In which Kyoko takes a magazine article a little too seriously and Chiori encourages her to have a conversation with a beloved senpai that she normally would have avoided. Because who doesn't love a little manufactured drama?
For the July 7th 'pictures' prompt
"Ugh, Kawagoe Michika. Kill, kill, kill," Chiori muttered under her breath.
Kanae slid into the booth next to her with one eyebrow raised. "I thought you'd rehabilitated your borderline homicidal ways, Amamiya-san."
"I did." she rolled her eyes. "But this article is doing little to help matters."
Chiori rolled back the pages of the latest issue of Boost she held to show the article in question. Kanae leaned over, noting the use of brightly colored fonts and ridiculously flattering pictures of celebrities surrounded by hearts and stars. She read the title and only just managed to hold back the guffaw of laughter that threatened to sneak out. Across from them, Kyoko nudged her drink to one side and leaned forward to get a better look.
"What is this?" she asked, pulling the magazine from Chiori's hand.
"Well," the word stretched from Chiori like soft mochi as her lips stretched into a sly smile, "it's a list of the top twenty celebrities that people would most like to kill, marry or fu—"
"Chiori," Kanae cut her off with a warning tone, her eyes shifting to glance over at Kyoko.
"What?" Chiori's face was the picture of insincere innocence. "She's not a child. We can use vulgar language around her. Once she's in this industry long enough, she'll hear a lot worse."
Their bickering was for naught as Kyoko ignored them in favor of skimming through the lists. The names were in ascending order and the lettering increased in size once it got to the top ten. Her face tried to twist itself into knots when she didn't see two names in particular on the 'Kill' list. She quickly flattened it out in hopes that no one else would notice her slip up. But that was nothing compared to the facial gymnastics she performed when she moved on to the top three of the other two lists.
"This is unforgivable," she protested, holding the magazine out at arms' length like it was covered in slime.
"Why is Tsuruga-san at the top of this list but not on that one? Worst of all his name is lower than… than… him," she said the last word with heavy disgust.
"I mean, doesn't that make sense?" Chiori interjected. "Most people would probably see themselves marrying someone driven and mature like Tsuruga-san."
"But this list implies he is less attractive than Fuwa Sho," she spat out the name like phlegm caught in her throat then continued with her tirade. "That's impossible. Did they not watch Dark Moon? He has more sex appeal in his left pinky than that arrogant singer has in his entire body."
"Oh really?!" Chiori purred.
Chiori heard the delightful sound of Kyoko clamping down on the bait and her lips stretched into a wide grin. Kanae went pale at the sight of it, fearing what was to follow. She awaited whatever was about to come out of LoveMe Number Three's mouth with wary, narrowed eyes.
"Does that mean you want to fu—"
"Amamiya-san!" Kanae was quick on the draw, stopping Chiori (again) before she could further embarrass their friend.
"It was a simple question." Chiori shrugged it off. "But there's nothing wrong with the rankings. Fuwa-san is a musician whose brand is his voice in addition to his face and it's extremely common for singers to be marketed as having this raw, magnetic type of sexuality to them. It's part of what keeps the screaming fans coming back for more."
The other two were stunned by her logical reasoning and sat in silence. Chiori resisted preening in front of them and, instead, reveled in their shock.
"Besides, that whole Prisoner music video? A demon falling in love with an angel? If that doesn't scream innuendo I don't know what does," she continued. "Tsuruga-san may be the popular choice as a romantic lead in dramas and movies, but he's going to have to take more risks and turn more heads as he did as Katsuki if he wants to move up on this list."
Kanae took a long sip from her glass before sighing and shaking her head. Kyoko, on the other hand, looked thoughtful. Two fingers lightly encircled straw sticking out of the oolong tea she'd ordered, their position was long forgotten as she stared into the distance with her lips pressed into a thin line. At one point she even nodded, agreeing with some unspoken thought in her head.
"Mou, Kyoko, I don't know who you're talking to up there but you're leaving the rest of us out of the conversation."
"Sorry, " she apologized. "I was just processing Amamiya-san's argument and she made some very good points. Tsuruga-san has taken mostly safe roles that sort of stay within a certain realm with few exceptions."
Kanae just shrugged. "That's probably because of what's been offered to him. He has a pretty face that is perfect for a very specific subset of characters."
This prompted Kyoko to ponder the situation behind Tragic Marker. Sure, there was a certain exhilaration to be had from masquerading as a different actor, but what was it about Tsuruga Ren that made it impossible for him to show up on set as himself? She wasn't sure she wanted to think too hard about that potential answer.
"It's just not fair." Kyoko pouted, pushing her straw around her drink. "He puts so much effort into every role, he should be able to choose from anything he wants to do."
"And have everyone in this country want to bone him?" Chori asked with a dry laugh.
"I mean, it's sort of similar to the reason why President Takarada put us in this special division isn't it?" Kyoko poked the tips of her index fingers together and looked down at the table, trying to hide the pink in her cheeks behind her hair.
"It's not similar at all," Kanae chimed in, flatly.
"Can you imagine if it was?" Chiori guffawed. "LoveMe would have a much more explicit name."
"Oh my goodness, no. That's not what I meant at all," Kyoko cried and all pretense of hiding her embarrassment vanished. "I just meant that, as actors have we truly explored the full extent of our talent if we can't convince people to see us in all sorts of ways? Even… even th-that way."
"Do you think you'll talk to Tsuruga-san about this?"
Chiori asked the question with her true intentions never showing on her face. There was something incomparably satisfying about egging on Kyoko when it came to her esteemed mentor. She'd sussed them both out a while ago, but was content to leave them to their own devices. LME's president meddled more than enough to make up for it anyway. Still, when perfect opportunities presented themselves to her, she was loath to let them slip by without stirring things up at least a little bit. It was almost as enjoyable as writing in her poison notebooks.
Kyoko wrinkled her nose. "Absolutely not. It would be inadvisable for someone like me to even consider it."
"I dunno." Chiori shrugged. "Maybe you'll get some interesting insight from him as to why he's made the choices he has. For all you know, it could be intentional and he prefers being in that spot on the list."
Kyoko went quiet again and Kanae wondered how she could be giving Chiori's ideas any merit. There was no way Tsuruga Ren put that much thought into his ranking in a list so inconsequential. Unless it served only to spark the type of debate in which they'd engaged, thus making him the subject of conversation across the country. If that was the case, then it wasn't Ren who deserved the accolades.
She huffed a quiet laugh to herself. It was his manager who was the evil genius.
Lost in thought as she was, she mostly missed when Kyoko noticed the time and shimmied her way out of the booth to leave. She only caught the tail end of her thanking Chiori for her thoughts and that she would consider asking Ren about the article. She was gone before Kanae could suggest that she reconsider. Looking over at the remaining fellow LoveMe member, Kanae frowned.
"Did you have to encourage her like that ?"
"No," Chiori admitted between laughs that grew more devious by the second. "But can you imagine being a fly on the wall during that conversation?"
"Mogami-san, I'm not sure I'm comfortable with having this discussion."
Ren flinched—actually flinched—away from the magazine Kyoko brandished; a picture of his face smiled back at him from the page. She'd all but ambushed him with an article he hadn't yet seen when they met at his apartment for dinner the following evening and the fight to keep his eyebrows from fleeing into his hairline while he read was arduous. That sort of thing was typically handled by his manager, provided it was worth paying attention to in the first place. Needless to say, he was woefully unprepared to talk about it.
Especially with her.
To be fair, Kyoko wasn't doing any better. She was operating on pure adrenaline and audacity that was quickly waning. Neither of them could look the other in the eye, which was both a godsend and a crime as they missed the cherry-stained cheeks each of them wore.
"I—I just wanted to know if you were concerned at all by your rankings." She nudged clumps of rice around her bowl, talking more to it than to the person sitting across from her. "If it was something to be concerned about… you know… for future reference."
Being the slow eater that he was, Ren was grateful to not have food in his mouth at that time. The probability that he would have choked on it was impossibly high. Still, he cleared his throat of some invisible obstacle before responding. It would be very hypocritical of him to say that he hoped her name never ends up in an article like that. It would also be very selfish, he realized.
"I think it's an indicator of how impactful you, and the characters you portray, are. A lot of people tend to equate us with the roles we play."
"That's what Amamiya-san said too," she said, sounding somewhat disappointed.
He frowned in confusion. "Was there some other wisdom you were hoping I'd provide?"
"I wanted to know how you felt about it. Does it challenge you at all to try for more diverse roles so that you can change the way the public views you? Should it even be viewed as a challenge? Does it have any merit in being used as a benchmark for the work you've put in up until now?"
Kyoko paused to take a breath. At least, that's what Ren hoped the reason was and that she wasn't expecting him to chime in. The majority of his energy was focused on making sure he didn't gape at her for taking such a magazine article so seriously. Then again, he wondered if he wasn't taking it seriously enough.
"I got… I got upset when I saw where you were on th-that list," Kyoko avoided calling it by name, hoping he'd know what she meant. "I thought you would have been ranked higher than Sho and, when you weren't, it made me angry. But Amamiya-san managed to convince me that maybe you preferred that ranking and that's why you don't take more adventurous roles. And that got me thinking about you and Kain and Tragic Marker and—"
She trailed off, unsure of how to continue; her chopsticks long forgotten on the table and her hands flailed about without rhyme or reason. Ren reached out to capture one of them with his own, wrapping his fingers gently around hers. Kyoko stopped moving and looked at him with wide eyes.
"Mogami-san, it's fine," he assured her. "I have to admit that I haven't put as much consideration into this as you have. I agreed to be part of Tragic Marker under a pseudonym because it was a low-risk way to branch out into a different type of role. If people were unhappy with my portrayal of Blackjack, it wouldn't be associated with the name of Tsuruga Ren. If they loved it, well, that meant I could try a few more under my normal stage name. But all of that was done mostly for the sake of testing my growth as an actor."
He thought to leave it at that, having said his piece. However, the urge to make an additional comment was strong and he gave in with almost no resistance.
"My ranking, as far as that particular piece of journalism is concerned, means very little to me in terms of public opinion. There's only one person whose opinion would ever matter." A coy smile tilted his lips.
"Oh?" Kyoko asked, mostly expecting Yashiro's name to follow.
Ren nodded. "Yes, but she's already told me that she believes I deserve the top spot on two of the lists."
Kyoko's confusion soon turned to realization and she felt her breath catch in her throat. Color flooded her cheeks and Ren basked in its crimson glory with smug satisfaction.
"O-oh," she whispered.
Ren repositioned their hands to lace his fingers through hers. "Give me some time." He leaned closer to her and intentionally dropped his voice lower. "I'll make both of those come true."
Once Kyoko regained the ability to breathe, she was probably going to give him hell for that.
But he wouldn't have it any other way.
THAT SLIGHTLY SPICY ENDING THO. I almost removed it and then thought "Nah, let's leave it in there; it makes me giggle."