Ren had spent most of Christmas Day sitting in the same spot in his apartment. He tried to stare straight ahead, and not look around his empty apartment, which seemed to be mocking him with its excessive holiday cheer. He'd woken up early and spent almost two hours decorating, making sure everything was just right. The fresh scent of pine from the Christmas tree he'd had delivered filled the spacious condo, taunting his nose and pulling at his memories with its clean, crisp scent. The ornaments he had hung were nestled in the branches along with cheerful, twinkling lights. Ren had even spent a full forty minutes trying to figure out how to hang the stockings from the stark mantelpiece above his modern gas-powered fireplace. He had even bought a cake (which looked like it was about 80% frosting and certainly too sweet).

All of his careful preparations ended up being for nothing. He had planned the perfect Christmas-Birthday celebration for Kyoko, but instead of celebrating with her Ren was sitting alone on the floor with his back against the couch as the last of the late afternoon light fading away as he remained stationary. It was safer to stay in one spot: if he got up, Ren didn't trust himself not to head straight to his liquor cabinet and drink an unhealthy amount of whatever would knock him out the fastest. Ren replayed the day's events in his mind over and over. He should have waited for Kyoko at the restaurant, he thought bitterly. Or he should have gone after her, searching all over Tokyo if he had to. He should have done something, besides come back to his sad, empty apartment. Except what could he have done? It was clear from the older woman's face that the okami-san had been confused by his appearance. Which meant that Kyoko was purposefully avoiding him — it was the only logical conclusion.

He remembered Kyoko's stiffness, the obvious discomfort emanating from the teen when he had made the mistake of thinking she wanted to stay the night at his place. Clearly, he'd messed up and given Kyoko the wrong idea about his intentions. Ren sighed, raking his fingers through his hair. He hadn't even meant it like that. He'd been so careful. Despite how much he liked having Kyoko in his arms — how right it felt — Ren had let Kyoko set the pace, not wanting to rush her or push the actress into something. He was afraid that if he let himself lose control that Kyoko would bolt like a frightened deer. But all it had taken was one offhanded mention — a genuine misunderstanding — and she had run. It was hopeless as it was frustrating. Ren felt a growl building in his throat and part of him felt a sudden, violent urge to punch something. After all this time, how could Kyoko think that he was only trying to get into her pants? Was he really so hard to trust?

Apparently so. Ren heaved a heavy sigh. He sat, his morose thoughts swirling in his head like water down a drain, except that there was no end to the litany of remorse and self-recrimination that played on loop in his mind. He would have continued for hours until he fell asleep there on the floor, but Kyoko's phone call had jolted him out of the dark spiral. He stared at the recent calls log in his phone. It was real. She had called him. Kyoko was coming, she would be there in minutes, and he had to be ready.

«×»«×»«×»

Kyoko made it to Ren's apartment in record time. Between the lack of traffic and her own adrenaline, Kyoko flew through the streets of Tokyo on her bike. She was barely paying attention to the road, her mind racing as she tried to organize her thoughts. Her lips moved, rehearsing her apology over and over. The teen sprang from her bike and whizzed through the lobby, waved through by the doorman behind the desk. The elevator ride up to Ren's floor seemed to pass in a second, and Kyoko found herself standing outside the familiar door to Ren's apartment, her heartbeat pounding in her ears and her palms sweating. She rang the bell.

When Ren opened the door a moment later, Kyoko threw herself down toward the ground, hurtling with alarming speed towards Ren's slippered feet. But she never made it into her dogeza. Ren had anticipated her movement, skillfully redirecting her downward momentum and using her momentary confusion to his advantage, he steered her inside. Kyoko's entire rhythm was thrown off and she found herself being led inside by the actor and seated on one end of Ren's sofa.

The actor had successfully thwarted Kyoko's planned opening move of 'Tearful Dogeza Full of Sincere Apology to my Important Senpai', leaving the actress floundering like a ship blown out to sea. She opened her mouth to say something, but no words came out. The outline for the conversation, the phrases she had rehearsed on the bike ride over, slipped away like water through her cupped hands. Kyoko felt the swirling, almost nauseating confusion from earlier in the morning creeping back into her mind like smoke slipping under a closed door. She pressed a hand against her stomach. The silence in the apartment was so heavy that it seemed to congeal. It was like a wall being built between them, brick by brick, as the seconds ticked by. Kyoko floundered. Why wasn't he saying anything? Her eyes kept flickering towards Ren as he sat on the other end of the couch, glancing away any time she felt he might make eye contact, not feeling brave enough to hold his gaze.

Kyoko had expected Ren to be angry, to face the demon lord with his razor-sharp, sparkling smiles. For the full wrath of Tsuruga Ren to rain down upon her. For it to be like Karuizawa all over again. But instead he was sitting on the other end of the couch waiting for her to speak, his expression unreadable. Why wasn't he yelling at her? He should be telling her that she was the most horrible, ungrateful kohai to ever exist, that she was a terrible girlfriend, that he never wanted her to speak to him again outside of work! That if he was on a project, she shouldn't even audition! Kyoko felt the tension building between them and along her spine. Any moment now, she told herself, Ren would open his mouth and flay her alive with those words.

Ren cleared his throat.

This is it, Kyoko thought, her spine snapping up straight like a rubber band. Stay strong, Kyoko. You can do this.

"How's your leg?" Ren asked.

"What?" She blinked, her brain struggling to process. "Oh! My leg—! Yes, right! It's fine! Actually, it barely hurts at all!" Kyoko tried to smile, but it felt like a grimace. She knew she was blabbering but couldn't seem to stop herself, afraid that if she stopped speaking the suffocating silence would return and smother them both.

"I'm glad," he replied, then paused. From her reaction, it was clear that she'd practically forgotten all about her knee injury. Which was confusing since she'd been nearly in tears last night when he'd found her. "I was worried last night."

"I'm sorry," she said quietly, eyes down on her lap. "I didn't mean to make you worry."

For a moment, Ren struggled. Part of him wanted to respond and say that if Kyoko didn't want to make him worry, she shouldn't avoid him. But in his mind it sounded petty and accusatory. He didn't want that. He could hold it in. "I'm glad you're feeling better."

"Uhh— I…. th-thank you…" the teen stuttered out. Kyoko shifted uncomfortably, not willing to meet Ren's gaze.

"Were you really sick? Or were you just avoiding me?" The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them. So much not being petty, Ren thought bitterly. He slumped forward, burying his face in his hands. When he spoke again, the words were slightly muffled, but the despair in his soft voice was clear enough. "Did I make you that uncomfortable?"

Kyoko said nothing. Was she supposed to respond? The actress wasn't sure if Ren had said those words to her or to himself. She wasn't surprised that he had figured out she was avoiding him, but she was a bit let down by how easily he admitted it. It felt anticlimactic, somehow. She looked at Ren and realized he was watching her through his fingers, his hair falling charmingly into his eyes, but not so much that she couldn't read his expression. He was watching her expectantly. What was he expecting? Kyoko was confused. Was he waiting for her to announce that he was Corn? That didn't make any sense. Even if he knew that she knew that Tsuruga Ren wasn't his real name, wasn't it up to confirm it? Kyoko frowned. It wasn't as though she expected him to reach up and pull off Tsuruga Ren's brown hair like a wig, revealing Corn's perfect golden fairy locks. But surely the reveal of a secret identity called for a little bit more fanfare, right? Kyoko realized with amusement that the President was rubbing off on her.

Kyoko cleared her throat. "I don't know if…" she trailed off. The revelation had shocked her, certainly. And she had so many questions for the man in front of her. But uncomfortable? Kyoko shifted. "Maybe a little."

"I didn't mean anything by it, alright? I swear. I didn't mean to push you or make you upset. I know that you're not ready for— for that, yet," Ren said, his voice lowering slightly. "I thought it would be okay, since you've stayed over before. I wanted to spend as much of today with you as I could. So I thought it made sense. That's all," Ren said, holding up both his hands.

Kyoko stared at him. She blinked. "What?"

"Last night," Ren said slowly, not quite meeting her eyes. He winced in embarrassment. "When I… thought you meant you were coming back here. Remember, in the car? You froze up," he prompted.

The gears in Kyoko's head began to click as her brain slowly processed his words. Ren was not talking about being Corn at all. Kyoko closed her eyes, trying to remember. Yes, that was right. She vaguely recalled Ren saying something about going home last night. She had blushed, but then moved on. She'd had other things on her mind, after all. Kyoko's cheeks turned pink at the recollection. "Oh."

"I… Is that not why you were avoiding me?" Ren asked, confused. He squinted at the actress.

"I—" Kyoko felt trapped. If she lied and said yes, would he catch it? If she said no, she would have to then explain why she avoided him. Which meant telling Ren that she knew he was really Hizuri Kuon. Was she ready for that? Was he? The answer seemed obvious. If he was ready to tell her, he would have, right? Unless, of course, he was never going to.

Part of her wanted explanations. She wanted to tell him that she knew who he really was— to demand that he tell her everything right then and there. But another part of Kyoko hesitated. Even if she had finally gotten comfortable enough with Ren-san to do such a thing, the man in front of her wasn't Tsuruga Ren. There was so much she didn't know about the man she called her boyfriend. She felt awkward and estranged. Kyoko didn't know how to act or what to say. Kanae's words echoed in her head: why do you have to act differently? Just be the same as always.

Was that even possible, Kyoko wondered, looking at the man in front of her. Could she pretend that she hadn't found out he was really Hizuri Kuon? That she didn't know he was Corn?

"What's wrong?" Ren asked, startling Kyoko out of her reverie. He had moved closer on the couch, taking both of her hands in his and giving them a reassuring squeeze. "You can tell me."

"I'm sorry," Kyoko said softly. Her gaze dropped. "Last night, I was… overwhelmed," she said, choosing the word carefully. She looked back up at him. "I-I'm… better now. I just— I just want things to be normal."

"Normal," Ren repeated. For a moment he looked at her, his eyes searching her face. Then his gaze darted away, and he seemed to nod to himself. "Alright. I can do normal."

When Kyoko gave Ren a hesitant smile, his relief was palpable. Whatever was bothering her, the teen didn't want to share, and Ren was afraid to pry. She had asked for normal, and so the actor would do his best. And since he was, after all, Tsuruga Ren, his best was pretty damn good.

Ren grinned down at her with such perfect cheerfulness that for a moment Kyoko wondered if the past 24 hours had been some strange dream. But while his smile was genuine, it was slightly stiff. She could sense a hint of tension in the otherwise smooth facade that Ren was putting on. And if he was acting, then so could she. The last thing that Kyoko ever wanted to do was disappoint her senpai. She squared her shoulders, taking a deep inhale to center herself. It was like they were on set and the director had called for action: Kyoko and Ren act like a normal couple, take one.

Ren stood up briskly. "Well, do you want to open your presents?"

"Um, I have something for you, too," she said shyly. She had practically forgotten about the large tote bag she had brought with her, which was resting against the couch at her feet.

"You didn't have to get me anything." Ren's words were earnest, but he was obviously pleased.

"That's what I always say to you," she grumbled to herself as she bent down to pull the wrapped gifts from her bag. She held them out to him with pink cheeks. "I'm sorry I couldn't get you anything nicer," she added, her head bowed.

"Nonsense. I love it already," Ren said, his fingertips brushing over hers as he took the gifts from her hands. Kyoko hastily pulled away.

"You haven't even opened it yet," she muttered, inwardly relieved. No NGs so far, Kyoko thought to herself. If she could just hold onto this character — this version of herself — Kyoko could pretend everything was fine.

"I'm not going to be the only one opening gifts," Ren said with mock severity. "You have to open yours, too." He nodded towards the tree.

Kyoko's nose had vaguely registered the sharp, familiar smell of pine upon her arrival, but she'd been too distracted to look around for the source. Now her eyes landed on the Christmas tree. Kyoko stared, then looked back at Ren, then back at the tree. The twinkle lights added a warm glow to Ren's normally spartan living room. She could see ornaments shining, tucked in among the branches, and a pile of presents were underneath as though Ren had picked up a whole department store window display and transported it into his living room. Behind the tree, snowflakes were taped to the large windows that looked out over the city. Chains of colored paper and streamers hung from the wall near the dining table. And, Kyoko noticed, there were two stockings above the fireplace. She went to inspect it and saw her name embroidered on one of them, in glistening white thread that reminded her of freshly fallen snow. The stocking was a dark forest green patterned with embroidered snowflakes that glittered with sequins. Delighted, the teen turned and caught Ren's eye. The actor feigned impatience, tapping his foot and sighing as he glanced meaningfully towards the tree, his eyes twinkling with amusement.

The Christmas tree shimmered like a dragon's treasure hoard. It had been beautiful from far away, but up close it was even better. Kyoko stuck her nose two inches from the branches, inhaling the scent. Glittering tinsel and gold ribbon had been nestled into the boughs of the tree and there were all sorts of ornaments: large gold orbs with glittering decorations, long glass icicles tipped with glitter, painted and blown glass scenes of snowflakes and sugar plum fairies. There were wooden nutcracker soldiers and graceful ballerinas with tiny tutus. Kyoko reached out reverently to caress a blown glass ornament that looked exactly like Cinderella's glass slipper. Engrossed in her fantasies, she jumped when Ren's hand lightly touched the small of her back.

"Do you like it?"

"It's beautiful!" Kyoko whispered. The teen's eyes sparkled and Ren knew she was a thousand miles away, in some Nutcracker-Christmas Fairy themed fantasy. It was just as he'd hoped. The headache of unwrapping every delicate ornament and the twenty minutes he'd spent vacuuming his carpet to get the glitter out afterwards suddenly felt worth it. Ren gently nudged her shoulder with his arm, encouraging her towards the pile of gifts under the tree.

"Tsuruga-san!" The sparkling fantasy aura evaporated, replaced by a familiar tone of reprimand and dismay, complete with a matching disapproving frown. "I cannot possibly accept all these!"

He generously decided to let the Tsuruga-san slide. "They're not all for Christmas. Half of them are birthday presents," he pointed out. Kyoko found his rational tone maddening. It was like he seriously thought saying such a thing would make her feel better! As if half the absurdly large pile under the tree was a completely reasonable number of gifts to give someone. In Kyoko's mind, even a tenth of the boxes would be too many.

"One present for Christmas and one for my birthday," she announced, holding up her fingers and counting them off. "That's it."

"Haven't you read the articles? Every magazine in Japan insists that Tsuruga Ren is the kind of gentleman who would spoil his girlfriend. You wouldn't want me to disappoint my fans, would you?" Ren lifted an eyebrow slyly. "My reputation would suffer if the public knew I only got my girlfriend one single, measly present."

"Fair's fair: I got you two things, so you can give me two things," Kyoko said primly, kneeling down and plucking two boxes out of the pile at random before straightening.

"Four things," the actor countered immediately.

"Two."

"Two things for Christmas," Ren nodded as though he agreed. Then added, "and two for your birthday."

Kyoko pressed her lips together. "Three," she insisted. "I only got you one thing for your birthday."

Ren pretended to mull it over for a few moments, thoughtfully tapping his chin. Then he lit up. "How about a competition?"

"What?"

"To decide the number of presents. Whoever wins get to choose how ma—"

"No," she said, cutting him off. "You'll cheat."

"That sounds awfully like an accusation," Ren observed wrly. Kyoko refused to budge and he sighed, a hint of Cain's despondency creeping in. "Alright, fine. Just three. But I get to pick the third!" With alarming speed, Ren grabbed the largest box and herded Kyoko back to the sofa, gleefully ignoring her protests. He set the present on the couch between them with a smile that made Kyoko very nervous about the cost of whatever was inside.

"Ladies first," Ren said.

"No, please, after you!"

"We'll open them at the same time, how's that?" Ren said easily as he picked the smaller of the two gifts from Kyoko to unwrap first. It turned out to be a set of three small ceramic dishes, the kind of artisanal piece that could be used to hold keys or small change, or set on a coffee table as decoration. Kyoko's other gift for Ren turned out to be two cookbooks stacked on top of each other: one large, very thick, entitled Fundamentals of Japanese Cooking that was half cookbook and half instructional kitchen how-to guide and a smaller book titled Tastes of Hawaii. Ren smiled to himself as he saw the table of contents and immediately saw a chapter devoted to dishes from Maui. He quickly turned to the section and sure enough, tucked between two recipes was a piece of paper with familiar handwriting. Kyoko had inserted a recipe for 'Maui Omurice a la Tsuruga-senpai', complete with an ingredients list, instructions, and even cute doodles of Bo the Rooster in a chef's uniform providing helpful hints. Ren grinned at the actress. It was the best Christmas present he had ever received, hands down.

While Ren was grinning with delight, Kyoko was doing her best to keep herself from hyperventilating at the thought of how much the actor had to have spent. Kyoko had opened the two presents she selected to find an impossibly soft, dove gray cashmere scarf and a pair of what were certainly designer sunglasses (inside a carrying case that Kyoko suspected was definitely sold separately). Ren grinned as he watched Kyoko seem to steel herself before opening her last present. Inside the large box that Ren had selected was a beautiful leather bag finished with gold hardware. It was large, but not too big for everyday use, with cleverly designed interior pockets. The actor had filled Kyoko's stocking with all sorts of small, useful things that the actress might want to carry around: a small compact mirror, breath mints, stain remover, a trio of lip glosses from her favorite brand, an extremely sturdy pocket umbrella that folded away into practically nothing, a small notebook with a fairy garden printed cover and matching pens. He had insisted that the items in the Christmas stocking went with the bag and therefore did not count, protesting loudly when she tried to give the bag back to him. Once again, he was forced to remind her again that it wasn't polite to remark about the cost of gifts. Ren had bought luxury items of course, because Kyoko deserved to have nice things (not that he said this out loud). Instead he insisted that they were practical— and therefore hardly gifts at all. When Ren jokingly tried to argue that they were items she could use professionally and that a good kohai would accept them, Kyoko put her foot down.

"Are you hungry?" Ren asked, switching tactics immediately when she shut down his argument. He grinned and picked up one of his cookbooks. "I could whip something up for us."

Kyoko's horrified face made Ren laugh.

"Don't worry," he reassured her with a self-deprecating smile. "I won't subject you to my cooking. At least, not tonight," he said with a wink. Ren had called in a few favors to secure delivery from a restaurant they had gone to for date night a few weeks ago that Kyoko had loved. It turned out the head chef was a huge Dark Moon fan and more than happy to fulfill an expensive Christmas dinner custom order for the actor who played Katsuki.

The food was delicious, but the conversation was strained. Without the bustle of unwrapping presents, Kyoko felt the dreaded silence from earlier creeping back in. Ordinarily, she would tell Ren all about how she had spent the day with Moko-san. But since she'd lied to Ren and told him she was sick to go see Kanae because she'd needed to talk to her best friend about how Tsuruga Ren wasn't really Tsuruga Ren (without, of course, actually telling Kanae that much), it didn't seem like the best subject for dinner conversation.

If Ren noticed that Kyoko was oddly reserved, he said nothing. Instead, he kept silence at bay with the easy grace that was practically second nature after years of making polite, meaningless chatter with magazine interviewers and late night talk show hosts. As they ate, the actor joked that with the help of his new cookbooks, he would be a five-star chef in no time. Perhaps it was time to retire from his acting career, he'd mused, so he could pursue his true passion of cooking. Kyoko did her best to smile and laugh, and if it sounded a little forced, Ren wisely made no comment.

When dinner was over, Ren had insisted on clearing the table and doing the dishes so forcefully that Kyoko felt she had no choice except to politely acquiesce and remain seated at the table, with nothing to do except look around at the Christmas decorations. Clearly, he had decorated for her— she doubted that Ren would buy The Nutcracker ballet-themed Christmas tree ornaments for himself (or frankly, bother to decorate at all). At first she had been blown away by the overload of spectacle, but without the distraction of Ren's presence, the Christmas decor felt overwhelming and jarringly foreign. What normal Japanese person would bother with all this? Against the backdrop of his stark, modern condo, the holiday decorations felt distinctly and garishly American. It was like a flashing billboard pointing out information that Kyoko was doing her best to try and forget, or at least ignore. Kyoko refused to break character while Ren was in front of her. Her pride as a professional actress had carried her through exchanging gifts and dinner. But sitting alone at the dining room table, Kyoko felt a growing sense of dismay. She didn't want to act, Kyoko realized. At least with Ren, she didn't want to have to pretend. She wanted it to be real.

The teen was startled out of her thoughts by the room going dark. Then Ren's silhouette appeared in the kitchen doorway, with a small cake on a platter. Softly, he began to sing happy birthday, moving slowly so as to not accidentally snuff out the candles, perfectly timed so that he reached her by the last note of the song.

"I didn't know what kind of cake you wanted," Ren said as he set the cake down in front of her. "I hope it's alright."

Kyoko said nothing. She stared at the flames, the flickering candlelight danced over her face, obscuring her expression. The candles continued to burn quickly, creating little puddles of hardened wax on top of the whipped frosting. Just when Ren thought about prompting her, Kyoko took a deep breath and blew out the candles in one go. Ren clapped, then went to turn the lights back on.

"What did you wish for?" he teased, smiling as he sat down next to her. But instead of smiling back, Kyoko's face was somber. She seemed to be thinking something over as she stared at the now extinguished candles.

"I wished," she said slowly, "that you would tell me the truth."

Ren blinked. For what felt like the first time that night, Kyoko was looking him in the eyes. He felt a chill run up his spine. "Pardon?"

"I overheard you, last night." The teen's hands were folded together in her lap to stop them from trembling. She held Ren's gaze. "You and Juliena-san."

It felt like the ground was melting underneath him, like any moment his chair would collapse and he would be sent sprawling down, into some void that had seemingly opened up in his living room. This couldn't be happening. Ren managed to choke out a response. "How much did you hear?"

"Enough," Kyoko said softly, finally dropping her gaze. The word hung between them. For several seconds, there was only silence. Neither of them moved. They barely breathed.

Ren broke first. "Kyoko, I— I can explain. Please, you have to—"

"How long?" Kyoko cut in. Her voice and eyes were hard and raw. Ren could hear the hurt, along with the rest of her question. He stared back at her helplessly, and her eyes narrowed. "How long, Corn?"

"I was going to tell you, I swear—"

"When?"

"I don't know," he answered helplessly, struggling to get a hold of himself, the conversation, the room— anything. "I'd been meaning to. It's not that I wanted to hide it."

Kyoko raised one brow in a decidedly Natsu-esque fashion. "Really? You say that, but it feels like you had plenty of chances to tell me and you didn't."

"Alright, fine. You're right, I hid it from you," Ren admitted, surprised at the bitterness in his voice. "When we met again, I didn't recognize you at first. It was only when you dropped th— my stone," he corrected himself, "that I knew. What was I supposed to do? Tell you right there, in front of Sawara-san?" Ren gave a bitter laugh. "Besides, you hated me."

"You hated me!" was her indignant reply.

Ren gave a helpless shrug. "Back then, I didn't know I'd end up falling in love with you. We'd both changed. I wasn't Hizuri Kuon anymore."

Kyoko waited. She was on the edge of a cliff, one step away from plunging down into a darkness that she knew was there, but couldn't sense the depth of. Kyoko had glimpsed it before: the darkness that seemed to be eating away at him from the inside. The way it had paralyzed him as Cain Heel, how she'd watched as Setsu while Ren fought and struggled to hold on to any part of himself. She looked at him, waiting.

Ren looked at her seriously. "I know you think Corn is a fairy prince, but it's not a happy story," he warned her. "People hurt me, and I hurt them back. I even enjoyed it, sometimes." There was no malice in Ren's voice, just a hollow regret. "But other people got hurt, too. And I—" Ren's throat closed up, and he looked away.

Part of Kyoko was afraid. Her eyes darted briefly past Ren, towards the door. It wasn't too late to turn back. It would be easy, even. She could run away from this conversation. She could even literally run away. Maybe, if Kyoko gave herself some time, she would be able to pretend it never happened. But another part of her knew that she had uncovered something that Ren had buried. She had opened the box and there was no putting the lid back on. And Kyoko knew that if she left now, it was over. Timidly, she reached out a trembling hand, laying her fingers on top of his.

Ren looked at her miserably, then with a sigh, got to his feet.

"Alright," he said, resigned. "Come on."

«×»«×»«×»

They relocated to the couch. Kyoko had sat still and waited as Ren had paced for a while, then finally settled next to her. Once he began speaking, he didn't stop. He seemed almost numb, relaying the story robotically. Only when he got to Rick did Ren pause briefly. But he did not cry. Kyoko wept silently, doing her best not to hiccup and sob as the tears fell down her cheeks. Ren did not notice, he only kept reciting, his voice bleak. He finished, then trailed off silently, staring down in front of him at something only he could see. Ren was so still that Kyoko began to worry. It didn't even look like he was breathing, and when she called his name, Ren didn't respond. Finally, in a move of desperation, Kyoko slid over on the couch, until she was pressed against his side. Gently, she pried Ren's hand off from where he held his wrist in an iron grasp, holding his hand between both of hers as she dragged his limp arm over so she could rest their hands in her lap. Ren's grip was painfully strong for a moment, before he registered that she was still there. His eyes twitched, then he turned his whole head to look at her, shocked to find the actress still there. He wasn't sure how long he had spoken, or when he had gone silent. But Kuon had fully expected to resurface and find Kyoko long gone. Instead she was there. Her face was a little blotchy and there were tear stains on both of her cheeks. Kuon's gaze drifted up slowly, afraid to find out what he would see in her eyes. Would she be afraid? Would she call him a murdered?

When he finally looked, he saw that Kyoko's golden eyes were red and watery. And her gaze was trembling. But it was warm. Kuon crumpled then, wrapping both of his arms around Kyoko and pulling her into his chest. He was holding her impossibly tight, almost crushing, and Kyoko guessed she could only last a few minutes before she either had to make him let go or she ran out of air. But for those few minutes, she clung on to him, as tightly as she could, balling her fists in the fabric of his sweater and her tears leaking down onto his neck.

Eventually, Kuon relaxed enough to give Kyoko more room to breathe, but he did not let go. They adjusted, moving closer together, Kyoko nearly in his lap, his fingers cradling her head. Ren couldn't see her face, and after a few minutes he began to wonder if the teen had fallen asleep, when she moved, pulling back enough to look up at him squarely. Kyoko sniffled, wiping away one last stray tear.

"So… what now?" She asked softly.

"I don't know," he answered honestly.

"But…I mean," Kyoko stumbled, "you can't be Tsuruga Ren forever…." she trailed off, waiting. "Aren't you going to go back?"

"To America?" Ren asked.

She shook her head. "To being Kuon."

"Someday, maybe," he said. He examined her thoughtfully, then smiled to himself and shrugged. "Maybe not."

Kyoko's eyes widened. "What?"

"Only if you'll come with me," he teased.

She frowned at him. "That's not funny," she said sternly.

"I wasn't kidding," he replied, still smiling. "If Tsuruga Ren is the man you're in love with, then that's who I'll be," Ren said. "Forever."

Kyoko didn't know how to respond. There was no possible response to such a ridiculous statement. She began to splutter, her cheeks turning red, and Ren laughed. The somber mood lifted, at least mostly. It was still lingering, but Ren's laugh— while not effusive— was genuine. The sound of it soothed the last remaining knot in Kyoko's chest. Playfully, she pushed away from him and sat up with a smile. Pretending to be affronted, the actress crossed her arms and looked past him, only to have her eyes fall on the dining room table. Ren's eyes followed hers.

"Time for dessert?" He prompted.

Kyoko had entirely forgotten about the cake. On closer inspection, the whipped frosting, having sat out for the duration of the conversation, now looked a bit sad. Kyoko wasn't really hungry for cake, and she suspected that Ren wasn't either. And yet, some strange part of her felt the need to eat at least a little of it.

"Nobody's ever bought me a birthday cake. I mean, one just for me," Kyoko remarked, giving Ren a shy smile. "Would you like a slice?"

"A small one," Ren said. He sat down at the table, thanking her as she handed him a sliver.

Kyoko looked down at her own slice, then sighed a little. Ren looked at her, and she gave him an embarrassed smile. "There's no such thing as magic, is there?"

"I don't know," Ren admitted. "I'm not part fairy, if that's what you mean. Sorry to disappoint you. But as for magic, I don't know," Ren said honestly. He reached for her hand, weaving their fingers together. "When I'm around you, anything feels possible. Even magic."

Kyoko got the sense that he was teasing her, but before she could retort Ren lifted their joined hands to kiss her knuckles. Ren was still wearing his contacts, and so his eyes were brown, but Kyoko was positive she had never seen them so dazzling. Her entire body felt hot, and her face was blazing. Was she hallucinating? Kyoko was pretty sure that for a second it had seemed like the air around Ren was filled with hazy pink clouds. She shook her head to try and clear her vision and Ren chuckled, kissing her fingers again. Then he picked up his fork and held out a bite of cake for her, a nervous flicker in his eye as he smiled encouragingly. She dropped her gaze.

"P-playboy," she muttered. But it was more affectionate than scolding, and she couldn't keep a straight face as she said it. Kyoko leaned forward slowly, feeling incredibly uncoordinated as she daintily ate the proffered bite of cake off Ren's fork. His look of absolute shock made the embarrassment worth it, she decided, as he watched her with wide, almost alarmed eyes.

"What?" She demanded, feeling self-conscious. "It's good." She looked down, then picked up her own fork and held a bite out for Ren, glancing at him through her lashes. "Would you… like to have some?" she muttered.

Ren's smile grew wolfish as he leaned down, his eyes never leaving hers. "Yes," he said. "I would."


A/N: Sorry for the delay. Thank you so much for your patience with this chapter!