Disclaimer: Skip Beat! belongs to Nakamura Yoshiki. I do not own (or claim to own) these characters, this is a fan-fiction for entertainment purposes only.
Summary/Timeline: This is a direct sequel to my story 'Two Heartbeats out of Step', which I highly encourage you to go read first for context. But for those who don't want to do that, the TL;DR is this: Set approximately one year after Chapter 281: the infamous elevator confession scene. After a disappointing Valentine's Day, Ren asks Kyoko out on a date. Shenanigans ensue. Kyoko agrees to be Ren's girlfriend.
Note: I am aware that according to canon, Kyoko and Kanae are the same age. But in this fic, ages are as follows: Kyoko is 18, Kanae is 20, Ren is 22.
The month following Kyoko and Ren's first date was the most beautiful Tokyo spring that Ren could recall. Every tree burst into bloom, the ground heaped with piles of petals that resembled blush-colored snow. The spring breeze carried the scene of cherry blossom as it wove through the city. It seemed like Tokyo itself was celebrating his new relationship.
But not even the gorgeous fanfare of spring could compete with Yashiro's outburst at learning that his two favorite people were, after months and months of torturously slow progress, finally dating. Yukihito had grabbed Ren's arm and squealed so loudly that Ren almost swerved into another lane. The actor frantically pulled the car over at the nearest spot and Yashiro barely apologized for almost killing them both before launching back into a terrifyingly enthusiastic rant that made Ren regret telling his manager. But Yashiro made up for it the very next morning by producing an incredibly detailed list of date spots and activity suggestions, complete with notes about which venues were discreet regarding celebrity visitors and timetables showing the best hours to go for avoiding crowds. Ren scrutinized the list - Yashiro had printed and stapled it like a tiny booklet, and it was easily twenty pages long. Ren thought about asking how long it had taken to make such a thing, but decided not to when he saw Yashiro's devilishly smug face. Instead, the tall actor simply thanked his manager, pocketing the guide.
Between the actors' unusual schedules, a few disguises, and Yashiro's careful planning, no whisper or photo made it to the press. Ren and Kyoko went for strolls through botanic gardens with rows of fragrant lilacs. They went to lunch at a fabulous, tiny sushi restaurant where every table was in its own tiny private room behind a sliding door. Ren rented out an entire bowling alley with a fake name. They went to the movies: a matinee screening on a random Tuesday morning, where Ren bought a third of the tickets ahead of time and they ended up being the only two people in the theater. Yashiro even suggested something called a 'cat island' which Kyoko had adored so much that for a week Ren considered adopting a kitten.
Ren thought that being in a relationship with Kyoko would make him more rational. But instead, every minute they spent together was now twice as precious, because Kyoko was aware of his feelings. Before, the teen had treated him with all the distant respect she believed was his due as her senpai, but seemed to barely recognize Tsuruga Ren as a man.
When Kyoko was playing Setsu, she could waltz around their shared hotel room in practically nothing; climb into Cain's lap without a second thought. But now she was aware of him, she would flush and start to stutter if he came within arm's reach of her. And as much as he missed the easy way Kyoko had let him wrap himself around her when they were acting as the Heel siblings, this was better. This was real. Ren couldn't contain his grin when he watched Kyoko's ears go pink as their arms brushed, for her stammer when he held her hand, the way she turned bright red if he kissed her on the cheek. It was incredibly gratifying. And if he couldn't help but tease her a little, that seemed only natural. Ren was a patient man, but he wasn't made out of stone.
Ren texted her every night and every morning, which made Kyoko incredibly happy, if somewhat worried about Ren's lack of sleep. It didn't matter if they had seen each other that day, or if he had already wished her a goodnight on the phone. Kyoko told him he didn't have to, she knew he was too busy to send her messages all of the time and she didn't want him to go out of his way for her. Ren just shook his head and smiled. Better not to say anything than to admit that she was already on his mind all of the time. Ren's first thought in the morning was always if he would get to see her that day. And Kyoko was always on his mind as he fell asleep, turning over in his bed and imagining the day she might be there too.
It was a blissful, magical time. But they couldn't keep their relationship a secret forever. One morning, Kyoko arrived at LME and was immediately greeted by the President's aide and escorted upstairs.
"Mogami-kun, good morning. Thank you for joining us. Please have a seat." The President gestured to the couch where Yashiro and Ren were already sitting. Kyoko bit her lip before opting for a side chair, her spine rigid. Yashiro fiddled with his glasses. Lory took a long sip of tea, letting the silence build.
It had taken the President almost three weeks to discover that Ren and Kyoko were dating. Which was by no means as long as it had taken Lory to finally get a good ending with his favorite dating sim Seiichi-kun. But still! Ren and Kyoko happened right under his very nose! In his own house, practically. Lory had even seen the two of them interact, on more than one occasion, with only a minor twinge of suspicion. The President frowned, worried for a moment that he was losing his touch. But his gut was never wrong. Lory was impressed by how far both of them had come as actors. He would have told both of them so, if he wasn't so annoyed by their successful deception.
Lory was the closest thing that Ren had to a godfather, and the only thing remotely like family that 'Tsuruga Ren' had in Japan at all. It was natural that the older man took special interest in the son of his best friend. So while the President wasn't surprised that Ren had tried to conceal he was going out with Kyoko, the older man couldn't help feeling a tiny bit wounded. It wasn't as though he had expected the young actor to invite Lory out to dinner to announce that he was in love, followed by a long heart to heart about the nature of romance and the human heart. But still, it would have been nice. Lory leaned forward, placing his elbows on his knees as he regarded Ren over steepled fingers.
"Well then," Lory said, breaking the silence. "Any guess as to why I've called you all here?"
"It must be an important work matter, certainly not just the schemes of a nosy old man." Ren's smile was as polished and cold as a marble statue. Yashiro shivered, while Kyoko visibly flinched at Ren's blatant rudeness.
"I would call it a significant development." Lory waggled his eyebrows at Ren, baiting the young star. But Ren just smiled with a clenched jaw. "Boring as usual," Lory sighed. Then his gaze snapped to Kyoko. "What about you, Mogami-kun? Can you think of anything that's happened in the last month that should be brought to my attention?"
Kyoko hunched under the President's stare. Her eyes flickered to Ren briefly before realizing her mistake and quickly looking everywhere else in the room except at him. Which was just as obvious, but amused Lory even more.
"Mogami-kun," Lory scolded, his voice serious as his eyes sparkled. Kyoko ducked her head, suddenly incapable of looking at anything but her own feet. What was she supposed to say? Did he want her to lie? She and Ren hadn't discussed who exactly (if anyone) they should tell. Kyoko had told Kanae, because she wasn't about to keep secrets from her best friend. And obviously Yashiro knew, it was practically impossible to keep it from the nosy manager, since he was with Ren every day for work and without his help, coordinating their schedules to find time for dates would have been impossible. She wrung her hands in her lap, looking physically pained by the situation. The President shot Ren a wolfish grin. It's over, young man. I know your weak spot.
It was an underhanded tactic, but it was effective. And they both knew it. Ren could have easily held up under Lory's taunting, but he couldn't sit by and watch the Boss torture Kyoko in his place.
"Alright, we admit it," Ren held up his hands.
"Admit what?" Lory coaxed, leaning back in his chair smugly. Ren suppressed a sigh.
"Mogami-san and I are dating." Ren held his breath, bracing for the blast of confetti cannons or the fanfare of a full orchestra. But nothing came. The president's office was uncharacteristically quiet. "How did you figure it out?"
Lory's grin grew even more smug. "Now, now" he tutted, "Everyone has their secrets. And seeing as you kept yours, you can hardly be surprised if I choose to do the same."
"Fair enough." Ren conceded after pinning his manager with a scrutinizing stare. Yashiro had frantically shook his head, both hands up in denial. "Did you call us here just to let us know you know?"
Of course Ren was being serious about this. The boy was no fun at all. Lory pouted.
"No, no, of course not, I know you're both very busy." Lory waved his hand at them. "But of course we have things to discuss! This is a major development. We'll need to designate someone from the PR department, and maybe an outside consultant, too. We'll have to be delicate…" Lory smoothed his fingers through his mustache as he pondered.
"Well, about that…" Ren hesitated. He glanced at Kyoko and his manager. "We actually would like to keep it private, at least for now."
"Oh?" Lory looked back and forth between the new couple.
Kyoko stared at the coffee table, not daring to look anywhere in the room. She was positive her face was on fire.
"Things are very new, and we're taking it slow." Ren said evenly. "I'd rather not add in the pressure of the public eye."
"Hmm, perhaps that is wise." Lory picked up his teacup again. "We wouldn't want the story of you two to outshine Mogami-kun's debut."
"Huh?" Kyoko finally glanced up, confused.
"But of course!" Lory cried, whirling back to the actress, eyes glistening. "It's finally time! Of course, we'll have to celebrate the first Love Me graduate in style!" His eyes glistened, already brainstorming party venues and themes and guest lists and what size band they would need.
"I don't understand…" Kyoko said in a lost voice.
"A proper debut! Your first lead movie role!" Lory enthused. "Not that you weren't spectacular in Lotus, my dear," he added quickly, "but of course for your debut it has to be the starring role! The leading lady!"
Kyoko was stunned. She didn't even think it would really happen. Over the years, she had become accustomed to the strange arrangement that was the Love Me Section. Despite the odd, tiny division, she had multiple named roles under her belt, and more un-credited acting besides. To be leaving the cursed pink jumpsuit behind at long last…
"Mogami-san? Are you alright?" Ren asked softly, reaching to take her hand in his. She smiled at him.
"I'm fine. I'm great!" She smiled brighter. "Just shocked. It's… it's hard to believe, isn't it?" She turned to the President and bowed. "Thank you very much, sir." The President waved aside her thanks.
"It's my pleasure, Mogami-kun." He smiled indulgently. "To see you grow as an actress has truly been a privilege. I'm looking forward to seeing your debut."
Kyoko flushed at his praise, bowing again to hide her embarrassment.
"Well, I'm sure you have other appointments to be getting along to!" Sebastian appeared to lead her out, and with a final bow Kyoko left. Once she was out of sight, the President turned back to Ren and Yashiro, his lip trembling theatrically as he pretended to brush away tears. "My first Love Me member, all grown up!"
"Is that all?" Ren stood up.
"Miss your lady love already?" Lory teased, but let the actor go. "Yes yes, I'm sure you're very busy. Off you go." He waved his hand, shooing the star away. "Yashiro-kun, a moment?"
As soon as the door closed behind Ren, the President leaned forward in his seat. His calm demeanor melted away to reveal nothing but terrifying glee.
"How are you on the script hunt? Have you found one?" Lory stroked his chin in thought, imagining.
"I think we narrowed it down to the final possibilities." Yashiro checked his schedule. "I can let you know after the meeting tonight."
"Perfect, perfect." The President leaned back, once again bringing his fingers together in front of his face. "Let me know how it goes."
L.A. Hearts was mostly deserted by 8:00 in the evening. A few scattered tables were occupied. Yashiro sat in a booth, Ren's various filming schedules spread in front of him, only looking up when Kanae plopped her bag down on the bench.
"Kotonami-san, good evening." Yashiro motioned for the waiter. Kanae muttered something in response, fishing out four scripts. When she looked up, the manager had cleared the table and a waiter brought over fresh green tea, a lemon wedge resting on the saucer. Kanae blinked. It was what she always ordered.
"Is something the matter?" Yashiro asked politely. Kanae sighed, sweeping her hair back over one shoulder.
"It's just been a long day," As soon as the words were out of her mouth, Kanae frowned. Why had she said that? She shouldn't complain to this man. She had seen the papers out before she arrived — clearly he was still working as well. But he smiled at her sympathetically.
"Sorry to hear it." Yashiro said. "Maybe some dinner will help?" He slid a menu across the table. The actress glanced at her watch. She probably shouldn't eat anything. Sensing her hesitation, Yashiro added. "You should at least get a little something. We might be here a while."
Kanae gave in. Who was she kidding? She was hungry, and she wasn't going to turn up a free meal. Even if Yashiro could probably just expense it later. While they waited for their orders to arrive, the manager asked how her work was going, and Kanae found herself explaining the dynamics of her new costars and peculiar director until the food arrived, bringing her to her senses.
"We're supposed to be working." Kanae realized they had been chatting for almost twenty minutes. At this rate, she was never going to go home. Kanae pushed the four forgotten scripts across the table towards Yashiro.
"You're right," Yashiro smiled, but there was a hint of disappointment about it. Still, he thumbed through the scripts, pausing to read any notes Kanae had scribbled in the margins. For a few minutes, it was quiet.
"What does this say?" Yashiro pointed to something, tilting the paper towards her. Kanae wrinkled her nose.
"I think it says 'emotional leap. No connection to previous scene tone.'" Kanae said.
"You think?" Yashiro's quirked an eyebrow. "You wrote it, didn't you?"
"I was in a hurry," Kanae sniffed. Her handwriting was far from perfect. But what did that matter? She was an actress, not a secretary.
"Which previous scene?"
"About twenty pages back." Kanae said. Yashiro flipped back in the script. Kanae's page count was correct. He gave her a look. Over the past three months, Kanae has read 87 scripts. She remembered every title, the plot structure, the entire character list, even how many pages long each screenplay was. Yashiro did not conceal how impressed (and a little envious) he was. The manager thought had had a good memory, but it was not even a quarter as precise or all-encompassing as Kotonami Kanae's. He did not bother reading her notes in the other scripts she had brought. Instead, between bites they discussed the relative strength of each. Yashiro asked dozens of questions. He had seen a lot of movies, and understood every reference or comparison Kanae made. Without her noticing, almost an hour had passed. Their meals were long forgotten, and the rest of LA Hearts was similarly abandoned.
Yashiro sat back thoughtfully, looking at the two of the scripts intently. The other two had been pushed aside during the course of their discussion. Yashiro took off his glasses absently. Kanae was struck by what a difference such a small change made in his appearance.
"Kotonami-san?" The manager prompted, unsure if she had heard him. Kanae blinked.
"Sorry. What did you say?"
"I was asking how you thought these compared to your favorite a few weeks ago. What was it? A legal drama?"
"Three weeks ago. You said the love interest seemed too flat. Which is true, compared to both of these." Kanae gestured to the table.
"Right. Thank you," Yashiro smiled. "You're truly amazing, Kotonami-san. I don't know how you keep this all in your head. There's no way I could keep so many scripts straight."
Kanae sized up the man in front of her. She suspected the manager observed and remembered a lot more than he let on. There was something about his quiet confidence that made the actress think he would have done surprisingly well, had their roles been reversed. Not that Kanae would admit that out loud. They discussed for several more minutes, before Yashiro asked, "Which one would you most want?"
Kanae looked at the options on the table, then at Yashiro. As she studied his face, Yashiro felt his mouth go dry. He hoped she couldn't see him try to swallow the butterflies in his throat.
"Personally, I would want to play Motoko." Kanae said as she put one finger on a script and slowly slid it across the table towards Yashiro. "But," she added, her gaze still locked on his, "for Kyoko, I would choose this one." Kanae pulled her choice back, sliding another forward. A flicker of surprise passed through his face, but not before she could catch it. Kanae smiled in triumph.
"I'm not sure I know what you mean?" Yashiro smiled uncertainly.
Kanae shook her head slightly. "That wasn't half bad, but you're a long way from fooling me."
"Gee, thanks." Yashiro muttered. The manager's face was blank for a few seconds, then he asked, "What gave it away?"
Kanae almost snorted. "It's not as though the President is particularly subtle. If they were offers for me, Matsushima-san would have given them to me. The only person who's meddling enough to use you as a middleman to deliver scripts to an actress who they aren't even for is obviously the President. And the two of you means Tsuruga's involved as well."
"It's a little bit embarrassing, when you lay it out like that" Yashiro rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. "So much for the President's sneaky scheme, right?" He gave the actress a cheeky grin. She did not smile back. He absently flipped through the script she had chosen. "This is… are you sure?"
"You asked for my opinion." Kanae said flatly. "That's what I would pick."
"Fair enough." Yashiro scribbled something on the front page of Kanae's pick, before piling all the scripts into his briefcase.
"That's it?" Kanae asked, taken aback. She had expected pushback. Or at least a discussion, where she would have to defend her choice. Something more than acceptance.
"Yes, of course." Yashiro looked up at the actress. "We wouldn't have asked for your assistance if we didn't value your opinion. Of course, others will still read the final contenders, just to be sure. But I trust your judgement." Yashiro buckled the briefcase, then faced her again. "Your help has been truly invaluable, Kotonami-san."
"It's not like I had a choice," Kanae muttered, but without her usual edge. She softened. "Besides, I want Kyoko's debut to be all that it can be. Even if she is my rival," Kanae finished, with a very mediocre attempt at rivalry. To say that she felt no envy at Kyoko getting a debut would be lying. But what Kanae felt most was just happiness for her strange, auburn-haired best friend. And maybe a twinge of loneliness, at the thought of no longer finding Kyoko in the Love Me room.
"You're a good friend, Kotonami-san. Kyoko-chan is lucky to have you." Yashiro took out a pen. "And I've heard nothing but amazing reviews from Matsushima. I'm sure you'll have your own debut soon. Would you give me your stamp book?"
Kanae had practically forgotten about the Love Me points stamp books. She fished around in the bottom of her bag, eventually dragging it out of the depths, a little crumpled, but not too worse for wear. She hardly remembered the last time somebody used it. Kanae forced herself not to look over the table and try and read it upside down. She looked out over the deserted lobby, and the twinge in her chest got stronger. It's the end, she realized with a pang. She was finally done with this project. It had taken her weeks, and now it was coming to an end. No more meetings with Yashiro-san. Kanae almost shook herself. She should be grateful! She finally had her free time back! No more speed-reading scripts during all of her breaks, no more meetings. So why did she feel glum?
Yashiro closed the bright pink book, sliding it back across the table. Then he stood. "It's been a pleasure working with you, Kotonami-san. Have a good rest of your evening."
She waved goodbye, lingering over the last sips in her teacup as her analytical mind prodded at her uncomfortably with hypotheticals. If she had stood to go at the same time, would Yashiro have offered her a ride? Why did she care? Kanae muttered to herself. It would have been nice to save on the cab fare. That was all. It was not because she wanted to spend any more time with the glasses guy. Her eyes fell on the stamp book sitting on the table. She picked it up, flipping to find the newest page:
Job: screenplay evaluation
Score: 63 points
-Yashiro Yukihito, LME
The Darumaya restaurant had been a part of the neighborhood for so long that no one could remember a time before the place existed. It was a modestly-sized building, and had been quickly out-paced in size by its neighbors. But somehow, that only made the building more cozy. The locals were fond of the welcoming okami-san, wonderful chef, and the relatively recent but incredibly friendly and professional waitress. Despite the increasingly hectic life in the city, the Darumaya had always been a success. Which was why the restaurant's many loyal customers were sad to learn that it would be closing.
"Only for a week!" The Okami-san smiled reassuringly, and the relieved patrons ordered another round of drinks, thankful that their neighborhood joint was remaining in business. She continued to make her rounds, while her young boarder and waitress took orders, brought drinks, and wiped up the tables. At the end of another busy night, Kyoko took down the lanterns and sign outside the door with relief.
"Oh! Dear, I almost forgot," the proprietress exclaimed as the two finished washing the last of the dishes. "Kyoko-chan, forgive me — I meant to tell you earlier! It kept slipping my mind. We're going to be closed during Golden Week."
Kyoko wasn't entirely surprised. The city emptied out a little bit, and she couldn't remember the last time the owners had taken a break. It would be nice for her, to have a little time off as well. Not that she minded helping out around the restaurant. "Any special reason?" The actress asked.
"We booked a trip! It was our 30th anniversary a little while ago, so we thought it was time to do something special." The older woman smiled fondly. "We really did mean to tell you sooner!"
"It's no problem at all!" Kyoko protested. She was more concerned about the fact that she wasn't sure what was an appropriate belated 30th anniversary gift to get her landlords.
The okami-san continued cheerily. "We were thinking of having the floors refinished while we're away. It's been so long since anything's been done around here, it will be nice to have something fresh!" Kyoko agreed. The restaurant was clean and well-maintained, but from stepping inside it was easy to tell that none of the interior had been modified since the restaurant had first opened decades ago.
"During that time the floors are going to need to dry, so you wouldn't be able to walk on them. Would you be able to stay with a friend during those days?" The okami-san looked at the actress worriedly. When the girl had first come to stay, it was clear she had no money. And truth be told, she wasn't sure how much the actress was making now. She didn't want the poor thing to have to put herself up in a hotel. "If not, don't worry, we can always have them redone another time…"
"Don't delay on my account!" Kyoko replied, holding up both hands. "I'm sure I can stay with a friend, so please don't worry about me. Just have a wonderful time on your vacation!"
"Thank you, dear." the hostess was relieved. They finished drying the last of the dishes just as the chef stuck his head around the corner.
"Dear, there you are! I finally remembered to tell her!" his wife said, smiling. "Kyoko-chan is going to stay with a friend."
As usual, the Taisho nodded, saying nothing.