CO-STAR KILLER STRIKES AGAIN? TSURUGA REN SPOTTED GETTING COZY WITH NEW GIRL ON SET OF NEW MYSTERY DRAMA!

Published September 19 by Komiyama Asami

Fans who gathered to watch the filming of a new drama starring Tsuruga Ren were surprised to capture these surprisingly sweet photos of the actor with his co-star! Will yet another Japanese actress fall under his spell? Scroll down to read more!

[Image caption: More than friends? Stars were spotted looking cuddly as actress Kyoko stepped out of her trailer on the set of Tsuruga Ren's new drama (premiere date yet to be announced)]

Who is this new mystery maiden? You might be surprised to learn that she's actually a familiar face. Fans of Dark Moon might recognize Kyoko as the actress who played a truly terrifying Hongo Mio who antagonized Tsuruga Ren's Katsuki in the remake of the classic Tsukigomori. More recently, these former co-stars were reunited for the upcoming romantic drama Bitter Sweet Heart, which premieres this December! Is there chemistry off-screen as well as on? Sources have yet to confirm Kyoko's role on the upcoming TV mystery series Unlocked, but that hasn't stopped netizens from speculating about the relationship between these two. Longtime fans of Sherlock Holmes have speculated that Kyoko may be playing the role of…

Grinning, Yashiro scrolled down to the comments section, skimming through the top ones. The most liked comment was from one of Ren's fans saying that Ren dressed as Sherlock was unspeakably hot and that he could unlock her mystery anytime, followed by several suggestive emojis. Yashiro made the mistake of opening the chain of replies, where people got increasingly graphic to the point that Yashiro flushed and clicked back. He read through a few more comments, including one from a commenter who pointed out that they'd never seen Ren smile so radiantly.

"What are you smiling at?" Ren asked skeptically from across the table. He raised an eyebrow at his manager over his coffee cup. "Judging by the look on your face, it can't be anything good."

Yashiro handed him the phone. "The public is onto you, Ren," he teased. "You're the best actor in Japan, but you can't seem to control your face around Kyoko-chan."

Ren read the comment, then scrolled up to the photos. "That's how I always look," the actor stated with a frown.

His manager rolled his eyes. "Your normal smile is more like this," he said, demonstrating. "When you smile at Kyoko-chan, it looks more like this."

"Those were the same."

"No they weren't," the manager countered. "Your face gets all melted when you look at Kyoko-chan. Like this."

Ren shrugged. "I don't see a difference."

"There is one. Trust me."

"If you say so," Ren said indifferently, handing the phone back.

"It's not just me," Yashiro insisted. "Ren, this isn't even the only article!"

"Must be a slow news day," the star commented off-handedly while scrolling through his own phone. Yashiro gave up, rolling his eyes at his charge and setting aside the phone in favor of organizing the papers spread out in front of him.

A few moments later, Kyoko arrived with a bow and an apology for being late before saying good morning. Both men waved it off. The teen hesitated, standing in front of the LA Hearts booth. Yashiro was suddenly bustling with his papers, taking up a disproportionate amount of space while Ren scooched over in the booth with a hopeful smile. After a moment, Kyoko slid in next to Ren.

"Thank you for joining us so early, Kyoko-chan. Would you like anything — coffee? Breakfast?" The manager handed her a menu but Kyoko demurred politely. "Alright, then. Let's get right to it." Yashiro pushed his phone to Kyoko.

Kyoko said nothing, her eyes widening as she read the headline. Ren glared daggers at his manager.

"Don't give me that, Ren." Yashiro pushed up his glasses and sighed. "You know how your fans are. People are going to be watching closely. Both of you. We need to decide on a strategy."

Ren fought the urge to cross his arms like a sulking teenager. "Our private lives have nothing to do with our work."

"You're public figures," Yashiro countered, not unkindly. "It comes with the job. I've tried not to pry," Yashiro said, ignoring Ren's snort, "but it would be helpful for me to know what exactly is going on between the two of you."

"It's nobody's business," Ren said primly.

"We're dating," Kyoko said at the same time. She glanced up nervously at the actor sitting next to her, ignoring Yashiro's excited squeal. "R-right?"

In response, Ren smiled and reached for Kyoko's hand, weaving his fingers through hers. "Right."

He heard the electronic snap of a camera.

"See?!" Yashiro said triumphantly, flipping his phone around to thrust the screen at Ren. "I told you your face looks different!"

"Yukihito." Ren's voice was so forbidding and cold it made Kyoko wince and the manager squeaked in fear. Yashiro quickly tucked the phone away, adjusting his glasses and shuffling the papers in front of him.

"Right, well," Yashiro said in a tight voice. "Back to business. Well, there's no such thing as bad press. Shingai called LME this morning— the producers are thrilled. Kyoko-chan was scheduled to do a bunch of promo interviews alone starting next month, but now all the networks are dying to get both of you together ASAP. It's going to be a minefield."

"How soon?" Ren asked.

"TV Tokyo has an open slot on Wednesday night."

Ren looked at Kyoko, then back at his manager. "I guess we'd better clear some evening slots," he said at last.

«×»«×»«×»

After another meeting that included Ren, Yashiro, Kyoko, her manager, several representatives from the LME public relations department, and a very gleeful President, it was decided that the best course of action was to neither confirm nor deny. A short statement was released by the agency that barely alluded to the rumors. It was hardly more than a paragraph, with neither star directly mentioned, mostly reiterating LME's officially stated policy on press relations.

The internet exploded with theories. They had fallen in love on set. It was a PR stunt to hype up the movie. The couple had been dating since meeting on Dark Moon and had secretly gotten married a month ago in a private ceremony on an island in the pacific. Kyoko and Ren were trending for a solid week, across multiple platforms and under a slew of hashtags, which meant nothing to either star. Ren trended on a semi-regular basis (usually after some public appearance) and being the child of celebrities, the actor had learned from an early age not to read about himself. And Kyoko, having grown up working at a traditional Japanese inn and not having her own cell phone until LME gave her one for work, seemed to have missed the internet almost in its entirety. Kanae and Chiori had both tried to explain social media to the girl and gave up in frustration. It wasn't that Kyoko didn't understand how to use technology, she just didn't see the point.

"Whatever," Kanae had said at last, throwing her hands up. "Just don't use it then," the dark haired girl said, muttering something about Kyoko and middle-aged housewives.

"So many people say they don't care about social media to sound cool," Chiori added scathingly. "But anyone who talks to you for two seconds can see it's annoyingly genuine."

Kyoko had not known how to respond to that. She got the feeling she was being insulted, but she also got the feeling that her friends were correct. Luckily she was spared having to respond, since Mami-chan interrupted, informing Kyoko that it was time for their interview.

All the media was making Kyoko nervous. The bulk of the promotional work had been scheduled for November in the weeks leading up to the movie release, but naturally the producers of Bitter Sweet Heart wanted to take advantage of the moment and capitalize on the free advertising. Every network was clamoring for something— anything— with Kyoko and Ren. Unfortunately, Ren's other projects and obligations meant that Kyoko was on her own for some of the appearances and offers. She had never been the face of the production before. That was reserved for the lead stars, like Marumi-chan in Box R or Tsuruga-san in Dark Moon. The Tsukigomori remake had been wildly successful and Kyoko had made a few TV appearances. But it was different now that she was the lead instead of an antagonist. Mio was supposed to elicit strong feelings from the audience, so if the audience hated her it meant that Kyoko was doing her job. But this time, Kyoko wanted people to love Mayuko. The pressure felt like a yoke on her shoulders.

Thankfully, her first solo appearance was on Kimagure Rock. The Ishibashis had all claimed that it was impossible to find anyone up to the challenge of filling in for the actress as Bo, but when Kyoko arrived at TBM the silent mascot greeted her with a wave. Filming went smoothly, the live audience loved Kyoko's chemistry with the hosts and the fan-favorite rooster, and even the producer gruffly gave Kyoko a nod afterwards when she bowed and thanked him after filming was done.

Kyoko was just finishing up in her dressing room when her phone rang.

"Hello?"

"Good evening," Ren's voice came smoothly across the line. "Did you finish up already?"

"Yes! It went very smoothly," Kyoko chirped happily. "Are you done for the evening as well?"

"No, unfortunately." Ren grimaced. "The shoot got held up and we're almost an hour behind schedule."

Kyoko frowned. They had made plans to have dinner at his apartment and practice for their upcoming joint interviews since Ren was supposed to finish early. "I-if you're busy, should we reschedule?"

"We can't— Nippon is tomorrow, right?" Ren asked. Kyoko made a noise of agreement. "I'll try and go as quickly as I can. Mami-chan is giving you a ride to my place, right?"

"Yes, but I can—"

"I'll do my best, but you'll beat me there by fifteen minutes at least," Ren said, thinking aloud. "Listen, Kyoko… please don't wait outside, alright? Give the doorman your name and they'll give you my spare key."

"What? I can't—"

"You can't wait outside," Ren interrupted. "It's not safe."

"You live in the safest neighborhood in Tokyo," Kyoko countered.

"You know that's not what I mean," Ren said patiently. "You shouldn't be alone, especially not at night. You can let yourself in, it's fine. I promise you're not overstepping." Kyoko continued to protest, but Ren cut in, "Please, Kyoko. I have to go, I'm being called back to set. I'll text you as soon as I can. Bye."

The call ended abruptly. Kyoko stared at her phone for a moment, then put it away in her pocket and gathered up her purse. Her manager was waiting outside the door with a smile, filling the silence with pleasant chatter about how the taping had gone as they walked to the car.

When they pulled into the parking lot at Ren's building, Kyoko paused. Mami-chan put the car in park, looking expectantly at the actress as the teen unbuckled her seatbelt.

"Thank you for your hard work today," Kyoko said politely before climbing out of the car and shutting the door. She gave her manager a small bow and stepped back to wave.

Her manager rolled down the window, looking unamused. "Kyoko-chan," the older woman scolded, "I'm not leaving until I see you go inside that building."

"But—"

"I can't make you go up, but you at least have to wait inside. Or Tsuruga-kun will have me fired." Mami grinned, her voice full of teasing even as her eyes were sharp. Kyoko blushed but said nothing. The middle aged woman continued to stare until Kyoko caved. Her manager wasn't going to leave until she went inside, and as much as the teen wanted to argue, she also didn't want to keep Mami from heading to her own home for the evening. With a sigh, Kyoko adjusted the tote bag on her shoulder and slunk towards the lobby. Only when the teen reached the doors did her manager start the car and pull away.

«×»«×»«×»

Ren practically jumped out of his car once he pulled into his parking spot underground. He'd managed to make up twenty minutes of lost time by filming his solo shots in one take. As soon as the director had given the OK, Ren practically fled the set and was in his car, speeding home. He had pulled up to the building but hadn't seen Kyoko waiting outside. The actor glanced at the time and then realized he must have beaten the actress back to his place. Silently, Ren thanked the Bridge Rock hosts, who must have kept Kyoko occupied after the taping with their chatter. He pushed the elevator button four times, his foot tapping impatiently as he waited for the elevator to arrive. Once inside, Ren jingled his keys nervously. He mentally listed the areas he should tidy before Kyoko arrived as the elevator seemed to crawl as it reached his floor. He sped to his door, his key already ready and into the lock before he realized that the door was already open. The actor froze. Then, almost fearfully, he slowly pushed open the door. The light in the entryway was on and lined up nicely along the wall was a familiar pair of sneakers.

Ren blinked. He lost all sense of time and space, staring down at the pair of shoes. He was utterly unaware of anything that might be going on around him, his whole universe taken up by a patch of the floor.

"Ren-san?" Kyoko appeared from around the corner, hastily wiping her hands on a dishtowel. The actor appeared to not have heard her; he was staring down at the ground. She called his name again — no response. Kyoko padded forward until she was standing right in front of him. Nothing. Worried, she brought her hand up to check his temperature. Only when the back of her palm touched Ren's forehead did he startle to life.

"I—" Ren choked, his eyes wide as he took a step back to look at her.

"Are you feeling alright?" Kyoko asked. She pressed the back of her hand against his forehead again. "You don't seem to have a fever."

"I'm fine," he managed to gasp out, shaking his head. "Just— got lost in thought."

Kyoko gave him a look like she didn't quite believe him, but let it go. "Please pardon my intrusion! I borrowed your kitchen, I hope that's okay." She gave him a smile. "Have you already eaten dinner?"

"N-no," Ren stuttered dumbly, still not quite sure if he was hallucinating.

"Are you sure you're feeling alright?" Kyoko frowned up at him, a small wrinkle of worry forming between her brows. Ren couldn't help himself — he lifted a hand to cup her cheek, running his thumb between her brows to smooth out the crease. Instead of flinching back or freezing, Kyoko hesitated, meeting his eyes with a nervous smile.

"I can't believe you're here," Ren said, his voice just above a whisper.

Kyoko looked somewhat petulant. "You told me it was okay to come up," she muttered.

"I did," he said, smiling. "But I didn't expect you to be here."

"I was just going to wait in the lobby," Kyoko confessed. "But the doorman called the elevator for me, so I…" she trailed off, looking up at Ren. "You're making fun of me."

"No— I swear I'm not," Ren said earnestly. "I'm glad you came up."

"You're not bothered that I let myself in?" she asked.

"Not at all."

There was a pause, and they both seemed to realize at about the same moment that they were still standing in the entryway. Ren's hand was still on her face. Kyoko stiffened a tiny bit and looked away, but didn't move.

Ren dropped his hand. "Sorry."

"No, t-that's okay!" Kyoko fumbled, feeling tongue tied. Then she remembered the dinner she had left simmering on the stove and ran for the kitchen with a yelp. Ren followed with a smile.

Dinner was so peacefully domestic, Ren almost felt a pang of homesickness. Eating homemade food with Kyoko made him realize how sterile and sad his apartment was when she wasn't around.

"Who played Bo?" Ren asked playfully. "Nobody could fill your shoes."

"Nonsense," Kyoko flushed with pleasure, but pushed his compliment aside. "They were great. I'm sure I'm about to be replaced." She laughed. Ren heartily disagreed. Playing a silent character in a mascot suit was certainly not as easy as some people may think. As a serious Bo fan, Ren protested the idea of replacing the actor. Bo's character was an integral part of the show. He threatened to write a letter, which caused Kyoko to dissolve into a fit of giggles, imagining the rooster dressed up and going to court for character impersonation.

Ren managed to persuade Kyoko not to do the dishes, arguing it was already late and they had to practice for their upcoming joint interview. Yashiro had received a list of questions from the studio's host earlier that day, and together Ren and Kyoko prepared and rehearsed their responses. Ren, having plenty of experience on interviews and talk shows, took the role of host interviewing Kyoko.

"What should I do if they ask something else?" Kyoko asked, waving the packet of generic scripted answers that she had received earlier that day from the LME PR department.

"It depends on the question," Ren explained. "Try to be as honest as you can— it keeps things simpler." Then he shrugged. "There will always be questions you don't want to answer. It's finding the balance between sharing enough so the audience is satisfied and feels like they know you and keeping some things private."

"Does it happen a lot?" Kyoko asked hesitantly. "Questions you don't want to answer?"

He smiled at her reassuringly. "Don't worry. I'll be right there with you. If you don't know how to answer something, just look at me, alright?"

Kyoko nodded. Ren ran through the questions several more times, improvising some, mixing up the order, changing his demeanor from friendly to pushy to aloof. Kyoko managed with aplomb. So Ren threw in extra questions to test her. They began as serious questions and quickly devolved into things that were less likely to be asked, like what Kyoko ate for breakfast and if it was true that she played a rooster mascot and if there was anything in particular she wanted for her birthday.

"They aren't going to ask that!" Kyoko protested with a laugh.

"You never know," Ren insisted with mock solemnity. "Better to be prepared, right?"

After another twenty minutes of off-script questions, including Ren demanding that Kyoko expound on her favorite fairytale and which princess she would like to play as a dream role, Kyoko caught Ren's glimmering smile.

"You don't have to tease me!" Kyoko accused. She crossed her arms with a playful pout, slightly embarrassed about how much she had rambled on about Cinderella.

"I'm just making sure you're prepared," Ren maintained. He stretched, then stifled a yawn. "It's late. I should drive you back."

"Oh, no, that's okay! You don't have to," Kyoko said, already standing up and fluffing the couch pillows back into shape.

"Is Cinderella not ready to turn into a pumpkin just yet?" Ren teased, smiling innocently when Kyoko gave him the evil eye.

"You know she doesn't turn into a pumpkin. Or were you not listening," the teen grumbled darkly.

"Not ready to leave the ball yet, then?" Ren amended. "You could always stay over?"

The actor said it playfully enough that he could have been joking. There was a smile playing about his lips, and he lifted his eyebrows. Kyoko paused, blinking at him.

"Are— that's— … you're joking, right?" she half-asked, half-demanded.

Ren cleared his throat. "It depends. How would you respond if it wasn't a joke?" The actor asked lightly.

"I—" Kyoko swallowed. "I mean, I feel bad making you drive me all the time, but…" she looked down, giving a tiny shake of her head.

"Don't worry about that." Ren stood. He tried to give her an easy smile. "I'm always willing to drive you home, no matter what time it is. And I didn't mean anything, er— weird by… I just meant… you know you're always welcome to stay here, right?"

Ren winced internally. So much for being smooth. Kyoko had on more than one occasion accused him of being a playboy, and sometimes Ren wished it were true. Maybe then he would be smooth instead of awkward. He struggled not to fidget as Kyoko squinted up at him, tilting her head in a way that reminded him of a confused puppy. He kept his mouth shut, not wanting to interrupt her thought process just to exclaim about how adorable she was. Kyoko scrunched her nose.

"I… are you sure I wouldn't be bothering you?" Kyoko asked, almost suspiciously.

"Not at all," Ren assured her.

"I— uh, that is, if you're sure you're okay with it—" the teen hedged, her pace picking up with her nerves, "I was thinking maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea, to keep a few things here? Not a lot!" Kyoko added immediately. "Just… in case of emergencies!" She explained.

"I think that makes sense." Ren tried his best to look like he was thinking only about the logistical practicalities, as though his heart wasn't going haywire at the thought of Kyoko keeping even just a toothbrush at his apartment. He smiled. "The drawer in my room is still open. And the guest room is yours. You can keep whatever you'd like here."

"O-okay," Kyoko replied in a small voice. "Thank you! And of course, if you ever decide um, that… if you change your mind—"

"I won't," Ren said simply. Noticing that Kyoko was turning pink, Ren decided to change the subject. Kyoko gave him a grateful look, and Ren wisely decided to keep his mouth shut about the guest slippers he had bought especially for her, or the stepstool in his kitchen, or the recent apron he purchased (did she really think that he owned an apron?) or the pads in the guest bathroom, or any of the other handful of things Ren had bought in hopes of making his apartment more comfortable and appealing to her.

Ren insisted that she keep the spare key, despite Kyoko trying very hard several times to give it back.

"Our schedules have been so up in the air recently, we don't know if this will happen again. And I'd feel much better if you weren't waiting outside," Ren said. And that was that. He opened up a drawer in the front hall table, rummaging around and pulling out a silver keychain with a small lotus charm. "Here," he said, dropping it into Kyoko's hands before she could protest.

Somehow she was back at the Darumaya and up in her room before she could fully find the words to protest, and by then it was too late. Kyoko reverently put Ren's key onto the key chain. In her small bedroom, the dainty charm of brightly polished silver gleamed in the darkness. She fell asleep with the key still resting in her hand.

«×»«×»«×»

Their interview together the next night went smoothly, for the most part. The host mostly stuck to the pre-approved questions, and the few times they deviated to to pry into the nature of the relationship between the two stars, Ren would smile his interview smile and equivocate and smoothly lead the conversation back to promoting Bitter Sweet Heart. Kyoko started the taping sitting perfectly straight and not speaking much, but by the end of the show the teen had managed to relax a little, enough to lighty banter with the host and Ren. She was glad they had spent so much time preparing. When she was playing Bo, she had the safety of a mascot suit, but in front of a live audience there was nothing to hide behind. Growing up working at the ryokan meant that Kyoko was used to the demands of customer service and putting on a smile, but there was a difference between pouring drinks for rich couples on vacation and sitting under the stage lights answering questions in front of a live audience. Kyoko threw Ren a grateful smile, glad her senpai had devoted almost thirty minutes last night to helping her practice keeping an 'interview face' on.

Normally Ren hated doing press, but to his surprise the actor found himself actually enjoying the interview. He neither confirmed nor denied any dating rumors, laughing at the photo and explaining to the host that he and Kyoko-san were good friends, that she was a lovely co-star, and that he was excited to be working with her again so soon after filming Bitter Sweet Heart together, which speaking of…. He grinned when he noticed Kyoko struggling not to squirm or protest when he referred to them as colleagues and praised her acting talent. She forced herself to smile and relax, the only sign of tension a slight twitch of her fingers in her lap. Kyoko had been explicitly instructed by the PR team, Yashiro, and even the President that she was under no circumstances allowed to launch into one of her vehemently fanatic rants about how she respected Tsuruga-sama and how she was unworthy to study under such an acting god. So Kyoko tried her best to control her blushing face, turning to face Ren and listening politely as he raved about her Mayuko. Noticing the actress's discomfort, the host chimed in too, praising Kyoko for her modesty but adding that Tsuruga Ren was not known for exaggerated praise, with a pointedly raised eyebrow. The audience cheered, and then the host addressed the crowd in the studio and the cameras, adding that audiences could see for themselves when the movie was released (Bitter Sweet Heart, coming to theaters in early December!).

The following evening, Yashiro was at the office late, still reading through the plethora of snippets and articles that had come out following Ren and Kyoko's first interview. Screenshots from the show had been posted, editing with hearts and pink glowing filters added to the stars faces as they smiled at each other, some fans insisting there was something going on between the two and scouring back through Dark Moon behind the scenes footage to find more 'evidence' that the two were dating.

Yashiro finally shut down his computer and took off his gloves with a satisfied hum. Requests for appearances had poured in, and the manager had a long list of potential press opportunities he needed to discuss with Kyoko's manager. With the interest that the two stars were getting, it was likely they would have some kind of event every week together for the next two months. The thought made Yashiro smile, and he began to mentally run though his list 'Kyoko-chan and Ren date night spots', trying to sort out which ones had private rooms and allowed stars to enter and exit through the back, given the media's current interest in the pair.

He was so caught up in planning his favorite couple's future that he almost walked into someone as he was leaving the office.

"Beg your pardon! Oh, Kotonami-san," Yashiro said brightly, nervously pushing his glasses up his nose. "It's been a while. What are you doing here so late?"

"It's not that late," Kanae pointed out, skipping any kind of greeting. " I was just leaving."

"Ah, right— of course," Yashiro smiled nervously. "Are you headed home?" He asked, stepping up to walk beside her as they both headed towards the lobby. Kanae made a grunt that sounded like yes. "Can I give you a ride?"

"What, are you thinking of switching careers and becoming a chauffeur?" Kanae said snippily. She continued walking for a few more steps, then noticed the sound of the manager's footsteps had stopped. She glanced behind her, where Yashiro stood, his shoulders hunched forward.

"Ah, sorry. I didn't mean to bother you." Yashiro was looking down at his shoes. "I'll— I'll just go — " he jerked his thumb in a random direction and turned to leave.

"Wait!" Kanae said, loudly enough to surprise both Yashiro and herself. He froze. "Sorry, I—" The actress huffed out a breath. She folded one arm, propping her elbow on her wrist, her fingertips pressed against her forehead. "Sorry, I got annoyed. It's not at you. I didn't expect to see you here…" Kanae muttered. "If I'd known I was going to run into you, I would've brought it, but—"

"...it?"

Kanae looked up, clearly still annoyed. Her voice was flat. "Your souvenir."

"You got me a souvenir?"

"No, after you were so helpful I completely forgot and got you nothing," Kanae said sarcastically. She wanted to roll her eyes. Just because she was short tempered didn't mean she had no manners! She looked back at the manager, lips pursed.

"That's fine! You didn't have to get me anything!" Yashiro protested, both hands up. His voice was earnest, but his face broke into a boyish grin. It made Kanae's eyebrow twitch in irritation.

"Stop looking at me like that," the actress demanded.

"Like what?"

"Like you're so surprised!" Kanae accused. "Of course after everything you did for me I had to get you something! Mo! You're getting too excited — it's just something small," she muttered in embarrassment.

"You really didn't have to," Yashiro insisted, still smiling. "I hope it wasn't too much trouble."

"It's fine, alright?"

"I only meant, I didn't mean to make you feel obligated—"

"Mo! Just drop it, okay?" Kanae straightened her shoulders with another huff. "You're making too big of a deal. I'll just leave it on your desk." She turned towards the lobby.

"So, did you enjoy your trip?" The manager asked, hastening to fall in step beside her again.

The actress bit her lip, smiling as she recalled the beautiful mountain views and the glowing green misty forests where she'd been filming. "You were right," she said softly. "It really is indescribably beautiful."

"Kyoko-chan was really disappointed that you didn't send more pictures," Yashiro commented lightly.

"Mo, that girl— I'm not going to send every picture I take!" Kanae grumbled.

"So you did take more pictures? Can I see?"

Kanae stopped. She pulled out her phone, scrolling through her photos. Her breath hitched as she felt Yashiro step closer, leaning down over her shoulder so he could look at her phone screen.

"Is that Mount Tongariro?" Yashiro asked, squinting a little.

Kanae blinked in surprise. "Yes."

"Wow." Yashiro was still staring at the phone screen. "And they got permits to film there?" Yashiro let out a whistling breath. "I'm jealous."

"It was spectacular," Kanae admitted with a smile. She had shown Kyoko all of her pictures, and Kyoko had oohed and aahed and asked questions. But Kanae got the feeling that Kyoko agreed that the mountains were spectacular because her best friend had taken the picture, not because the photo really captured what it was like to be there or how the scale of the mountain made Kanae feel human and small, and how open and perfect the sky felt. Kyoko didn't have any reference for it, so as much as she appreciated it, it wasn't quite the same. Kanae liked the acting challenge of trying to convey those feelings to her friend, but it wasn't the same as talking to someone who had been there. Kanae cleared her throat, feeling a tiny bit nervous for some reason. "It's a bit awkward to just stand here," she declared.

Yashiro immediately realized how close he had been standing and stepped back, apologetic. "Ah, you're right! Sorry, Kotonami-san, I—"

"I'm happy to show you, just—" Kanae looked around. They were in a nondescript hallway, just floor tiles and office doors, with nowhere to sit. And there were no benches in the lobby.

"Are you hungry?" Yashiro asked abruptly, looking at his watch. "I'd love to hear all about your trip, but I'm starving." He smiled at her, then glanced away, boyishly shy. "There's this new omakase place that I've been meaning to try, it's just around the corner," he offered. "It's supposed to be amazing."

Kanae made a show of thinking it over. Part of her enjoyed watching the manager struggle not to fidget as she pretended to deliberate. To Yashiro's credit, he only nervously fiddled with his glasses twice.

"Alright," Kanae said at last, giving him a small half-smile.

"Really? That's great! I mean— good, yes, dinner." Yashiro cleared his throat, doing his best to hide an elated smile behind his hand. "Shall we?"

«×»«×»«×»

Almost two weeks later, Ren braced himself as he made his way up to the president's office one morning. There was no doubt in the actor's mind as to the reason he'd been summoned. Despite his best efforts to avoid reading anything about himself, even Ren had been unable to avoid the slew of click-bait articles about all of press appearances with Ren and Kyoko. Probably because Yashiro in particular took a sadistic amount of pleasure in compiling and printing out each and every one of the many blurred, low-quality screenshots of Ren and Kyoko together— all photographic evidence of what the internet had dubbed 'Tsuruga-san's butter smile'.

"It's the same smile I always have," Ren insisted, his polite smile firmly fixed on his face.

Lory waved a hand dismissively, the small motion making his enormous sleeve billow. "Butter smile," the president said scornfully, flipping around the magazine he was perusing to show Ren the headline. "How prosaic. Can't they come up with anything better?" The older man complained dramatically.

Ren had made the mistake earlier in the week of asking Yashiro why the internet had decided to call it his 'butter smile'. His manager had responded in a very matter of fact tone that it was because Ren's soft, admiring gaze as he smiled at Kyoko made his fans feel warm and melty. "It could've been worse," the manager had added. "There were several other options that they weeded out."

Ren had wisely not inquired as to what the other options had been. However they wanted to refer to his face didn't matter to him. Although Ren had to privately enjoy the irony that a small but not-insignificant portion of his fans were alarmingly close to the truth. The Renkyo shippers (as they had been dubbed) maintained that the couple had been dating secretly for years. After all, the fans argued, someone would have to be impossibly dense to miss the meaning of that look. Yashiro had shown a series of viral tweets elaborating on the hidden relationship to Kyoko, practically cackling with delight when the teen caught Ren's sheepish grin and promptly turned almost lobster red.

But Ren was not about to relay that particular incident or explain the etymology of 'butter smile' to the President. The actor had a sneaking suspicion that the President already knew. He said nothing. Lory heaved a dramatic sigh, tossing the magazine onto the coffee table between them.

"You're so boring!" The older man complained. "You're finally in the tabloids and you have no reaction!"

"I'm more worried about Kyoko." Ren hesitated. "There hasn't been anything, right?"

"Mogami-kun's mentions online are being monitored by PR." Lory's grin was so wide it was almost a leer. "Your new smile seems to have spared her the worst of it. Most of your fans think it's adorable, how smitten you are." Lory paused. Then he added slyly, "Some of your international fans are positively gleeful about the news."

"My international fans," Ren repeated, staring at the President blankly.

"Oh yes, two very long time fans."

The actor paused. "That's not funny."

"Good, because I'm not joking." Lory took a long drag from his cigar. "He's coming to Japan."

"When?" Ren's voice was tight.

Lory shrugged. "Sometime in December. Something about promoting his latest action flick." The older man paused, giving Ren a moment to absorb the information. Then he added, "She's coming too."

Ren gave up on pretending to be indifferent to the news. He covered his face with his hands, his fingertips digging into his scalp as he tried to think. "Can't you stop them?" Ren muttered.

"Have you tried stopping your mother?" The President countered. He exhaled a cloud of smoke, tapping the ashes off the end of his cigar into a silver tray. Both were silent for a minute. "I can get you a copy of their schedules so you won't run into them by surprise. You can avoid them, if that's your wish," Lory said at last.

Ren said nothing. He pushed himself back up but kept staring down at the carpet, one hand gripping his wrist. "I'm— I'm not ready."

"You don't feel ready," the older man countered gently. "But perhaps it's time."

"I haven't told her yet." Kuon's voice was hoarse with despair. He looked up at Lory, fear and anxiety swirling in his eyes, making him look so much younger than he normally appeared. "What if—" he swallowed painfully, "What if she doesn't forgive me?"

Lory was quiet for a long moment. Then with a heavy sigh, he stubbed out his cigar. "It isn't a matter of Mogami-kun forgiving you or not," he said gently. "Are you ready to forgive yourself?" Ren said nothing. Lory leveled the full weight of his gaze on the young man in front of him. "You cannot run away from the past forever, Kuon."

"I know. It's just— not yet." The actor's fists were clenched. Lory said nothing, only watched as Kuon seemed to crumple. Then the anguish and sorrow was gone, hidden behind the elegant mask of Tsuruga Ren's mature aura. The actor stood, bowing stiffly before turning, leaving Lory alone on the couch. There was an unusually somber look on the president's face as he watched the tall figure walk away.


A/N: Writing and sharing this has brought me a lot of joy this year. Thank you so much to everyone who reads and especially thank you to those who have taken the time to leave a review! I wish you all a wonderful 2022.