Omake Part Two: Home Again

The car ride was quiet. Ren's eyes flickered over to Kyoko as she stared out the passenger window. He felt painfully aware of every precious second of what would be a too-short drive.

"What were you talking about earlier?" Ren asked, startling Kyoko from her near-nap.

"Mhnn?"

"Earlier, in the Love Me Room. I seem to recall you were in the middle of a discussion." Ren waited for Kyoko to respond, but nothing came. He prompted her. "Was it about work?"

"Yes!" Kyoko hastily agreed. "Yes! Um, we were, uh, talking about one of Moko-san's new roles!"

"I'd prefer if you didn't try to lie to me." Ren stared out ahead at the road, his voice calm. "If you don't want to tell me about it, you can just say so."

"I'm sorry!" Kyoko cried, scrambling. "I'm so sorry! I should—"

"It's fine." Ren relaxed. "Let's try again, shall we? What were you talking about with your friends?"

Kyoko mumbled something.

"Sorry, I didn't catch that." Ren smiled. "Would yo—"

"ARE YOU MY BOYFRIEND?" Kyoko blurted out, completely forgetting they were in a car and she didn't have to yell.

"I'd certainly like to be." Ren smiled, waiting for a reaction. But instead of blushing or stuttering or even launching into a protest, Kyoko was silent. Damn. Was it too much? Maybe he was being too pushy. "Did I upset you?"

"No! It's stupid!" Kyoko's face was burning. She felt so stupid. "I'm being dumb. I'm so sorry! But what does that mean?" Kyoko reasoned aloud, muttering to herself, "... like to be...so... not yet?... or maybe— we're not..."

"I'm sorry. You're right. That wasn't a straight answer." Ren ran a hand through his hair and smiled ruefully. "I think it's habit. Too much experience dodging relationship questions in interviews."

"Playboy." she muttered the accusation on reflex, then slapped her hand over her mouth, much to Ren's amusement.

"Are you my girlfriend, then?" Ren asked, his shy, hopeful smile completely at odds with his calm, almost confident tone.

"HUH?!"

"That's not an answer." Ren teased. So she could ask if he was her boyfriend, plain as can be, but apparently him asking if she was his girlfriend was too much. Really, this girl. The car pulled into the alley behind the Darumaya. Ren turned off the engine, turning in his seat to face Kyoko. She unbuckled her seatbelt and waited.

"Can we talk about this?"

"About what?"

"The fact that we are dating?" Kyoko froze, turning into a perfect imitation of the shocked emoji. Ren gave a tiny puppy-Cain pout. "Do you not want to?"

"NO! IT'S NOT THAT! Definitely not!" Kyoko cried. "It's just— me!?" The actress buried her face in her hands, shaking. A thousand thoughts came into her head, all demanding her attention at once. The press will think it's some weird joke! I can see the headlines now! 'Pretentious fledgling upstart actress thinks she's good enough for Japan's Number One Star!' DATING?! Kyoko was unaware that Ren was staring at her in fascination as her face cycled rapidly through shock, horror, indignation, disbelief, and confusion, her mouth moving along with her thoughts. The actor wished he was better at reading lips. Finally she shook herself loose from her thoughts and looked up at him, almost tearful.

"But you're you, and I'm nobody. Tsuruga-san can't really want to date me! I'm not worth—"

Ren put his finger on her lips. Kyoko instantly went still.

"I don't think I want to hear the end of that sentence." His voice was gentle but firm, his hand lingering on her mouth for just a moment before he drew back.

"But you're Tsuruga Ren." Kyoko said in a deathly solemn tone, her voice filled with reverence.

"What if I wasn't?" Ren asked lightly. Kyoko's brow wrinkled. Ren took both of her hands in his and looked up at her earnestly. His tone was even, his voice betraying only a hint of the tension that lay underneath. His thumbs rubbed soothing circles across the backs of her hands, his brown eyes looking steady and serious. Kyoko didn't know what to say. Was he actually asking her? He was Tsuruga Ren. So why was he looking at her with such longing, like he expected an answer? But he continued— "Tsuruga Ren might be a star, but that's just… Underneath, I'm just an ordinary man." If she had been able to find her voice, Kyoko would have protested that nobody would ever, under any circumstances, in any plausible universe, call Tsuruga Ren ordinary. Ren could see the thought written on her face. A wave of guilt washed through him. Honestly, he wasn't just an ordinary man— he was worse. Much worse. Kuon was tainted. He was a sinner. He didn't deserve to be happy. He didn't deserve anyone's affection, and certainly not hers. If he was stronger, better, he would have been able to suppress his feelings for the girl in front of him, prevent himself from falling more in love than he already had. But Kuon was weak, and he had been blind. By the time he realized it, it was too late. He didn't have the strength of will to fight it. He wanted to surrender, to throw himself completely into her orbit, let her burn away his past, his mistakes, to become the person she thought he was, someone worthy of her love. Kuon knew he was not worth saving, and yet he reached out and clung to her all the same, unable to resist. He gave her a pained smile.

"It's true." He swallowed a lump in his throat. "I'm not anything special. But I would feel like a prince, if you, Mogami Kyoko," — she sucked in a startled breath— "agreed to be my girlfriend." He looked at her, recklessly, knowing he had no right to hope, and hoping all the same. Kyoko wanted to cry. She opened her mouth, but the words died on her tongue. What could she say, that didn't seem hollow? Any words that came to mind seemed thin and insubstantial. Everything was inadequate. So she did the only thing she could. Kyoko gathered her courage. When Ren finally met her eye again, he was thrown off by the fiercely determined look on her face, which was totally undermined by the cautious, delicate way her hands traced up his arms to touch his cheeks, her hands guiding his head down until their foreheads touched. Ren couldn't help it. He closed his eyes, breathing in the scent of her hair. All he wanted in the world, the universe, was to stay just like this, for the rest of his life. He was sure that he had never wanted anything or anyone so much. Ren drew in a shuddering breath as Kyoko's fingertips wove into his hair, tugging lightly, guiding his mouth to meet hers. It lasted for only a moment before she pulled back the smallest possible distance. Ren bit off a groan.

"Tell me." She whispered, close enough that he could practically feel the movement of her lips against his as she spoke. "What can I do? To make you feel at ease. I'll do anything, so," her eyes flickered briefly. "Tell me."

Ren moved automatically. His mouth was on hers, one arm wrapped around her waist, his hand running up and down her spine, trying to pull her closer, his other hand kneading her thigh right above her knee. He had kissed her before, but never so… deliberately. It was too much. Kyoko took her mouth away.

"Please," he whispered, coaxing her back. His mouth moved against hers with such sweet desperation. When he drew back at last, she was wide-eyed and struggling not to pant. Unable to look him in the face, Kyoko buried her head against his shoulder, breathing in the scent of Ren's cologne through his sweater. He seemed content to simply wrap his arm around her as well as he could, pressing his lips to her hair, telling himself ten more seconds, and ten became another, then, twenty, then thirty, until the pins and needles creeping up Kyoko's thigh could no longer be ignored.

"Um, Tsuruga-san…" she said tentatively.

"It's Ren, if you don't mind," he murmured against her hair.

"R-Ren-san, my leg…" He reluctantly let go enough so Kyoko could ease back into the passenger seat, his arm still hovering around her waist, telling himself he was just making sure she was steady. Part of him fought, not wanting the moment to end, even though the more rational part of him was aware of just how bad it would be to get caught making out with Kyoko in his car. The entire evening had gone spectacularly, especially when Ren considered how bleak it had looked at the outset. It was almost too good to be true. He didn't want it to end. But it had to. As he helped her out of the car, it suddenly loomed over Ren that he didn't know when he was going to see her again. An irrational fear blossomed as he walked her to the door: he would lean down to kiss her, only for her to stop him and explain that she could only ever see him as her senpai.

They stood there, underneath the light on the small porch. Finally, painfully nervous, Ren bent cautiously down. Kyoko stiffened, still not prepared for the sight of Ren's impossibly handsome face inches from her own. Despite what had just happened in the car, she still couldn't help freezing a little bit as soon as her brain processed that Ren was about to kiss her. Ren's lips brushed against her cheek, one hand on her shoulder, the other resting lightly on her waist. He didn't dare touch her any more than that, or he wasn't sure he had the self control to leave. He pulled back. Kyoko started to reach up towards his face when the back door suddenly sprang open, the silhouette of the Taisho illuminated from the glow of the back hall. Instantly, the teen sprang back away, looking immensely sheepish. The chef's inscrutable gaze flitted back and forth between the two actors. He cleared his throat.

"It's late." He said gruffly.

"Yes! I'm sorry for disturbing you at such a late hour!" Kyoko bowed to her landlord, whose eyes did not leave Ren's face as he moved aside to let Kyoko into the house. She slipped past the older man, glancing briefly back at Ren with a shy smile and a bow. "Goodnight, Ren-san." She was gone up the stairs before Ren could reply. Ren stood uncertainly on the back porch for a few seconds, trying not to fidget under the older man's stare.

"Well, goodnig—"

"Are you going to be bringing her home again?"

Only Ren's years of acting experience kept his full shock from appearing on his face. It was the most words he had ever heard the chef speak. He could only manage to stutter out an affirmative.

"Next time, come to dinner." The brusque chef nodded, then, without further words, swung the closed in Ren's face, missing the actor's nose by less than an inch.

Ren drove back to his apartment in a daze. Two challenges issued in one night. He pulled into his parking space, wondering what other overprotective figures in Kyoko's life were going to put him through the ringer. He had a feeling that he had gotten off rather easier than Love Me #2 had intended that evening, and was sure the dark-haired actress would be in full battle form next time.

Ren arrived back at his dark, empty, apartment and laid down in his immense, empty bed, every square centimeter of unoccupied space taunting his solitude. His arms felt empty and cold, his memory recalling every detail and sensation from earlier in the night when he had held Kyoko against him, warm and sweet and impossibly perfect. It had been barely two minutes, but for another moment like that, Ren could tolerate anything — even Kotonami's frigid observation and the silent ferocity and culinary aggression of the restaurant owner. For Kyoko, he was pretty sure he could go through anything.

Kuon smiled as he drifted off to sleep.

- Fin -


A/N: 2021/11 - the kiss scene above (and previous one) are both an homage my original OTP, Daine and Numair fromRealm of the Gods by Tamora Pierce. Any original sentences have been altered or removed.