Hello everyone! Thank you so much to everyone who has left me a review, and everyone enjoying this story! I've gotten several 'first' prompts that gave me an idea for a chapter, and this is one of them, so I want to give a huge thank you to everyone giving me prompt ideas! I love getting them and I hope you enjoy this new chapter!

The First Time He Conspired With Kanae

Kyoko felt as though she was spending the majority of her time over the next few weeks in physical therapy, although when she looked back at how often she was actually in the doctor's office vs time spent at work, she realized that was just because she really didn't like physical therapy. Not because it wasn't working...after two weeks spent carefully doing the exercises at home and dutifully working as hard as she could with the doctor three times a week, she could tell a huge difference. For one thing, her arm didn't hurt nearly as much when she moved it, and she found that she was able to do things like ride her bike much more easily. A week after Ren had taken her on her new favorite date at his apartment, she'd even been able to wrap both of her arms around his neck with only a little difficulty when he'd picked her up after Bridge Rock.

So it was working, and she knew it. But it hurt, and it was difficult, and she wanted to be finding more jobs, not spending what felt like innumerable hours (it was only 2) trying to get her arm to do what it had always done for her before. Kyoko tried not to complain though, because when she wasn't at physical therapy or in meetings for Box R, she was doing Love Me work.

Takarada-san had a list of acceptable Love Me tasks that she was allowed to perform, and those included mostly clerical things, like stuffing things into envelopes and stapling papers together, along with filing papers. Nearly everything else was off limits, apart from Bo, which he'd reluctantly cleared her for as long as the producer made accommodations for her. She thought he was being too cautious, but she didn't think he would listen if she tried to argue with him, so she just gave in without a fight, spending hours either in the Love Me room working on repetitive, menial tasks or in one of LME's many offices doing the same.

This, and the fact that Ren's schedule was too full for them to have very much time together, at least until he caught up on his modeling obligations, left her with plenty of time for school work. She had finished almost everything over the summer while they'd been filming in the US, making sure to dedicate several hours a week on assignments, but thanks to her injury, she'd gotten somewhat behind.

Then, three weeks after arriving back in Tokyo, Kyoko turned in her final paper.

It was a Friday night in late September, and Kyoko was finally done with high school.

She was going to graduate from high school.

She pressed her hand to her mouth, closing her eyes that were suddenly filled with tears that she tried to brush away, scolding herself for being silly. It wasn't that big of a deal, she told herself with a shaky laugh as she sat alone in her bedroom. Lots of people graduated from high school.

But she hadn't thought she would. Not after running away. Even after going back to school thanks to Takarada-san, there had been moments when she'd worried that she'd never finish.

Kyoko's fingers closed around her phone for just a moment, about to dial the familiar number, but she shook her head, placing it back on the table she was kneeling in front of at the last minute. Ren was probably still at work, she told herself. Besides, she wanted to get her grades back and get the official news before she told anyone. So she put the laptop away, placing it in its bag so that she would remember to take it to work the next day and return it to Takarada-san.

Kanae was in the kitchen already, preparing dinner for herself, and Kyoko joined her with a cheery greeting, feeling grateful once more that her friend was back. It had been strange to live in that apartment alone for the month before Kyoko had joined them in the US, and then for the two days or so before her friend had returned to Tokyo. It was nice to have someone else around…to hear her friend moving around the apartment and to cook together.

"I'm making enough for you too," Moko-san informed her without looking up from the stir fry she was making. Kyoko got to work pulling out the dishes to set the table.

"Thanks! How was work?"

"Fine. Does Takarada-san stil have you out of commission?"

"Yes," she told her with a sigh. "But I have a meeting with him tomorrow, so I can find out more then if I can audition for some more things." She would have to if she wanted to keep paying her rent. The movie in the US had paid well, of course, and with that money she'd made a big payment toward her tuition at the acting school and had, for the first time in her life, put a substantial amount in her savings account, but she couldn't live off that money for long, even her rent was split with Moko-san.

Also, it was nearly October, which meant it was almost Christmas, and that left her with a conundrum. She knew that Ren was from the US, and had probably grown up celebrating much more than she ever had. Although the inn had held a Christmas party every year, it had never been a major holiday. They got one another small gifts and took a few hours in the afternoon off, but that was all. But in America, she knew, Christmas was a big deal, and people would decorate their homes and their yards and even wear festive clothes.

Takarada-san had been on board with the party she and Maria had put on the year before, but she wasn't sure if Maria would want to have the party again, or what LME usually did on Christmas. Ren had worked on Christmas Eve the year before, and so had she...with everything going on, she wondered if she would be able to set up some decorations for him. And, most importantly, what she could give him.

All she knew was that she would need money for things like decorations, not to mention for Ren's present. It would be their first Christmas together, and she wanted to make it special. Besides, he'd given her such a beautiful present the year before...the rose, and Princess Rosa which, now that she knew him better, and now that she knew the origin of 'Corn,' she was starting to suspect had been a made up story so that he could buy her something, but she didn't have the courage to try and determine how much he might have paid for the little stone, or even what kind it was. She knew that Ren had expensive tastes, and that he had more money than she could probably dream of, so whatever she got him, she wanted it to be nice.

Which meant she needed to get back to work so that she could make more money to be able to afford something nice.

So the next morning while she was waiting for Yashiro-san to pick her up for work, Kyoko was already rehearsing in her mind what she would say to Takarada-san. Her arm was much better. Her doctor had even commented on how much she'd improved. She could lift it more with every session, and she was ready to start auditioning for parts again.

The sudden knock on her door pushed all of those thoughts from her head and she jerked to attention. Was she late, she wondered as she hurried to open it, then froze in surprise, eyes going wide.

"Ren!" she cried, practically jumping at him, and he chuckled, catching her easily and swinging her into his arms. She hadn't seen him since the previous Thursday when they'd risked going to a fairly nice restaurant in disguise, and although that had only been a couple of days ago, it still felt like forever, especially since Kyoko hadn't known that he would be carpooling with them this morning.

He stepped forward into her apartment, carrying her the three or so steps it took to get them inside and kicking the door shut behind him. His lips met hers as soon as they were safely inside, and Kyoko was glad that Moko-san had left earlier because she hadn't even thought about the possibility of her friend seeing them when he'd first kissed her. Ren lifted her up onto the step, remaining in genkan to ease the height difference, and she carefully wound her arms around his neck.

When he finally pulled away, he was smiling down at her just a bit mischievous, letting her know that he'd planned this surprise.

"When did you know you'd be picking me up?" she asked, making him laugh as she crossed her arms.

"Wednesday."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"I wanted to surprise you." He said it so simply, shrugging a little and grinning at her like a little boy, that she had to laugh. His grin widened, and he was obviously pleased with himself as she sat down on the edge of the step, pulling her sandals on and fastening the straps. As she got her shoes fastened, Ren's smile dropped, and he turned a little more solemn. "Takarada-san wanted to meet with me too."

Kyoko felt her heart drop. Ever since the incident outside of the restaurant, she had been worried that his fans would turn on him, or that the press coverage of him, and also her, would suddenly turn negative. She didn't blame him for being angry about what had happened, especially since Maria had been with them. But yelling at a group of fans didn't exactly fit the Tsuruga Ren image, and although his interview had gone over well, she still felt like she was waiting for the other shoe to drop, even though Ren had assured her many times that he wasn't in trouble.

Not wanting to jump to conclusions but unable to help herself, she swallowed, pulling herself to her feet. "Did he say why?"

"I think it has something to do with the Tragic Marker premiere."

"Oh…when is that?"

"In two weeks."

"Oh…"

"The director has been considering revealing Cain Heel's identity after they show the movie at the premiere," he told her almost conversationally as she locked the door behind her, him taking her bag and throwing it over his shoulder. She didn't even bother arguing anymore when he insisted on carrying her things, and from the little smile on his face, she had a feeling he was glad. Still, she murmured her thanks, and he took her free hand, the two of them making their way down the hall toward the elevator.

"Are you...okay with that?" she asked, remembering his explanation from before. She'd been under the impression that they wouldn't tell the public who he was, at least not for a while. Then again, she'd been kind of busy being shocked by the fact that the terrifying man she'd been afraid was about to kill her in an alley was actually Tsuruga Ren to pay close attention to his explanation in the alley.

And then she'd spent the majority of their time together as Cain and Setsu either trying not to think about the outfits she was wearing, trying to get into Setsu's character, or trying not to let herself think about how she felt about the man playing her brother.

So she hadn't given a lot of thought to what would happen after the movie actually came out.

"I knew that they might want to reveal my identity at some point...that was never an issue." He hesitated for a moment. "I'm proud of the work I did, and I followed the director's instructions for creating Cain Heel. I think the movie will be really successful, and it will probably lead to me getting more types of roles."

"So it's good, right? You did a great job, and you did what the director wanted…"

He was quiet for a moment. "It is good," he told her carefully. "For me. But if they tell everyone who Cain Heel is…"

"Setsu," she whispered, understanding suddenly, and he nodded, the two of them reaching the car where Yashiro-san waited for them.

"Right. People are going to wonder who played Setsu."

In the back seat, her hand in Ren's, Kyoko started to worry. "Do you think they'll want to release my identity as Setsu?" she asked after a moment as Yashiro-san pulled onto the road and began the short drive to LME.

"It wasn't really discussed since Setsu's role was something Takarada-san made up," Ren told her, and from the front, Yashiro-san nodded.

"The role of Setsu was technically classified as Love Me work," their manager told her. "So I would think that would be up to Takarada-san, and I don't think he would do anything to hurt your career, but I still want to speak to the director before we reveal anything to the public."

Kyoko nodded. She trusted Yashiro-san, and she trusted her boss, but she couldn't help remembering the way she'd acted as Setsu...how she'd pushed that woman when she'd gotten too close to her beloved brother, and how she'd been so rude to everyone else...she hadn't been as bad as Cain, but she'd been bad enough. Not to mention the clothes. Would everyone they'd worked with hate her? And what about the press?

When they arrived at LME, they headed straight for Takarada-san's office, Kyoko making sure to stay a respectable distance from Ren as they followed a few steps behind Yashiro-san. She did her best to maintain a professionalism with him at work, even if she wanted to hold his hand and ask him for some reassurance that she wasn't going to get in trouble for how she'd behaved as Setsu, and that the public wouldn't suddenly turn on her and realize that someone like her wasn't really good enough to be by the side of Tsuruga Ren. Instead, she smiled politely at anyone they passed, and fought to exude an air of calm. She was a professional actress, she told herself firmly. She'd just been doing her job. She hadn't done anything wrong.

Takarada-san was waiting for them in his office, a pot of tea ready on the table, and he took the laptop bag Ren handed him with a nod, waving away Kyoko's thanks. "No need to thank me. We have computers for you to use any time you need one," he assured her, gesturing for all of them to sit. "Besides, I believe congratulations are in order, Mogami-kun."

She cocked her head, taking a seat on the sofa beside Ren while Yashiro-san sat in the chair. Two pairs of confused eyes turned to her, and she swallowed hard. "Um...congratulations?" she asked, wondering if she'd been given permission to get back to acting and this was how he was telling her. Her boss smiled, taking a seat on the sofa across from her.

"You turned in your final high school assignment yesterday. You're officially done with high school. Congratulations, Mogami-kun."

Her face felt as though it had caught fire and she shook her head, waving a hand. "Oh...um...I mean, I haven't gotten my grades yet...so I haven't actually…"

"Nonsense. It's impressive that you were able to complete your final year so quickly, especially considering your schedule this summer, and your injury. Speaking of which," he said, moving on, as if to attempt to spare her some embarrassment. "Your doctor said that you are improving very quickly. How are you feeling?"

"I feel great! I'm ready to get back to work!" she told him brightly. "It barely hurts anymore, and I can do all of the exercises on my own."

He quirked a brow, looking amused, but after a moment, he nodded. "I want you to continue the physical therapy until the doctor clears you to stop, but you're cleared to get back to work. Just don't overdo it."

She promised not to, and then he turned to Ren and Yashiro-san.. "Has Konoe-san already reached out to you?"

"He did," Yashiro-san told him. "We let Kyoko-chan know this morning, since revealing Cain Heel's identity will affect her as well."

"True. What do you think, Ren?"

"If we can do it in a way that won't hurt Kyoko, I don't mind telling everyone that I'm Cain Heel at the premiere."

"Do we have to tell people who Setsu was?" Kyoko wondered. "I mean...could we just say that Setsu was an actress?"

"Ren's fan club would figure it out in seconds," Yashiro-san said with a sigh. "If you weren't dating, it might not be as big of an issue, but they'll be comparing Setsu to all of the actresses they can think of, and you'll be suspect number one."

It wasn't until after they'd left Takarada-san's office, having spent almost an hour strategizing, that Ren turned to her. Yashiro-san had stepped away to make a call, and they were alone in the wide hallway, but he still kept his voice down.

"Why didn't you tell me that you were finished with high school?" he asked her, not sounding upset, but she flinched anyway, feeling guilty.

"I'm sorry...I just...it wasn't official so I didn't think…" she laughed a little to herself, blushing. "Besides, it's not really a big deal. It's just high school."

"It is a big deal," he corrected softly, reaching out and taking her hand. "You worked hard. I'm proud of you." Ren leaned over and kissed her forehead, his hand cupping her cheek as he pulled away, and she felt tears spring to her eyes as she stared up at him, startled.

He was proud of her?

Her heart felt suddenly as though it would burst, and she tried to smile normally, dropping her eyes and swallowing hard. "Thank you," she whispered, not sure if that was the right response, but knowing that she couldn't say anything else lest the tears start to fall.

She'd graduated from high school. And Kuon was proud of her. Overwhelmed, she glanced around the mostly empty hallway before stepping forward, her head resting against his chest as he wrapped his arms around her.

How long had she waited for someone to say that to her?

He released her when footsteps approached, and they both turned to find Yashiro-san rounding the corner. If he'd seen anything, he didn't mention it, instead pulling out his planner. "Ren, we have a meeting in thirty minutes. Kyoko-chan, are you alright here?"

"Yes, thank you," she assured him, bowing a little in thanks. "I'm going to head to the Love Me room."

Ren snuck a quick kiss goodbye when Yashiro-san turned away, and she blushed the entire way to the Love Me room, hoping for the thousandth time that there wasn't someone monitoring the security cameras she knew had to be scattered throughout the building.

Once she'd gone through her Love Me work (more tedious clerical work that gave her plenty of time to brainstorm ideas for Kuon's Christmas present) she went to find Sawara-san in his office to look through any offers she might have received, and to try and find some commercials and other parts to audition for.

By the end of the day, she had a couple of offers to go over with Yashiro-san, as well as a list of auditions she wanted to attend for commercials and even a PV for a band she'd vaguely heard of. It paid well, which was her main objective, since Project Earn Enough Money To Afford Kuon's Present (which she'd just named a few hours ago) was now underway. Besides, she told herself as she stacked her papers and prepared to speak to Yashiro-san, the more experience and exposure she got, the better. She would get to try a bunch of different roles if she could get more commercials, and that could only be a good thing.

Yashiro-san took her request to audition for half a dozen commercials in stride, not seeming to see anything strange as he penciled the audition times into his planner, and together they went over the offers Sawara-san had received for her.

Over the next few days, in between physical therapy and more Love Me work, along with her acting classes, she read through her scripts and accepted a small guest starring role in a long running drama. Takarada-san had apparently asked Yashiro-san to keep her schedule free for a big project that she still didn't have the details for, but she was able to accept smaller, more limited roles. She'd also met with Konoe-san along with Ren and Yashiro-san to discuss how they would handle revealing Setsuka Heel's identity to the public.

She was so busy, in fact, that it took her a bit to notice the fact that, other than meetings and on Monday morning when they carpooled, she barely saw Ren. That wasn't all that uncommon, she knew. She missed him, but did her best to throw herself into her work and prepare for her auditions. She even had a phone call with her mother on Monday morning, explaining her injury more in detail when she asked, and planning to meet up for lunch soon.

Kyoko kept meaning to tell Ren about her upcoming meeting with her mother, and she wanted to ask his advice on what to tell her about her soon to be revealed role of Setsuka Heel, but over the next week, she couldn't help but notice something strange.

He didn't carpool with her on Tuesday, claiming that he had an early meeting, and she didn't really think anything of it at first. He met her for lunch later, the two of them eating at the LME cafe, and they talked about her offers and the commercials she was auditioning for in the coming weeks. They also talked about the Tragic Marker movie premiere, and everything seemed normal...except for the fact that he was obviously distracted.

Kyoko didn't bring it up, figuring he was thinking about upcoming projects or maybe he was nervous about the Tragic Marker premiere and how the public would react to learning that he'd played both BJ and Cain Heel. He was doing his best not to seem distracted, so she pretended not to notice, not daring to let her mind linger on the fears that popped up.

What if he was getting bored with her?

What if he'd met someone else?

What if he regretted their whole relationship?

Kyoko shook these thoughts off, scolding herself for being ridiculous. Kuon loved her. He wanted to spend his life with her. And just because he was distracted at lunch didn't mean that anything huge was wrong. It was probably nothing.

He didn't carpool with her on Wednesday either, which was strange but not unheard of. Their schedules didn't always line up. She knew that. And it was fine. They texted throughout the day, him checking up on her to ask how she was doing, and if her arm felt okay, and how her acting classes were going. She was busy trying to memorize the script for her upcoming guest role anyway. It was fine. She wasn't worried. She really wasn't.

And then, just as she was about to leave the office for the day, her phone rang.

Kyoko hurried to grab it as she was gathering her things from the Love Me room, answering it and sandwiching the phone between her ear and shoulder as soon as she read the name on the screen.

"Moko-san!"

"Hey. Are you busy tomorrow?"

Kyoko paused on her way out the door. Her tone was strange...almost urgent. But something else too. "Um...when tomorrow?" she asked, mentally going through her schedule.

"After you're done with Bridge Rock?"

"Is everything okay?"

"I was just hoping…" Her friend hesitated for a minute, then went on, sounding oddly resigned. "I was hoping you'd want to have a girl's night. Something...happened at work. And I was thinking we could get take out and eat ice cream and paint our nails and watch movies and...talk."

Her eyes widened, her hand coming up to cover her mouth to suppress a squeal of excitement. Moko-san wanted to have a girl's night! Moko-san never wanted to have a girl's night! And she wanted to talk to Kyoko about her problems because they were best friends and it would be like a real sleepover! Even though they lived together, Kyoko thought it still counted!

But then her heart dropped. Tomorrow was Thursday. Thursday was her date night with Kuon.

And then her eyes narrowed.

Moko-san knew that. She knew that Thursday was always the night she and Ren spent time together. So...either something really big had happened, or something fishy was going on.

"Actually, Moko-san, Thursday night is always date night with Ren. Could we maybe do something tonight instead?"

Before Moko-san could answer, the line beeped, and she glanced at her phone.

It was Ren.

"Can I call you right back?"

Kyoko switched over to the new call, suspicion mounting. "Hello."

"Good evening. How are you doing?"

Ren spoke just a little too quickly, and Kyoko narrowed her eyes at the phone before answering. "I think there's something wrong with Moko-san," she told him in a near whisper, leaning heavily into the worry in her voice.

"What do you mean?"

"She asked if we could have a girl's night tomorrow, and she knows that you and I always do something on Thursdays."

"Oh...um..actually, I have something I have to take care of tomorrow evening, so I was going to ask if we could reschedule our date night this week."

Ren wouldn't lie to her. Kyoko knew that. Because he'd promised never to lie to her again. And she believed him. But something was going on.

"Okay…" she told him slowly. "Is everything alright?"

"Everything's fine!" he assured her a little too quickly. "Don't worry, it's nothing bad. I just...ran out of time to get it done this week. So...how about Friday night? For date night? Would that be okay?"

He sounded earnest. And, she told herself, whatever it was, he wouldn't hurt her. If something bad were happening, he would tell her.

He loved her. He wasn't going to break up with her. He wasn't bored with her.

"Friday would be good," she told him, swallowing hard. "I love you."

"I love you too, Kyoko. It's nothing bad, I promise. Please don't worry."

So she didn't. Or...she tried not to. Instead, in lieu of figuring out what Moko-san and Ren were up to, she decided to take full advantage of their girl's night. It became quickly apparent that nothing was wrong with her friend, her flimsy excuse being that she was torn between two roles, and, to Kanae's apparent relief, Kyoko didn't push. Instead, she ordered ice cream and cake and picked out a whole stack of movies for them to choose from. They did paint each other's nails, and after they devoured their dessert, she confided in her friend that she wanted to get Ren something really nice for Christmas. Moko-san agreed that they could go shopping together sometime soon to look for something, and Kyoko nearly forgot about the mystery of what her boyfriend was planning.

When Friday evening rolled around, Ren arrived at the Love Me room to pick her up, a bag in hand, and a smile on his face. She felt herself relax as she stood from the table where she'd been working, meeting him as he shut the door behind him, her worries melting away. She leaned up to kiss him, standing on her tiptoes, sending up her thousandth prayer that if there were cameras in this room, that they weren't monitored as he put his hands on her waist and pulled her against him.

"Long time no see," she told him a little teasingly and he pulled away just long enough to smile at her before pulling her close again.

"Long time no see," he murmured against her lips. "I missed you this week."

"Did you get your...project done?" she asked, and he nodded.

"I did." Kuon finally pulled away, brushing his thumb over her cheek and smiling down at her. "I brought you something." He held up the bag for her to take, and she glanced inside to find folded black fabric that she had to assume was a dress.

"Ren…"

"You said I could buy you things," he reminded her, his smile mischievous. "Remember?"

"I didn't mean all the time!"

"You didn't specify the frequency with which I could buy you things."

Kyoko rolled her eyes, making him laugh.

"I want to take you somewhere, and that outfit is appropriate for the place we are going," he told her, maddeningly logical.

"And where we're going is…"

"A surprise." He kissed her forehead. "Hurry and you'll find out."

She did, having lost the will to argue too much with him about buying her things a while ago, although she still tried every once in a while. She would make it up to him, she had decided, with a really nice Christmas present, as soon as she figured out what that could be.

The dress was simple, but that didn't make it any less beautiful. The silver belt at her waist gave it definition, and the straps were thick enough to make it almost casual, and she wondered if he picked out clothes that he knew she could wear again. There were shoes at the bottom of the bag, a pair of black, dressy sandals that were easy to walk in, and when she looked at herself in the mirror she was pleased to see that she looked dressy, but not too formal.

But she wasn't sure what that meant regarding their destination.

It was kind of late for a movie, and besides, she wouldn't need to change for that. The outfit she'd been wearing would have been okay for most restaurants. And it could be something at his apartment again, but Ren was pretty good about surprising her, so she doubted he was going to pull the same trick twice in a row.

Ren was on his phone when she entered the room, and she watched him tap away at it before dropping the phone back into his pocket and turning to her. For a moment, he was silent, and she couldn't bring herself to meet his gaze as his eyes raked slowly over her. Finally, he trailed a hand from her shoulder to her hand, intertwining their fingers. "So beautiful," he murmured.

Suddenly, Kyoko didn't want to go to whatever it was he'd planned for him. She just wanted to be here with him. She wanted to sit together on the hideous pink sofa and kiss him until she felt dizzy and then...well, then she wanted to keep kissing him, and to see what happened next.

But they were at work, she reminded herself firmly, making herself meet his eyes. At work in a building that, despite her prayers and wishes, probably had cameras everywhere. Besides, she couldn't help being curious about where they were going. "Are...are you ready?" she asked, trying to control her blush, and he nodded, squeezing her hand and leading her out of the room.

To her surprise, Ren didn't lead her to the parking garage. Instead, they took the elevator down to the first floor, and then walked down a long hallway that she vaguely recognized. Despite her curiosity, she didn't ask where they were going, figuring he'd just tease her again. Besides, she thought with a little smile, this was kind of fun. She squeezed his hand, smiling when he glanced down at her, and he brushed this thumb over her knuckles, bringing them to his lips for a quick kiss.

Finally, just as her vow to herself not to ask questions was starting to wear thin, Ren stopped in front of a set of double doors. Leaning down, he framed her face with his hands and kissed her, making her forget for just a second longer about her curiosity.

"Congratulations," he whispered.

And before she could ask what he was talking about, he turned and pushed open the doors.

The sound of trumpets made her jump, the confetti that rained down her making her cry out in surprise. Slightly behind her, his hand on her waist as he guided her, Ren chuckled. On either side of her were two men dressed as royal guards, complete with giant horns, and a giant banner seemed to descend from the ceiling, the words 'Congratulations, Kyoko' printed across the front. But she barely noticed all of that because scattered around the room were some of her most important people.

Kanae and Chiroi stood beside Maria near the giant cake, while Yashiro-san stood off to the side beside a huge buffet table filled with more food than she could imagine them eating. She could see Sawara-san and Jelly Woods talking over by the chocolate fountain, pausing their conversation to smile over at her, and the Taisho and Okami-san were sitting at one of the many tables, while the Ishibashis were at another table nearby.

They all smiled when she stepped into the room, calling out a loud 'Congratulations,' and Kyoko had to press a hand to her mouth as she struggled to gather herself.

Ren leaned in, his mouth close to her ear. "For the record, I just wanted a small get together with a couple of people and a cake. This is all the President's fault."

She laughed through the tears that filled her eyes as Moko-san approached, shaking her head and wrapping her arms around her in a rare hug. "Don't cry. You'll mess up your makeup," she told her practically, making her laugh harder as she threw her arms around her friend. When her friend pulled back, she looked her over critically. "You knew we were planning something."

Ren's jaw dropped when Kyoko nodded. "What? How?"

"You were acting weird," she told him point blank. "And Moko-san just so happened to want to have a sleepover on the night you canceled our date."

He sighed, smiling sheepishly. "I was trying to distract you...that was the last night I had to deliver the invitations and I didn't want you to think something was wrong."

That made sense of course, so she decided that he never needed to know how worried she'd been at first.

Kyoko spent the next hour and a half talking to everyone in groups and trying to accept both the congratulations and being the center of attention. It felt almost like their Happy Grateful Party as everyone stood around the room, talking and eating from the buffet. Kanae caught her up on how Ren had approached her, asking if she would help him plan a party for her, and how the President had quickly inserted himself into the party planning. She also swore revenge for the double deserts on their girls nights, and warned Kyoko that they were going to start jogging more often. It was nearly nine pm by the time she sat down to eat, Kanae joining them at their table along with Yashiro-san, the four of them eating together.

Kyoko was about to get up and get herself a slice of cake, knowing that Ren wouldn't want a whole slice but wondering if he'd share hers, when he put a hand over hers.

"Kyoko?"

"Hm?" He looked a little worried and she turned to him, tilted her head. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah...actually, there was one more surprise." He went on before she could open her mouth to argue. "I didn't buy it," he assured her with a nervous laugh. "Actually...I didn't know if it would even work but…" he gestured toward the entrance and she turned to follow his gaze, her heart stopping when she spotted the familiar figure standing in the doorway. "I wasn't sure she'd come, but I wanted to invite her."

Kyoko nodded, lips wobbling a little as she met her mother's gaze, her heart pounding too loudly in her ears.

"I'll be right back," she whispered, fighting the urge to grab his hand and bring him with her.

She could do this alone. She would do this alone.

Her mother met her by the doorway, only taking a few steps into the room, and although only the people from their table were watching them, it felt as though all eyes were on them. She could practically feel the weight of Kuon's gaze, and she knew he wanted to be there with her for this. But...she wanted to do this on her own first.

She wasn't afraid of her mother. Even if she rejected her, Kyoko had a whole family now. It was silly to worry so much about what her mother would think.

She would be okay. She had to be okay.

She wished she was wearing Ren's necklace. Or that she had Corn.

"Hello, Mother. I didn't know you would be here. Thank you for coming," she greeted formally, bowing a little and smiling up at her. Her mother nodded, looking awkward and out of place in her business suit, her hands clasped in front of her.

"Yes. Tsuruga-kun said it was a surprise when he delivered my invitation."

"It was."

"He also said that you graduated from high school."

"I did...I just finished my final class last week." Kyoko nodded, deliberately taking a deep breath to try and calm down. "I didn't know he was going to throw me a party."

She waited for her mother to say any of the words she was afraid to hear...that it wasn't such a big deal that he'd needed to throw a party for her. That she should have graduated sooner. That being here was a waste of her time.

Instead, her mother gave a sharp nod. "I'm glad you were able to finish high school. He also mentioned that you did so while working full time, and despite a serious injury." The woman faltered for a moment, then gave what could almost be called a genuine smile. "That...that is very impressive, Kyoko. You did very well."

The words hit her like a truck, and it took every scrap of acting talent she had to keep her smile in place. She would not cry in front of her mother. Her mother hated it when she cried. So she just bowed her head. "Thank you, Mother."

"You've recovered from your injury?"

"Yes. I'm able to work again, and I'm almost done with physical therapy."

The woman nodded again. "Good." She looked a little awkwardly around the room, seeming almost nervous, and Kyoko wondered if Ren was still staring at them. "Well, I only wanted to stop by."

"Of course. Thank you so much for coming."

"Are you still available to meet for lunch next week?"

"Yes. I actually wanted to talk to you about something."

"Very well. I'll see you next week." And with the lightest pressure, as if practicing, she put a hand on Kyoko's shoulder. "I am proud of you, Kyoko."

And then she was gone.

Kyoko waited for fifteen seconds after her mother left to leave the room, heading the opposite direction and practically running until she reached the bathroom, her heart pounding, her breaths coming in gasps as she slammed the stall door behind her and dropped onto the closed toilet lid. A shaking hand clamped over her mouth, she closed her eyes and forced herself to breathe evenly. She was fine, she told herself firmly. This was stupid. She had nothing to cry about. Her mom was proud of her! Wasn't that all she'd ever wanted?

How dare she compare her mother to Kuon's family? To his mother that loved so easily, and who had told her she wanted to be like a mother to her within a day of meeting her...to his father, who had made her want a father for the first time in her entire life.

She had what she wanted! Why couldn't she be grateful? Why couldn't she be happy? What right did she have to be so ungrateful?

She really shouldn't have been surprised when the door to the bathroom opened, footsteps approaching the stall where she sat, and breaking the silence that had otherwise only been interrupted by her gasping sobs she'd tried so hard to suppress. What did surprise her when she looked down and saw not Moko-san's shoes under the stall door, but Ren's.

"Kyoko?" he asked, sounding miserable, and she tried to swallow her tears and get herself under control. "Can you talk to me? Please?"

"This is the women's room, Ren," she reminded him, trying to sound teasing, but her breath hitched, her tears obvious in her voice. Now she was worrying him! Why couldn't she stop?

"I'm so sorry...I shouldn't have invited her. I just thought...I'm sorry Kyoko. I should have asked you first. Whatever she said…"

Kyoko stood, not caring about her ruined makeup as she opened the door, and wincing when she saw his tortured expression. It only got worse when he saw her tears and he reached out his hand to wipe them away, his jaw tight as he shook his head.

"I'm sorry," he whispered again. "It was so stupid of me…"

"She said she was proud of me," she told him, her voice a hoarse whisper as she tried to smile. "She...she said that I'd done well, and that she was proud of me."

Ren blinked, wide eyed, and she went on.

"I don't even know why I'm crying. It's a good thing! It's...it's all I've ever wanted! I just...I can't stop…." She brought shaking hands up to her face, her knees feeling like they might fold at any moment. "I don't know why I can't stop!" she sobbed.

He was holding her then, stepping into the stall and sitting without hesitation on the toilet lid, then gathering her into his arms and pulling her onto his lap. Unable to stop herself anymore, she let go, sobbing into his shirt as feelings of relief and pain and disappointment and shame warred inside of her.

Her mother was proud of her.

She'd only stopped by for two minutes.

Her mother thought she'd done well.

Why couldn't she have been like Kuon's parents, or even Sho's? Why couldn't she have tried to love her? Why did Kyoko always feel like she was begging for her scraps?

"I wish she was different," Kyoko finally admitted in a voice so soft it was barely a whisper, too exhausted to be embarrassed about the wet spot on his shirt.

"I know," he told her, his hand trailing up and down her back as she tried to calm down.

"It's not fair! It's not...she never...it's not fair, Corn!"

"It's not," he agreed, rocking her back and forth, his voice so passionate he almost sounded angry. "It's not fair. And you have every right to be upset, even if she's trying now."

She took deep breaths once more, his arms around her grounding her, making her feel safe. After several long minutes, she finally felt like she could breathe again, and she nuzzled her nose into his neck. "Corn?"

"Yes?"

"I'm still glad you invited her." It was true. Because even if it hurt to be faced with her mother's awkward, formal attempts at affection after spending so much time with his parents, she was still glad that she'd faced it.

"I should have asked you first. I just...I hoped…" He sighed, and she felt him kiss her temple. "I wanted you to be happy...to...to be able to celebrate with everyone important to you. My parents would have come if they could have...I invited everyone I could think of that you cared about." He was quiet for a moment. "Even Fuwa," he admitted in a murmur, and she was so shocked that she sat up on his lap.

"You invited Sho?"

"I did," he confirmed ruefully. "He's recording a new album, and he said he'd be busy until midnight at least, otherwise he would have come."

She just stared at him, mind flashing back to how angry he'd been when she'd first acted in Sho's PV, and then when he'd saved her from Reino. Their fight in the car. Their fight in America.

And now he was inviting Sho to a surprise party to make her happy.

Maybe her mother would never be able to love her in the way she wanted. And maybe that would hurt for a really long time.

But Kuon...he loved her so much. He loved her in a way she'd never even known someone could be loved.

And she loved him so much it hurt sometimes.

"Corn...would...would it be strange if I kissed you in a bathroom?"

He barked out a laugh, and she couldn't fight her own watery smile. "Yes," he told her, still, laughing. "A little. But I don't mind."

And so she did.

Then she cleaned her face, and he tried to dry his shirt, and they went back to the party, ignoring the suspicious looks they were getting from the other guests. It was her party, after all. And despite everything, she wanted to enjoy it.

Thank you for reading, and as always, if you have ideas for new 'first' ideas, I'd love to hear them!