it hard to believe in this context." She gestured up at the screen, which now had a loop of pictures from later on in their date - both the ones leaked by the photographer and the ones caught by paparazzi. "Especially considering that we've never seen such a smile on your face before, even when you were acting as Katsuki in Dark Moon."
The loop of photos stilled on one from when they had danced by the carousel; Kyoko fought back a blush. Ren - no, that was definitely Kuon - was giving her his heavenly smile as they spun, and an incredibly powerful one at that. More than that, he was laughing! Laughing with abandon, his expression completely unguarded. And there she was, beaming back at him, her cheeks flushed with joy.
"Well, we had to put on a convincing show for the president, didn't we?" Ren asked, the sparkles from his smile now reaching Kyoko's mid-shins. "And I am glad you find it more convincing than the smile in Dark Moon. I strive to always improve my acting."
"Then, what about these?" she asked, and picture after picture appeared on the screen, creating a collage. There was one of them right after the carousel, when he was helping her off the horse; had he really been making such a face? Worse was the one of them eating potato pancakes - when he'd eaten the one she was holding in front of his face. His eyes sparkled with mischief in the picture, while she blushed furiously. Then there were the royal portraits - including ones he didn't realize had been taken. Sure, he'd known that the photographer had gotten a picture of him kissing the tip of her nose when she looked back at him, but he hadn't realized the mirror scene had been captured. Or the moments before the shoot actually started, when she was exclaiming over the clearing and he watched her. Kyoko, sitting next to him on the couch, fought a blush. Had he really been looking at her so lovingly? That was a Kuon face - Tsuruga Ren didn't look at anyone like that (or at least, not at anyone else). Even worse was a picture taken through the windshield of his car. She recognized that face, remembered that moment - they'd been talking about the faerie kingdoms, their hearts, Cor Meum and Cor Tuum. Then there was the picture of the two of them entering his apartment building - and finally, most damningly, there was the picture of them in their street clothes outside of Darumaya, when she had kissed his cheek at the end of the night, the tiara still sparkling on her head.
"Again," Ren said, after the last picture had appeared on the screen, with his stunned face shown to the world, "we had to put on a convincing show. The president is not easy to fool."
"And again, I find that far too convenient of an explanation." Her eyes narrowed. "For any of this. And if you wanted to fool the president, why not go on a date with a woman your own age? You've been quite insistent that Kyoko-san is too young for you, so why involve her at all? I'm sure any number of your past or present co-stars would have loved to go on such a date with you."
"And that's exactly why," Ren replied, a stranglehold on Kuon, "it had to be Kyoko-san. She understood that this was a prank, nothing more. I was concerned that someone else might misunderstand."
"You've said many times that Kyoko-san wouldn't misunderstand," Himari replied, eyes boring into him. "Almost as if you were trying to convince yourself, rather than me."
How true that had been, four days ago. Her words caused him no pain now.
Kyoko laughed, drawing Himari's attention. "With all due respect, Himari-san, I think you're the one trying to convince yourself of something. You seem so intent on Ren-san and I being romantically involved, despite knowing how outlandish our president is." She gave another giggle, then added, "Besides, don't you think that if Ren-san was dating anyone, even a newbie like me, our love-obsessed president would be celebrating, rather than arranging for us to come clear this up?"
Himar glowered at Kyoko, her professional facade slipping. The crowd murmured, and she hitched her smile back into place. "Well, then - even if this was a prank, even if you were acting, we never knew that Ren-san was such a romantic! How on earth did you come up with something like this?"
Kyoko smiled and turned to look at Kuon as well. She knew the answer, more or less, but was still blown away by the details. And wanted to know how he would answer it.
"Well," he said, giving an openly awkward smile and rubbing his neck in fake embarrassment, "I guess it goes back to when I was ten."
Kyoko tilted her head at him. No. He was not going there. Oh, she would get him for this.
"My dad had to go to Kyoto for work, and took me with him. I got bored pretty easily back then, so I kept wandering off to play in the woods." At Himari's surprised look, he added, "I know, I was a bit of a nature kid."
"You seem more like a city boy, true - very cosmopolitan," Himari said with a smile. Okay, this wasn't going the way she planned, but Tsuruga Ren never talked about his childhood. She could work with this.
"Anyway, I came across this gorgeous little clearing, and was playing there by myself - when suddenly, someone burst through the foliage." He gave a soft smile. "She couldn't have been more than six at the time, and she was crying. But she stopped as soon as she saw me… and asked if I was a fairy."
"A fairy," Himari echoed dully. Kyoko had to fight to keep her blush down. This was so embarrassing.
"Yeah. She was so sad, and so sweet, that I couldn't help but play along. I'd been taking some martial arts and gymnastics lessons back then, so I could jump high enough to convince her I could really fly." He chuckled, and no one missed the soft glance he subconsciously stole at Kyoko. "I kept going back there every day to play with her, right until Dad was done with work and we had to leave. I don't know which one of us was more devastated." He gave another embarrassed grin. "So I guess that's where I got my soft spot for fairy tales. It reminds me of my old friend, and my first role."
"And that girl was Kyoko-san," Himari said. "Oh, please don't feign surprise. No one missed that look you just gave her."
"Ren-san," Kyoko whined, burying her face in her hands. "Did you really have to tell that story? I mean, I get why -"
"Why?" Himari asked. Oh, this was more interesting than she had thought.
"Because he still sees me as a six-year-old!" Kyoko said, blush out in full force now. "He's been teasing me about fairy tales ever since we realized that we'd known each other back then."
"Sorry, sorry," Ren said, no hint of remorse in his voice. Oh, he had screwed up, big time, and he knew it. "You're just so easy to tease." Crap.
Kyoko wanted to stick her tongue out at him, but instead gave an exasperated sigh. "See?" she said to Himari, blush dying down. "He still treats me like a kid. That's why he knew I wouldn't take the whole prank the wrong way."
Ren grinned. "Guilty as charged." Okay, maybe Kyoko would be the one to save them. Again. "But you had fun."
"So did you, mister faerie." Kyoko gave him a mock glare, but then laughed. Ren laughed with her.
Himari was flabbergasted, and so was the audience. First, there was the image of Tsuruga Ren as a fairy. The fact that they could almost see it was frankly a bit disturbing. Second, these two clearly had a history deeper than Dark Moon. Third, Ren was acting even more carefree and childish than his Katsuki ever had with Momose-san's character. Fourth, these two were clearly, stupidly, head-over-heels in love. No amount of careful words and scrupulously concocted stories could cover up that up, acting be damned. Even if they didn't realize it yet… or were in deep denial.
"The president's face was priceless," Ren continued, once his laughter had died down. He did not like the look on Himari's face. "He was ready to throw a parade, and then looked at me like I'd stepped on his cape. I got quite the scolding."
"I guess I'm going to get one after this is done," Kyoko continued, oblivious to Himari's expression. An almost Natsu grin slid across her face. "He accepted it as an acting exercise, but I think he's going to be upset we didn't tell him we knew each other."
"Why is that?" Himari asked, narrowing her eyes and slipping out of her shock. "Why hadn't you told anyone about that before now?"
"Because I want to rise through my own merits," Kyoko replied. "Though I guess that's been upended a little. I'd still rather be known for my acting than for being anyone's anything."
"Yeah, sorry about that," Ren said. "I wasn't really thinking when I asked for your help on this."
"And I was? I wanted revenge for the pink monstrosity, thank you." She nudged the bag resting at her feet. "Seriously, do we need a reminder of how that burns out your retinas?"
"Don't you dare," Ren said, tone joking, as she reached for the bag. "The audience has received enough shocks today, they don't need more eye damage."
"So, did you two knowing each other help Kyoko-chan get on Dark Moon?" Himari asked. Should she just let them banter? But she needed to know.
Ren snorted. Snorted! "Please. Kyoko-san would never talk to me again if I used my influence to help her."
"Exactly!" She was offended. "Director Ogata asked me to try making a Mio after he saw me as the deadly angel in Fuwa-san's PV. Besides, I didn't even know he was him then."
"And your Mio changed the course of the show." He gave her a soft smile.
"What do you mean, you didn't know he was him then?" Himari asked, an eyebrow raised.
Kyoko gave a cute little pout. "Someone recognized me months before telling me."
"In her defense, I do use a stage name," Ren said, sending the audience a placating grin. "And am a few feet taller than I was at ten."
"Oh? How did you recognize her, then? I'm sure that Kyoko-san looks quite a bit different now than she did at six." Oh, this was good. Not as good as a relationship confirmation, but certainly good enough for a story. And Ren clearly gave this girl special treatment.
"Well, there I was one day at LME, walking beneath a stairwell, when suddenly this little stone falls in front of me," Kuon said - oh, and was he ever Kuon again, Ren had definitely left. And he seemed to have inherited his father's knack for telling stories about his loved ones. Next to him, Kyoko had leaned down and was rummaging in her bag. "It looks so familiar, so I pick it up."
"And it changes in the light, just the way you knew it would," Kyoko said, holding out the stone. Her face was a vivid pink.
"And then, as if that wasn't enough of a shock, someone," he says, taking the stone from her and holding it up to the light so the audience could watch it change colors, "comes barrelling down the stairs, eyes full of tears, yelling her childhood nickname for me."
Himari watched in stunned silence. When had anyone seen Ren smile that widely in person?
"But," he continued, giving the stone back to Kyoko, "it was actually the stone's name. So I asked her if she had lived in Kyoto, just to make sure - it had been so long, and it seemed like an impossible coincidence."
"And then made fun of me, saying that it was a stone native to Kyoto, then teasing me for not realizing that was a lie." She held the stone tightly, as if afraid it would fly away. "I was so irritated that I didn't question how you knew I was from Kyoto to begin with."
Ren chuckled. "Well, I was freaked out. Yes, really!" he added, seeing the disbelief on Himari's face. "I just had no idea how to handle something like that. And I guess it made me revert back to my old self for a minute. Sorry about that."
"No, you're not," Kyoko said with a roll of her eyes. Her voice held no venom. "But can you believe he didn't tell me until after filming wrapped for Dark Moon?" The audience made noises of shock and frustration, too caught up in this obvious love story. "See? They get it."
"Hey, I didn't want a bomb like that to mess with your acting. It was your first drama, after all." He ruffled her hair without thinking about it. "Though you did handle it better than I did."
"Hey!" she protested, smoothing her hair down.
"Are… are you two sure you're not dating?" Himari asked, finally rejoining the conversation.
"Yes," they answered in unison. The audience laughed.
"What makes you ask it like that?" Ren asked, turning back to Himari. "We've made it quite clear."
"You have said it many times," Himari replied. "Forgive me for saying this, but I don't think that anyone has ever seen you this happy, Ren-san."
"Well, it's true that I've not shown this side of me to the public before," Ren replied, after a moment. "I'm just glad that you're all taking it so well. I was worried about how everyone would react to me being a prankster instead of just a gentleman. I guess that was really the experiment part of all of this."
"And what made you decide to do it?"
Well, I can't say I'm a fool in love. Obviously. "A chicken told me to."
"What?" Himari blinked as Kyoko's mouth went slack.
"I'm a fan of Bridge Rock," he admitted with a grin. "Bo, the mascot on the show - I guess he's more of a rooster than a chicken - is just so carefree and impulsive. I guess he inspired me."
Kyoko snapped her mouth shut. Oh, he was so going to get it later.
"Bo seems to be awfully popular today," Himari observed. "I heard a rumor that he was the reason that the Hizuris appeared in today's filming."
"Really?" Ren asked, eyebrows shooting up. "I hadn't even heard that they were in Japan."
"I'm surprised you haven't heard about it," Himari said. "Though I guess you've been dealing with rumors of your own!"
"Which, hopefully, we've cleared up now," Ren said with an easy smile, "especially since it looks like we're out of time."
Himari glanced at the clock. He was right. Damn. "Well, thank you both very much for coming."
"Thank you for having us," they chorused, and Kyoko gave another seated bow. The audience applauded, more confused than ever.
As soon as they were back in Lory's office, Kyoko rounded on Kuon. "Why?"
"Why what, princess?" he asked, his lips twitching as he tried not to grin.
"Why did you tell them about Corn?" Her face was burning.
"That was rather stupid," Kuu said, coming over to them, "especially since it completely undermined what you went on there to do." Despite his words, he was smiling.
Lory was unable to hide his grin. "Now the rest of Japan gets to suffer like I did, watching you two oblivious idiots dance around each other."
"But we weren't -" Kyoko began to protest, but then her new mom turned on the TV. They had recorded the interview - of course they had - and Kyoko felt her face go pink as she watched. "I thought we were just… acting like normal. Before the date happened."
"You were," Kanae replied, glaring daggers at her best friend's boyfriend. "He wasn't. He kept sneaking glances at you with that stupid smile on his face, and told obnoxiously sweet stories. Which, judging by your reaction just now, are completely true."
Kyoko blushed. "I didn't know it was him until yesterday, but otherwise yes."
Kanae stalked towards Kuon, growling, "I swear, if she gets hurt because of this, I'm going to -"
"Ahem," Lory called over to the trio, as Kyoko began fret over whatever threats Kanae might make, "perhaps we should look into the reactions from the public, first?"
Kuu and Julie had their phones open, scrolling through two different social media platforms as the reactions flowed in. There were the expected, nasty ones - of course, mostly aimed at Kyoko, as such things are still incredibly sexist. But, beyond all hope, the responses were overwhelmingly positive. And, as Lory had said, suffering, because their interactions had somehow convinced the public that they were head-over-heels for each other but held back by their differences in age and status.
"Why… why are they so okay with this?" Kyoko asked, sitting next to Julie and peering at her screen.
"Probably because your story is straight out of a sappy manga," Kanae sighed, flopping down on her other side. "Or a fairytale. Or both."
"Oh, there's already fan art! How cute!" Julie said, wrapping an arm around Kyoko and tugging her closer to look at it. Someone had taken all the photos found in the press and made a collage, along with some stills of their interview. She gave it a like, then scrolled down further, finding a drawing this time - a cartoony sketch of the two of them dancing. The artist had given them both faerie wings. Julie gave that one a like as well. Kyoko blushed, both from the fanart and her mom's hug. Then Kanae gave her a sympathetic pat on the hand, and she thought she might just faint from happiness.
On the other side of the room, Kuon was getting a scolding from Kuu about 'keeping his face in check' and 'knowing when to tell stories.' "Really, I get it - I want to brag about her, too! But there's a time and place, son."
"Yes, Dad," Kuon replied. He really did feel bad about it. He was still riding the high from last night, and hadn't been thinking straight. He had forgotten to put up as many public barriers as usual since his favorite person knew the truth.
"Brag all you want to your Mom and me. But keep your Tsuruga Ren persona in place until you're ready, alright?"
"Yeah." He gave a small smile. "I just - forgot. I've not been this happy in… years."
Kuu wrapped his son in a hug, and was thrilled when Kuon hugged him back.
Lory took pictures of the two scenes. Yashiro was working busily in the corner, as he was their manager and therefore had actual work to do in this situation. Sebastian hovered next to him, helping, and then went to open the door. Maria barreled into the room.
"Grandfather, it's horrible! Onee-san and Ren-san were just pranking - oh." She blinked. Who was that fairy-like woman sitting with her arm around Kyoko? And who was that man hugging Ren? Sebastian shut and locked the door behind her.
"I'll explain," Kyoko called. Maria ran over to her and jumped into her lap, hugging her.
"Onee-san, is it true? Was this all a prank?" Maria looked up at her with wide, betrayed eyes.
"No, that's just what we're telling the press for now. Mom, Moko, and I were just looking to see how the public's taking it." Kyoko smiled, tucking one of Maria's curls behind her ear.
"Oh. Good!" Then something dawned on her as she remembered what Kyoko had told her during their sleepover. "Your… mom?"
"Well, she's his mom, technically, but -"
Maria's eyes went wide, connecting the dots of what was said in the interview and what Kyoko had told her during their sleepover. "So she's Titania!"
Kyoko nodded, then giggled as Maria leapt off of her lap and gave Julie a very pretty curtsy. "It's nice to meet you, Titania-sama!"
Julie, who had been watching this situation with an adoring smile on her face, beamed at Maria. "It's nice to meet you, too! What's your name, little elf?"
"Ah, my apologies." Lory swept over, resplendent in his cape. "This is my granddaughter, Maria."
"Maria-chan! Of course!" Julie said, her eyes lighting up in recognition. "Your adorable granddaughter!" She leaned forward, fluffing Maria's hair. "I hope my grandkids will be even half as adorable as you."
Kyoko flushed a brilliant shade of red.
"Mom!" Kuon whined, walking over to them. "Please. Kyoko and I haven't even been together a full day yet."
Julie pouted at him, then turned back to Maria with a smile. "Then I'll just have to spoil you and your big sister until then!"
Kuon, content with this, went over to check on Yashiro.
Maria sat back down in Kyoko's lap with a giggle. "Grandpa spoils me plenty. You can give my spoiling to onee-san!" After all, if anyone deserved it, it was her onee-san!
"Ooh, I like the way you think!" Julie said, tapping Maria's nose.
Kyoko turned to Kanae, desperate and embarrassed. "Moko!"
"Kyoko!" she replied, matching her tone. When Kyoko continued to look at her, Kanae sighed. "Mo! You're going to be fine. The public's taking it insanely well, probably because it's so damn unreal that you guys found each other again. And there's the whole forbidden-but-mutual love aspect, which they're eating up." She rolled her eyes. "You're probably going to escape this damn pink curse, too."
"Nope!" Lory proclaimed, appearing in front of them. "You still have a ways to go, Mogami-kun, in what you so helpfully explained in the interview as 'self-love'!"
"That insane humility and self-deprecation is pretty damn annoying," Kanae said, unhappy to agree with the president.
"I'm sorry!" Kyoko said, unable to bow because of Maria in her lap. Maria and Julie were still looking through the public's reactions.
"The incessant apologizing is part of that," Kanae added.
"She's right, my pretty little pixie!" Julie added, leaning over to press a kiss to Kyoko's temple. "Especially when it's over such silly things."
Kyoko bit back another apology and started playing with Maria's hair. And then her whole body began vibrating. She pulled out her phone - she had turned it back on after the interview - and checked, in case it was from Darumaya. She groaned when she saw it was an 'unknown' caller.
"What's wrong, onee-san?" Maria asked, recognizing a very subdued version of Kyoko's dark energy. She pursed her lips at the phone. "Is it that Shotaro-baka?"
"I really don't know how he keeps getting my number," she grumbled.
Maria grinned and plucked the phone from Kyoko's hand. "Let me handle it." She hopped off of Kyoko's lap and answered, putting on her best little-kid voice. "Hewwo? Papa?"
"Nuh-uh. Is mama's phone."
"Nuh-uh. I wike dino-saws. 'Cept the -" she was cut off by an angry voice on the other side of the line.
"'Kay. buh-bye!" She ended the call and trotted back over to Kyoko. "Hopefully that'll fix it!"
Kyoko swept her into a hug. "You're the best!"
"Alright," Kanae said, standing, "it's getting late. Kyoko, where are you staying tonight?"
Kyoko blushed at the implications. "I - I was planning to go back to the Darumaya."
"Not a good idea," Yashiro said, standing at last from his work station. "The media figured out that it's where you live from the pictures. I just talked with the okami-san," he added, at Kyoko's stricken face, "and they're fine, she said her husband was managing to intimidate most of them, and a fair number wound up eating there instead. She's very apologetic about the whole situation, and we agreed that it would be better to find you more secure lodgings for a while."
"Is my place safe enough?" Kanae asked, raising an eyebrow.
Maria slid off Kyoko's lap so she could launch herself at her best friend. Kanae staggered at the impact. Used to this, the president thought for a moment. "It may be, but I'm not entirely certain."
"Onee-san should just sleep over again!" Maria chimed in, now in Julie's lap. "Nowhere's safer than there, grandpa."
Julie sighed. "But I don't want to be away from either of my babies! I just got one back and only just met the other!"
Lory grinned and swept his cape around dramatically. "Then you can all sleep over! It shall be a party! A grand reunion of love!"
"Alright, then I'm going to get going," Kanae said, finally extricating herself from Kyoko's grip. Kyoko pouted at her. "Don't you try to use that face on me, it won't work. And I couldn't go even if I wanted to. It's the youngest brat's first birthday."
Kyoko perked up at this, understanding. "Wish Akko-chan a happy birthday for me!"
"Yeah, yeah. Enjoy your family time, too." She bowed her goodbyes to the others before glaring at Kuon.
He raised his hands in surrender. "I remember. Rose garden with my blood."
"Good." She left.
Kyoko smiled, then turned around to find Lory beaming as well at Kanae's growth. It was small, sure, but it was definitely something. She hadn't even complained about cake calories!
Dinner at the Takarada mansion was as insane as expected. They laughed, they talked, they ate - and Lory surprised them more than a few times. By the time it was all over and Maria had been tucked into bed, Kyoko was exhausted. The past twenty-four hours had been life-changing in so many ways that her head was spinning at the thought of them. After assuring that Maria was asleep, Kyoko snuck out to the gardens. She needed quiet, somewhere to think. Or not think. Just somewhere peaceful. She sat on one of the benches next to the fish pond, soaking in the moonlight. Faeries danced on the water, almost enough to bother the fish, but not quite. The leaves on the bushes rustled in the wind, and she shivered.
"May I join you?"
She turned around to see Kuon smiling at her. "Of course."
He sat down, and she leaned against him. "Cold?" he asked, wrapping an arm around her. How many times had he imagined doing this very thing?
"A little." She rested her head on his shoulder. "Sorry for vanishing like that. I just… got overwhelmed."
"Do you want me to go?"
"No." She smiled up at him, admiring how his hair glowed in the moonlight. "It's just… a lot more than I'm used to."
"Which bit?" he asked, his other hand finding hers.
"All of it?" she laughed, gesturing with her free hand. "It's… everything was so different this time yesterday."
"Sorry for everything happening… so all at once." He looked down and saw the reflection of the moon in her eyes, the way the beams of light danced on her skin.
"It's not like you planned it that way." She stroked the back of his hand with her thumb. "Besides, it's us. Has anything ever gone smoothly?"
"No, absolutely not." He brought her hand to his lips and pressed a kiss to it. "Keeps things interesting, at least."
"Noooo, don't say that. That'll make something weird happen." As if on cue, she began vibrating wildly, and pulled out her cell phone. "Unknown caller. Again."
"We should really say something to the president about this," he sighed. "It's getting into stalker territory."
"Mm-hmm. I just don't know if he's done enough for it to count. Plus, I really thought that Nacchan would have stopped him - or Maria-chan."
"What did Natsu do?" This should be fun.
"You remember that stupid promise I made, that I needed your name for the loophole?" She glanced up at him as the phone continued to ring.
"Yeah?" He shifted his arm and held her a little closer.
She settled her weight to rest against him. "Well, I may have told him that Tsuruga Ren, the perfect gentleman, never existed in my heart. That he forgot to close the loophole." She smiled up at him. "Right, Kuon?"
He chuckled, a low sound that warmed her insides. "Are you sure he recognized you, if you were Natsu?"
"Mm-hmm. I called him 'Shotaro' to make sure." She was so warm, so comfortable. "Natsu really liked the flabbergasted look on his face. And then I got to tell one of the other girls your pun, a bit later. When she asked where I got these." She held her free hand up for his inspection, wiggling her fingers in the moonlight. The butterflies sparkled and glimmered. Her phone stopped vibrating, but there was no beep confirming a voicemail. "They didn't get it, but Nacchan enjoyed it."
"And did Kyoko?"
"Definitely." She brought her hand down, placing it on the hand he had on her waist. Her phone started vibrating again, and she sighed. "I don't want to turn it off in case Okami-san and Taisho need something, but this is getting annoying."
"Yeah, we really should talk to the president about this."
"True, unless…. Do you want to handle it?" she asked, a mischievous gleam in her eye. She slipped her hand off of his and picked up the vibrating phone.
He took it from her, a gleam in his eye as well. "Hello?"
"Kyoko - who is this?" came Sho's voice, grating on Kyoko's ears.
"You called me, you should know who I am. Who is this?" Kuon raised an eyebrow. Kyoko muffled a giggle against his shoulder.
"Damn it, is this Tsuruga? Give Kyoko her phone back!"
Kuon bit back a laugh. "I'm sorry, who is this?"
"You know damn well who it is! Let me talk to Kyoko!"
"I couldn't hear you, what did you say?"
"LET ME TALK TO KYOKO, DAMN IT!"
"I'm afraid there's no one here by that name. Perhaps you have the wrong number?" He glanced down at Kyoko, not bothering to hide his grin. She returned one of her own.
Sho cut off the call, then dialled again.
"Hello?" said Kuon again, this time in English.
"Give Kyoko the phone. Now."
"Pardon?" he asked, still in English. "Who's calling?"
Kyoko sighed, and tugged the phone out of Kuon's hand as it started vibrating again. He raised an eyebrow. She gave him a smile he knew all too well, one that had tortured him for weeks, as she answered. "Stop calling me. I'm busy."
"Damn it, Kyoko! Where did that pin-head get off claiming to know you from being kids? And you're fooling no one with your pathetic little act!"
"Because, cheese-brain, he was telling the truth. I never told you because you wouldn't have believed me." She rolled her eyes, and Kuon chuckled. The sound carried over the phone.
"Are you seriously with him right now? It's night!"
"Are you seriously calling me?" she countered. "I'm done, Shotaro. I don't know how you keep getting my number, but you need to stop contacting me. I'm over it. All of it. I'm grateful, actually, because everything you did led me right to where I needed to be. And I've honestly never been happier in my life."
"What the hell do you -"
Kyoko cut him off. "Tell the press if you want, about the stage names I tried to choose. In light of all of this, it won't hurt me. But remember that I have people who love me now, for the first time in my life. And remember that it's all thanks to you." Her voice was more tired than anything else, and she did not know how deeply that last line cut him. "I'm not yours, Shotaro. Not anymore. And I never will be again. So stop calling me, or I'm going to get our companies involved."
She ended the call with a sigh. Kuon pressed a kiss to her temple. "Well-said."
"Hopefully that'll shut him up. And remind me to tell taisho and okami-san about him. They like him at the moment, because he knows how to eat fish properly." She snuggled into him. "Can we stay out here a while longer? I'm not ready to head back in yet."
"Of course," he said, resting his head against hers. "After all, you came out here to relax. And you need to relax more, since that idiot insisted on being involved."
She hummed. "I'm surprised you're not angry."
"Him calling. Repeatedly. You usually go all Demon Lord whenever he's mentioned."
"Yeah, sorry about that." He breathed in her scent. "It's never been because I was mad at you. I was always just… jealous. And pissed at him for how he treated you."
"Jealous?" She tilted her head to look up at him, eyes wide.
"More jealous than Cain was whenever someone looked at Setsu." He tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. "I was always jealous about how much of your heart he took up, even if it was hatred. And wound up taking it out on you. I'm really sorry about that. I'm working on it."
"Well, Setsu threw Manaka for the same reasons, so I get it." She tilted her head, questioning. "Why did she insist Cain was so nice, anyway?"
He grinned. "Cain walked up, and she was shaking - she just reminded me so much of you in the moment that I couldn't help but smile at her. One of many times I broke character during that."
She pouted. "You didn't make it easy on me, you know. Stupid hamster," she muttered the last bit in English.
"Hamsters, cockroaches, and beagles. Just our luck, huh?"
"At least we have faeries and roosters," she said, biting her lip to hide her smile.
He looked at her - and they burst into laughter, the sound echoing around the otherwise quiet garden. Kyoko's eyes glittered in the moonlight, stealing Kuon's breath away more than his laughter ever could. No. He needed to wait; this had already been overwhelming for her. Their laughter slowed, leaving them staring at each other. They had agreed to go slowly, to ease her heart into this. She shifted, not leaving his arms entirely, but pulling back enough to sit in seiza on the bench, bringing them more eye-to-eye. Gods, he was so lucky. She was more than anything he could have ever hoped for - and she was his ideal, had always been his image of a Japanese woman. And here she was, in his arms, looking at him as if he had hung the moon in the sky. The very moon that shone down upon them, making her look ethereal. Making her eyes glimmer, making her hair shine. Making her skin glow as she raised one of her hands, her slim, chilled fingers tilting his head to face her.
And then she kissed him, her warm, soft lips pressing against his own. It was slow, sweet, and by far his favorite kiss yet. It even topped the one in Guam, because now it was real - real for both of them. After everything, they had found each other again. Even with everything life had thrown at them, they were together. The two people most against love had found it in one another, had saved one another, time and time again. Had helped each other out of the darkness. Had written their own fairy tale.
Eventually, the happy couple went back inside, cheeks flushed from the chilly night air and their fingers interlaced.
For the first time in his life, Hizuri Kuon believed in a happily ever after.
Mogami Kyoko knew she had found hers.