Later that evening, Kyoko knocked on the door to Ren's apartment with no small amount of trepidation. Ren was kind, but behind his gentlemanly public persona was a sharp-tongued perfectionist whose pointed criticism always seemed to hit exactly where it hurt the most, delivering each blow with a perfect camera smile still on his face. Ren wielded his words like a scalpel, and Kyoko knew, with deep certainty, that she was about to go under the knife.

But Kyoko had not expected that Ren would use one of her own scoldings against her, almost word for word. She sat meekly on the couch, like a good kohai, as Ren articulated his disappointment in Kyoko's unprofessionalism and hypocrisy with laser precision. The irony that Tsuruga Ren, the man who had lived off of booze and cigarettes as Cain Heel and couldn't scramble an egg, was lecturing her on the importance of nutrition was not lost on Kyoko. Only her utmost respect for her esteemed senpai kept her from interrupting Ren's lecture to point this out. Ren finally finished, and the living room was silent.

Then her stomach growled. Kyoko winced, hoping Ren hadn't heard. He merely raised an eyebrow, his expression clear: I told you so.

"Um, I'm sorry to impose," Kyoko asked, "but would you mind if I made some tea?"

"A hot beverage is not a substitute for a meal, Mogami-san," Ren frowned, even as he led the way to the kitchen. "I believe you know that, since you've told me so yourself. Several times."

Kyoko didn't have a good response for that, so she chose not to answer and busied herself with the kettle. Ren pushed ahead.

"You should listen to your body. It's not healthy to ignore such things.""

"I'm fine, I'm not actually hungry," Kyoko said, avoiding Ren's face and frowning down at her stomach. It wasn't totally a lie— after biting him in the Love Me Room, Kyoko was much less hungry than she had been over the past few days. Besides, being hungry seemed like it was just going to be her new normal. Kyoko sighed.

"You have a new role, right?" Ren countered. "Plus you told me you started modelling. You're working a lot of hours. You need to eat, otherwise you won't have the energy to perform to the best of your abilities." Ren tried to speak with objective authority. He was concerned about her wellbeing, he rationalized. It had nothing to do with his personal desires, he was worried about her health. Ren told himself that he would do the same for any colleague or friend in a similar situation — which very well could be true (Ren was a very kind man). But part of his conscience countered that Ren probably wouldn't be quite so insistent if it was Kijima sitting on top of him instead of Kyoko. He wished that part of his conscience would shut up. Not that it mattered. Kyoko seemed determined to refuse his help.

"I'm fine," Kyoko said with such blasé confidence that Ren was momentarily impressed. If he hadn't seen her weakened state earlier that day, he might have believed her.

"You're not fine." Ren said firmly. "When I saw you in the office, you were too weak to open a door."

"That's because I had just woken up! I was groggy. I would have been fine." Kyoko insisted.

"Please don't lie to me."

"I'm not!"

"Alright, then. Prove it."

"I told you, I'm not hungry!" Kyoko said hotly, plainly growing exasperated. "How do you want me to prove that, exactly!?"

"Fine, point taken." Ren said easily, catching Kyoko off-guard. The tall actor leaned forward, setting his elbow on the kitchen counter and putting his hand up, palm to the side. "Show me you aren't weak." He wiggled his fingers at her in challenge.

Kyoko's eyes narrowed. "That's hardly fair." She gestured at his frame. "Even if I trained for weeks, I probably wouldn't beat you!"

"I'll let you use both arms, how's that?" He raised an eyebrow at her. "Or are you so weak that you don't stand a chance, even with that handicap?"

Kyoko glowered. She wanted to wipe the smug grin off his face. With a proud toss of her head, she plopped herself down and set both her elbows on the table, grasping Ren's hand firmly. He smiled.

"On the count of three?"

"Go on three, or three then go?"

"Three then go," Ren clarified. He flexed, squeezing her fingers a little, but not too hard. Kyoko clearly didn't appreciate his taunt. "Alright. One… two… three… go."

The arm wrestling match was over almost before it began. Despite her advantage, Ren easily pushed Kyoko's arm over, pinning her hand to the counter under his.

"You cheated!" She accused. "Rematch! You started early!"

Ren complied. But Kyoko didn't win the second match either. They switched so Ren had to use his left arm. It made no difference. Kyoko was utterly defeated, and the smug grin on Ren's face grew even wider.

"Fine, so you won." Kyoko griped, massaging her wrist lightly. "That doesn't prove anything."

"Now, now" Ren chided, "Don't be a sore loser."

"Maybe if you weren't so freakishly strong…" Kyoko grumbled to herself. Ren heard, but ignored it.

"Since I won, I should get a prize, no?" He leaned in close to her, grinning.

Kyoko kept her lips pressed firmly shut.

"Don't you agree?" Ren leaned in, smiling. She muttered something under her breath. "Who's acting like a yakuza?"

"If you wanted a prize, you should have said so before we agreed to play," Kyoko said primly. She clumsily tried to change the subject. "It's late, I should really get going…"

"I'm happy to give you a ride home," Ren offered.

"Oh, no! That's alright!" Kyoko immediately demurred.

"I wasn't finished." Ren said. "I was going to say, I'm happy to give you a ride home. After you've eaten something."

"Won't you let it go?" Kyoko said irritably, then blanched at her own tone. "I'm sorry. I know you're only trying to look out for me. But really, you don't have to."

"I'm worried about you," Ren's eyes were deep and serious. Kyoko's hand still rested on the kitchen counter; he took it in his. "Why won't you let me help you?"

"I...I really appreciate your offer," Kyoko avoided his gaze, but she didn't pull her hand back. "But really, I'm fine. Besides, Moko-san will be back soon, and then I ca—"

"So you'll accept her help, but not mine?" Ren winced. That had come out wrong. He had meant to sound concerned, not jealous. But he couldn't help himself. "Am I no good?"

"It's not that," Kyoko said evasively. She looked down at her feet, obviously reluctant to say more. An unpleasant thought occurred to Ren.

"Am I—" he struggled, not sure how to phrase it. "Am I… not to your taste?" Ren could never have imagined that he would be insecure about his blood tasted. "Is Kotonami-san… is she more…"

"Moko-san is delicious." Kyoko said wistfully. Ren thought he saw a flash of red in her eyes.

"What about me?" Ren asked, feeling incredibly pathetic.

"You're…" Kyoko flushed. She pulled her hand away. "It's different."

"Different...bad?" Ren couldn't stop himself from asking.

"NO!" Kyoko exclaimed. She finally looked up, her face full of apology and concern, aghast that he would even think— Kyoko stopped. Ren was grinning. She scowled. "So, you're making fun of me."

"What? No,of course not!" Ren held up his hands, placating. "I'm sorry, I'm not making fun of you," He fought to keep the grin off his face. Kyoko looked at him warily, surprised to see Ren's cheeks a tiny bit pink. His eyes twinkled mischievously. "I've just never had a girl tell me she likes the taste of my blood before."

"You are making fun of me!" Kyoko wailed, hot with frustration and embarrassment. "You don't get it! You don't get what it's like! I know you're just trying to be nice! I know! And I'm grateful, I really am! But I just— I don't want to—" she paused, wiping her eye roughly. "Moko says she doesn't mind, but I'm sure it hurts, and it makes her tired. How can I do that to her?" Kyoko's face was a mask of anguish. "I'm tired of being a burden." Kyoko's voice broke. She paused, trying to collect herself.

"I don't like being hungry," she admitted in a small voice. "But it's better than being a leech." Kyoko spat the last word, her voice sharp with disgust. Kyoko wished she had Corn with her. If she had Corn's magic, Kyoko was sure that if she told herself she was fine enough times, it would come true. But here, in Ren's kitchen, without her childhood comfort, she felt defeated. She miserably tried to shrink into the kitchen counter stool.

Ren didn't know what to do. He was frozen. He was such an idiot. He had been blind. Ren had been too caught up in his own petty jealousy, and he had let her suffer alone. He wanted to run away, so that he didn't have to witness Kyoko's pain, and his own failures. He wanted to sweep her into his arms. He wished he could rewind the entire evening, redo all of his actions, be supportive instead of selfish. He wanted to hold her, to tell her that everything would be okay, that he would shield her from anything, that he would take all her pain away.

"Mogami-san…" Ren began, then stopped. No. Screw it. They were past that. "Kyoko. Look at me, please." Ren gently touched her chin, his own heart breaking as Kyoko bravely squared her shoulders and met his eyes, determined, but afraid. It only made him more ashamed. And more desperate to fix everything.

"You are not a burden. And I don't think Kotonami-san would like it if she heard you say that." Ren's mouth was suddenly dry. What if he said the wrong thing, and scared her away forever? What would he do? Maybe he should stay quiet. Then at least he wouldn't make it worse. But that was cowardly, and Ren knew it. Kyoko had found the courage to be honest, and vulnerable. If he wanted to be worthy of her, then he had to at least try to be brave too. Ren swallowed the lump in his throat.

"You treasure Kotonami-san, right?" Ren began, trying to find his footing. "You'd do anything for her." Kyoko nodded. "So why can't you understand that someone would do the same for you?"

"It's different!" Kyoko protested. "I— I'm— my—"

"If the situation was reversed, would you give your blood to her?" Ren asked.

"OF COURSE!"

"Would you demand that she pay you back somehow?"

"NO!" Kyoko said, aghast. "She can have all my blood! She doesn't owe me anything! That's preposterous! Kanae deserves everything! She— " Kyoko was winding up to start a full blown rant when Ren gently touched her arm and gave her a meaningful look. Kyoko paused.

"Oh."

"Listen, I know that… You might not…" Ren paused. Shit. This was hard. Kyoko was looking at him, clearly confused, but too polite to interrupt. Ren bit back a sigh. She didn't see where he was going with this. Of course she didn't. He gathered his courage. "I also care about you."

Ren's tone was light, but his gaze was serious. Kyoko felt herself turning bright red. She was suddenly aware of her hand in his. She twitched, almost as if to pull it back.

"You're important to me, Kyoko. I know that maybe you don't… think of me, like that, but…" Ren forced himself to swallow. Now was not the time for a full blown confession. "You're an important part of my life. You give me so much. So I hope that you can accept I want to help you, to give something back, too. Whatever I can." Ren's palm was sweaty with nerves. But he didn't want to let go of her hand. At least she hadn't protested. She hadn't run away screaming. He was well aware that he should count it as a victory that she was still in his house, sitting next to him, letting him touch her. Or more likely, she had convinced herself that his entire speech simply meant he thought they were friends. Ren could almost see the wheels of explanation turning in her head.

Ren was wrong. Or at least, partly wrong. Kyoko was stunned into silence. She was aware he was watching her for a reaction. But she didn't know what to do. She couldn't just dismiss his words. Ren was a natural playboy, but he was also sincere. He wanted to help her. He said that she mattered to him. She didn't really understand what that meant. That he cared about her the way she cared about Moko-san? Did he mean more? Kyoko shook her head. It didn't matter. For the first time in a long while, happiness bubbled up inside of her. Kyoko looked up, meeting his anxious look with a shy smile that Ren returned tenfold.

They relocated to the living room. Ren sat down on the couch. He no longer had to feign total indifference to her proximity. Kyoko seemed to accept that he cared about her— as a friend. At least. He wasn't quite sure. He would have to explore the boundaries of that at another time. Right now, he could at least allow himself to openly enjoy her closeness. Kyoko was pacing back and forth in front of the couch, suddenly nervous.

"Are you sure?" She asked.

"It's fine. Relax." He grabbed her hand, pulling her onto the couch, so that she once again was straddling his lap.

"It's just… I know you said…" Kyoko tapped her lips anxiously, and Ren watched, jealous of her fingers. He caught her wrist, then wove his fingers through hers.

"Are you still worried?" Ren asked. Kyoko nodded shyly.

"I just… promise me you'll push me off? If I'm taking too much." Kyoko said, suddenly somber. Ren swallowed. There was no way he could do such a thing. He would happily let Kyoko suck him dry. He would die a happy man. She pinned him with a look.

"Alright." Ren pretended to relent. It was easier than telling the truth.

It was over far too quickly for Ren's liking. The actor suppressed a groan as he felt her tongue delicately licking his neck clean. Kyoko sat up with a contented sigh, but didn't leave his lap. She looked at him carefully. Ren grinned back at her lazily.

"Something the matter?" He teased, hoping to lighten her serious demeanor.

"I just want to make sure you're alright," Kyoko responded, eyes still scanning over him. "After that lecture you gave me about taking care of your body," She smiled at him wryly. The combination of her knowing smirk and the soft, warm weight of her in his lap was too much for even Ren's self control. His thigh clenched underneath her, and Kyoko shifted absently on top of him. Ren forced himself to exhale slowly. As much as he wanted Kyoko to stay sitting in his lap, she was a little too close for comfort. He helped her slide onto the couch next to him, his hand lingering around her waist as she snuggled into his shoulder. She glanced up at him through her lashes sleepily.

"Are you sure there isn't anything I can do for you?"

The first thought in his mind was part of his anatomy screaming at him. Yes, there are so many things I'd like you to do. So many things we could do together. Ren bit down on his tongue.

"I'm fine." He smiled at her, his fingers tracing lazy circles on the side of her waist.

Kyoko bit her lip. "Last time, we... uh… you seemed pretty tired afterwards."

"I think we both were." Ren's eyes shone with amusement. "But I'm feeling great. Really," he assured her. Then he glanced at the clock. "I should take you home. It's late."

"Are you sure?" Kyoko asked. She looked him up and down. Ren looked alright. She'd certainly seen him looking worse. But she felt bad. "You really don't have to, I can—"

"It's fine. Just let me drive you home." Ren insisted, and grabbed his keys. Kyoko relented.

The drive back to the Daruma-ya was short, each of them mostly lost in their own thoughts. As he pulled into the alley behind the restaurant, Ren looked over at Kyoko.

"Will I see you again tomorrow?" he asked hopefully. Kyoko looked at him blankly. "For dinner." He clarified. Kyoko flushed.

"You don't have to—"

"I want to." Ren interrupted. "I would like to see you tomorrow for dinner. Would you like to come over?" Kyoko nodded shyly. Then she remembered.

"Oh! I can't! Moko-san gets back tomorrow and I promised I'd make dinner for her to celebrate…" Kyoko trailed off, trying to picture her calendar.

"Why don't you invite Kotonami-san to my place?" Ren suggested. He wasn't exactly thrilled at the idea of sharing Kyoko for the evening, but was rewarded when Kyoko's face lit up.

"Are you sure?!" She checked, bouncing with excitement. Ren smiled, and assured her that he would be happy to have Kotonami-san as well the next evening. Kyoko thanked him effusively, promised to make a very delicious dinner, and bid him goodnight. Ren watched as she walked into the restaurant before driving home, a mix of trepidation and excitement in his chest.