Kyoko delayed arriving at Ren's apartment for as long as possible. He had offered to pick her up, of course, or even let her stay the night before — but she had adamantly refused. Her landlords left promptly in the morning on the first day of Golden Week, although it turned out the floor refinishers were not coming until the next day. The Taisho and Okami-san of the Darumaya were excellent at running a restaurant, but they were slightly less excellent at a few other things — namely, remembering to tell Kyoko their schedule.
"Don't worry about the mail or anything," The Okami-san told her young tenant as she handed her suitcase to her waiting husband and checked around the living room one last time. "Oh! And the contractors — are you sure you'll be able to let them in tomorrow?" Kyoko nodded, and the proprietress patted her shoulder. "Thank you, Kyoko-chan. I cannot say how much we appreciate it. It would have been hard to convince him to go anywhere, if you weren't around. But we know we are leaving the place in good hands." Kyoko smiled, wished them a wonderful trip, and waved goodbye as the couple piled into the waiting taxi and the car sped away.
Without the usual bustle of customers and the familiar presence of her landlords, the restaurant felt strange. The cheerful noise and delicious aromas were absent, and Kyoko was glad she was not staying in the empty space alone for the whole week. It would have been too lonely. But it was nice to have one day to herself at home. The teen needed to do some laundry, and it had been a while since she had properly straightened her room. There was schoolwork to be done, and papers to be sorted and put away, and she hadn't dusted in what felt like forever. Then Kyoko drew herself a bath, soaking longer than she normally allowed herself and trying to relax. Trying not to think about the fact that starting tomorrow, she would be staying over at a man's apartment.
The original plan had been for Kyoko to stay with Kane. Until Moko-san had informed her earlier in the week that her newest drama's production schedule had been moved up, and Kanae was going out of town for a week-long shoot starting Saturday morning. Kyoko's first reaction had been crushing disappointment when she realized that the multi-day sleepover with her best friend that she'd been looking forward to wasn't going to happen. It wasn't until Kanae awkwardly brought up the subject of Kyoko's housing that the copper-haired teen even remembered the original reason for said sleepover. It being so close to the holidays, many of the hotels in Tokyo were already booked. When Kanae asked if Ren knew about Kyoko's predicament, Kyoko turned into a bright, stuttering mess as she spilled out a rambling, embarrassed, roundabout explanation (if it could even be called that) of what Ren had said to her the other night when she had originally told him about her predicament.
Part of Kanae was celebrating, because Kyoko had chosen her over him. Although if Kanae was in Kyoko's place, the dark-haired actress would have chosen the spacious, luxury apartment over her own house in a heartbeat. There was way more room. And no nieces and nephews running around, destroying the house and making noise when Kanae was trying to get her beauty sleep.
"Well, then just tell him you need a place to stay after all." Kanae said practically. "Problem solved." Kyoko sputtered indignantly.
"B-but… it's a man's house!"
"That man is your boyfriend." Kanae countered. Then she frowned. "Is he… he's not being too pushy, is he?" She asked, examining her nervous friend.
Kyoko blushed, shaking her head furiously.
"Good." Moko-san nodded firmly. Kanae wasn't surprised. Tsuruga Ren might have the public image of a smooth gentleman, but the man was besotted with Kyoko to the point of idiocy. It had taken the actor months to confess, and he seemed even less secure in their new relationship than Kyoko did. The dark-haired actress was almost positive that Tsuruga was behaving like a perfect gentleman. Although Kanae personally guessed that it had less to do with Tsuruga's public persona and was more likely that the actor was just too nervous to make a move on Kyoko. Whatever, Kanae thought dismissively. As long as he isn't pressuring her. "So what's the problem?"
"I SWORE TO BE A PURE JAPANESE MAIDEN!" Kyoko cried. "FOREVER!"
Kyoko's shout echoed briefly in the mostly-empty locker room. Kanae gave her friend a flat stare. "I'm pretty sure your boyfriend would have some issues with that, eventually."
Kyoko went bright red. "I know… but… I'm not ready!"
"So? You said he's not being pushy, so it's not an issue." Kanae said flatly.
"But… I— he—" Kyoko spluttered. "He's just so handsome." Kyoko said very quietly, as if she was admitting some shameful, long-kept secret. Her face and hands were red. Kanae stared blankly at her friend.
"Yeah? And? You're supposed to find your boyfriend attractive."
"All of Japan finds Tsuruga Ren attractive. Even if he isn't their type, I think most people would admit he's good-looking."
"It'd be weirder if you didn't find him attractive." Kanae continued, ignoring the fact that Kyoko looked like a tea kettle about to whistle. "You shouldn't date someone you don't want to kiss."
"MOKO-SAN!" Kyoko shrieked. Kanae winced at her friend's volume.
"WHAT?!" Kanae yelled back in frustration. "Mo! You're such an idiot sometimes. It's normal, okay?!"
"But… it just… feels so strange." Kyoko whispered, still looking at the floor. "I… I feel so… like... I don't know!" Kyoko threw up her hands in frustration. "What is wrong with me?!"
"STOP CLINGING TO MY SKIRT! YOU'RE GETTING IT ALL DAMP!"
"PLEAAAAAASE MOKO-SAN I BEG YOU! YOU HAVE TO HELP ME!"
"WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO?!" Kanae yelled, her volume matching her friend's as she struggled to shake off Kyoko's clutching fingers. "YOU SAID YOU'RE THE PROBLEM, SO YOU FIGURE IT OUT!"
"I DON'T KNOW! HAVE YOU TRIED TALKING TO YOUR BOYFRIEND?!"
"Uh... is now a bad time?" Ren asked, standing awkwardly in the Love Me Section doorway. "Hello, Kotonami-san." He gave the taller actress a polite nod, then his eyes settled on Kyoko, and he smiled. "Kyoko-chan." Kyoko instantly froze, still clinging to Kanae's skirt, her eyes shining and her face a wobbly mess.
Kanae was done. She wrenched herself away from Kyoko, stomping past the tall actor and out the door before whirling back around. "Don't you dare come bother me with your stupid problems until you've worked it out with this idiot!" She said, jerking her thumb at Ren. Then she left, muttering angrily down the hallway.
"Is everything alright?" Ren asked, trying to pretend like he wasn't desperately curious about their conversation.
"Um… well… we…" Kyoko said, blinking frantically and trying to get her brain back to processing and trying not to freak out about how much Ren may have overheard. "I… uh…" She peeked up at Ren from beneath her bangs, a worried look on her face. "Can we... talk?"
"Of course." Ren smiled, hoping it seemed natural and easy. Kyoko seemed to have a sixth sense when it came to his smiles, and he didn't want her to know about the rising tide of panic he was feeling at her words. It's fine. This is Kyoko. She doesn't mean 'talk' like that. Probably. She's not going to break up with me. I hope. Everything's fine. Yup. Totally fine. "Are you free now?" Ren asked. "We can order something and have dinner at my place."
Kyoko seemed to relax and stiffen up at the same time. "Okay. Yes. Please. Um, if it's okay with you that I'm coming over…"
Ren picked up her bag, ignoring her sound of protest. It's fine. She's not going to dump you. She probably just agreed to takeout because it's a little bit late to start cooking. It's going to be fine. "It's more than okay. Let's go."
Ren waited patiently all through dinner for Kyoko to bring up the subject. But when the dishes were washed and the actress had still offered nothing, his curiosity got the better of him.
"So are you going to tell me what you wanted to talk about?" Ren asked after they had been sitting quietly on the couch for a few minutes. He gave her a teasing smile. "Or do you want me to guess?"
"I… I'm— " Kyoko was flustered. "I'm so sorry, I just…" She slapped her hands against her cheeks, as if hitting her own face would somehow make her thoughts re-align. Ren wrapped his fingers around her wrists, gently leading her hands away from her face and down onto the couch as he readjusted so he could face her. He let his fingers slide down from her wrists until her hands were in his, his hands resting palm-up on the cushion, hers palm-down on top of his. Ren's fingers flexed slightly, instinctively trying to hold on before
he remembered and forced himself to relax, in case Kyoko decided to yank her hands away at any second. He settled for brushing his thumbs across the back of her hands.
"Is everything okay?" He paused. "You don't have to tell me, if you don't want to."
"It's not that I don't… it's just…" Kyoko sighed. There was no easy way to start the conversation. "I was talking to Moko-san about Golden Week, and, um, about what you said." She glanced at him, then looked away.
"You mean… about you staying here?" Ren guessed. Kyoko nodded.
"Did you… did you mean it?"
"Of course." Ren responded instantly. "You're always welcome here."
"It's just… it feels—" Kyoko swallowed. "It's all so fast..." Kyoko met his eyes, looking as though she expected him to disagree. Or scold her.
"I think I get it." Ren scooched closer on the sofa, hunching down a little so he could look directly into her eyes. He tried not to get distracted by the soft parting of her lips or how her breath seemed to catch in her chest as he leaned down. Focus, Kuon.
"It is fast." The actor said slowly. "I…." Ren swallowed. A million thoughts clamored in his brain, jostling to be let out at once. His thumbs automatically resumed running across her knuckles, as if Ren's subconscious thought the motion would soothe him too.
Ren thought he had known what it was like to be in love. It wasn't as though he hadn't cared about any of his previous girlfriends. But he had never felt like this. Ren kept expecting that he would recalibrate, adjust to Kyoko being his girlfriend eventually, and his heart would calm down. But it hadn't happened yet, and he was beginning to both rejoice — and despair — that he would never go back to how it was before. It was like he had been living in a fog and Kyoko had swept it away and now he could see and experience the full intensity of life. It was dizzying. Except that within the vortex of new sensations, he couldn't help but be drawn in by her presence. Ren's ears were attuned to the sound of her voice, the soft rustle of her blouse when she moved. His nose would catch a whiff of something floral as he kissed her hair, and Ren would lie awake in his bed at night, trying to recall the scent and guess what it was. Even colors seemed brighter when she was around, as if the world had more light in it with Kyoko nearby. And he was insanely aware of where she was in location to him at all times. He measured her proximity in steps, then arm-lengths, then breaths. Every inch of his skin was alive and tingling, each nerve in his body humming in anticipation, ready to relay the contact to his brain the instant they touched.
For years, Lory had told Ren that his life was dull and boring. And the actor had (privately) agreed. Tsuruga Ren lived for work, and nothing else. But Ren now realized, that wasn't what the Boss had meant. Before, Ren hadn't understood the amount of color and joy and sensation that was missing from his life, until Kyoko was in it. It was overwhelming. It was terrifying. How did he admit to this girl who trusted him, respected him, looked up to him, that he was just as lost as she was? Maybe even more so.
Ren suddenly realized that he had been quiet for a long time, and could almost feel the worried look that Kyoko was certainly giving him.
"I want… to go slow." Ren said at last, very softly. "This is new for me, too. All of it." He met her eyes uncertainly, cracking a smile at the obvious disbelief on her face. "It's true." He said. "The last thing that I want is to go too fast. For either of us."
"But what about…" Kyoko hesitated, her voice and shoulders creeping up instinctively. "What if you get… bored?"
The tall actor shook his head, smiling. "Not possible."
"But what if—"
"Me losing interest is the last thing you need to worry about." Ren lifted one of her hands, pressing a soft kiss to her knuckles. "I know you have a lot on your plate right now, especially with your debut. The last thing I want is for you to be stressed about us."
"But what if you want… something else?" Kyoko asked quietly.
"What I want," Ren said firmly "is to go at your pace." His fingers gave a reassuring squeeze. "Whatever that pace may be."
"Are you sure?" Kyoko spoke, barely above a whisper.
"Absolutely." Ren smiled at her again. Kyoko visibly relaxed, and Ren smiled more.
"Then… if you're really sure…. I… I wanted to ask if…." the actress ventured timidly as she explained Kanae's sudden schedule change and her living predicament. Part of Ren couldn't help wondering if it was really just a coincidence that Kotonami was suddenly going away or if the President's meddling had reached new bounds. Not that it mattered. He forced himself to breathe normally, to focus on listening to Kyoko as she finished. " —so, if you're sure it's not too much trouble, do you think…" She took a deep breath. "Do you think… that I could stay here for a few nights?"
Ren's smile practically glowed. "I would love it if you stayed here."
"But just! To stay!" Kyoko clarified immediately, heart pounding from Ren's mega-volt smile. "Not.. not to—"
"I know." The actor said. "That's plenty. That's more than enough for me."
And he meant it. Not that he didn't want other things, too. In fact, there were many things he wanted: he wanted to hold her, to fall asleep with her in his arms and wake up to her face the next morning, to come home to her already in his apartment, greeting him at the door with a cheerful 'welcome home' and a kiss. He wanted her to take his favorite spot on the couch, to ruin his sleep by hogging the blankets, to leave her things lying around clutter up his empty living room. Ren wanted Kyoko to make his space theirs, so that even when she wasn't there, Ren would feel just a little less lonely.
But Ren was a patient man. He could wait. The fact that she was still here was more than enough. It was more than he had hoped for, and certainly more than Ren thought he deserved.
"I should take you back." Ren said regretfully, remembering the time. For a split second, he thought he saw a flash of disappointment cross Kyoko's face. But then she was nodding, already standing up, and Ren realized he must have imagined it. He just hoped that she wanted to stay so much that he must have actually hallucinated. It wouldn't be the first time.
He held onto her hand all the way to the door, as she gathered her things and put on her shoes, and on the elevator down to his car, only releasing her when she insisted that he needed two hands to drive. Ren certainly knew how to manage with one, but he didn't push it. He didn't want her to feel unsafe, after all.
"When should I pick you up? Thursday?" Ren asked as he walked her to the Darumaya door, as he always insisted on doing.
"You don't have to!" The teen immediately protested. It was enough that he was letting her stay with him. There was no way she was going to let him drive across Tokyo to come give her a ride. "I can meet you at the office!"
Ren knew a losing battle when he saw one, and wisely decided not to waste his efforts. Soon enough, he would have her all to himself. For multiple days. "I can't wait." His dark eyes shone warmly in the street lights. Ren leaned forward, briefly kissing Kyoko before he pulled himself back. "Goodnight."
Kyoko stood for a second, disappointed. It has been so short. She had barely had time to enjoy it. Then she realized Ren was staring at her, waiting for her to go inside. Kyoko flushed deeply.
"Goodnight!" She said hastily, whipping open the door and running inside, before she did something unseemly.
And now here she was, on Friday evening, standing in the entryway to Tsuruga Ren's apartment as she removed her shoes nervously. Ren had offered to take her bag, but she clutched both the handles and violently insisted on carrying it herself. Kyoko felt incredibly awkward as she stepped out of her sneakers, briefly crouching to line her shoes up neatly before straightening again. She noticed that Ren had bought new guest slippers, despite the fact that the pair she usually wore was in pristine condition.
Kyoko had slept over at Ren's apartment before this day — when she was acting as his manager, and accidentally when she had asked him to help her with the creation of Natsu. But Kyoko had been to Ren's apartment several times before that. And moreover, she had shared a room with him for months on end as Setsu and Cain Heel. So this shouldn't be anything special. And yet it was. This was the first time she was staying the night in Tsuruga Ren's apartment, as his girlfriend.
If Ren felt any of the trepidation that Kyoko did, he did not show it. He was smiling at her as always, soft and warm as he held open the door for her. He was quiet, but that wasn't particularly unusual, and Ren wasn't the kind of person who could normally be described as chatty.
But Ren was struggling. Part of him was so nervous that he almost offered her a tour. Even though that was idiotic. She had been to his apartment dozens of times. He fought for something normal to say.
"Are you sure you have everything you need?" Ren asked. Kyoko squeaked, nodding fervently. "Okay. Well, if you forgot anything or if there's anything you need, please let me know."
"Thank you very much!" The actress bowed. "Please pardon my intrusion."
"It's fine, you don't have to be so formal. I invited you here." Ren reminded her.
Ren sighed. It wasn't just any sigh. It was the same sigh he had given her the night his Katsuki was born, when she was acting as Mizuki and he had shut the door in her face. It was the sigh he gave her when he was Cain and she was Setsu, and she wasn't being spoiled enough. It was an NG sigh. Kyoko froze.
What did I do?! I just arrived, and I've already offended him! Kyoko panicked internally, unsure of what error she had committed. At her bewildered face, Ren bit back another sigh.
"When I say that I want you to make yourself comfortable, I mean it. You don't have to be so polite." The actor said.
"But I'm imposing! It's—"
"You're not imposing. I'm glad that you're here." Ren gave a tired smile. "But I would prefer not to spend my whole weekend trying to convince you that your presence isn't a burden."
"But—" Kyoko began to protest automatically. She clapped a hand over her mouth. Ren gave her a rueful smile, and then shrugged.
"It's fine. I know you can't help it." He said, turning to lead her down the hall towards the guest suite. He had already put clean sheets on the bed, and a lamp glowed cheerfully. Kyoko carefully put her bag down neatly by the window, then awkwardly shuffled from foot to foot, not quite meeting his eye.
"There are clean towels for you, if you need more let me know." Ren said, nodding to the pristine white towels that were neatly folded in a stack at the foot of the guest bed. "The guest bath is— you know…" Ren said, cutting himself off. He struggled not to fidget. They both stood awkwardly, not quite making eye contact with each other as they waited for the other to say something until they both couldn't stand the silence.
"If you need anything, I'm just down the hall so—" Ren began.
"Thank you very much again for letting me stay—" Kyoko began at the same time, defaulting on her ingrained sense of decorum.
"Right. Well…." Ren scratched the back of his neck. "I suppose… you must be tired?" It came as only half a question, half like a statement he was waiting for her to refute. Dear god, what is wrong with me. Ren wanted to cringe. Only years of practicing precise control of his facial reactions kept him from doing so. "I'll let you… uh..." He said, hoping it didn't sound as awkward as he felt as he headed for the guest room door. "Well…"
"Um, Tsu—... Ren-san—"
"Um, I..." The teen fidgeted again, her eyes darting across Ren's face. She seemed to ponder something, biting her lip, then gave an almost imperceptible shake of her head. "Goodnight."
"Goodnight, Kyoko-chan." Ren gave her one last lingering smile before slipping out of the room.
Kyoko counted his footsteps down the hall, then let out a long sigh of relief. Or at least, a sigh of something. Part of her was relieved that Ren was gone. It had been painfully awkward just then, and the teen was sure it wasn't just in her head. He had lingered, and she had waited for him to say something more. Or maybe she should have said something? Kyoko wasn't sure. All she knew was that part of her was… disappointed.
As soon as the word crossed through her mind, Kyoko wanted to scream. Except obviously she couldn't. Ren was sleeping down the hall, and she was not going to be a terrible guest by waking him up in the middle of the night with a vocal outburst because he didn't kiss her goodnight. So what? I didn't want… I don't… Kyoko tried to persuade herself. She didn't care that he didn't kiss her goodnight.
Except there was a small but definite part of her unreliable, shameful, traitorous brain that refused to concede. As if the thought had a life of its own, it stubbornly hung on, refusing to leave her mind no matter how much she ordered herself to think or feel anything else. Who's disappointed?! Not me. Nothing to be disappointed about! She scolded herself fiercely. But then the thought came back even stronger, this time feeling glum. Did he not want to kiss her goodnight?
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH! GET OUT GET OUT! Kyoko wanted to thrash herself. She wanted to pull the stupid thought out of her brain and squash it in one fist. How impure! How immoral! What kind of pure Japanese Maiden feels disappointment about a man's lips?!
Just thinking the word made Kyoko freeze as a memory played in her head. A pure Japanese maiden's lips. Kyoko had sworn to her senpai after last year's Vain Day (when Shotaro had stuck his stupid anteater tongue in her mouth) that no man would so much as touch her lips. Except that Kyoko had recently broken that promise. Quite a lot, actually. With none other than her Tsuruga Ren. Who was now Ren-san, her boyfriend.
When Kyoko had first come to Tokyo with Sho-chan, Tsuruga Ren's very existence in the world of show business had been the bane of Sho-chan's (and thus also Kyoko's) existence. She had been a love-struck idiot back then, totally blind to anything and anyone except her Sho-chan. Naively, Kyoko had thought that Sho was her Prince Charming and the most talented, handsome, best person in all of Japan — no, the entire world. How anyone could think of anyone besides Fuwa Sho was incomprehensible. How anyone could find the pinhead actor Tsuruga Ren more charming or attractive than her Sho-chan was incomprehensible.
How foolish she had been. How blind, to look at both men and think that Sho Fuwa was somehow superior. The idea was preposterous. Before she had met Ren, it was one thing to see him on TV and admit that maybe some women could find him attractive. It was a very different thing to have Tsuruga Ren's warm chocolate-brown eyes staring into her soul and his otherworldly handsome face inches from her own.
When they were masquerading as Cain and Setsuka Heel, there had been moments that occurred which still made Kyoko blush when she thought of them. But it had been work. They were acting parts, and Kyoko had used Setsu as a shield. The actress hadn't allowed herself to think of Cain as Ren doting on her. Ren had told Bo that he had someone he loved. But never in a million years would she have guessed that the girl in question was her — Mogami Kyoko, a plain and boring, limp noodle kind of girl.
And yet recently, Kyoko couldn't help but notice the way Ren looked at her. When he kissed her goodnight, his eyes lingered on her face, full of warmth and affection and want. It made Kyoko feel like maybe she wasn't quite so plain and boring as she thought. Either that, or Ren really liked bland things. Whenever she caught him looking at her (which was not infrequently, now that they were dating and Ren had given himself permission to gaze as much as he wanted), the actor was always giving her this look: attentive and interested and
sometimes she caught a tiny glint of the emperor in his expression. It was a look that made Kyoko feel like he cared. Like she mattered.
It was a look that Kyoko liked a lot, actually. Particularly when she caught a glimpse of the Emperor of the Night on his face. And that was a very hard thing to admit. No pure, innocent maiden should like the way Tsuruga Ren looked at Kyoko when they were alone together. It wasn't that he was overly flirty, or a playboy, or at all explicit or inappropriate. And yet his gaze held this weight that even Kyoko, as thick as she was, could not ignore. Tsuruga Ren was interested in her. And she liked it.
What a dangerous, dangerous thought. Because apparently a very stupid, self-destructive, love-sick idiotic perverted part of her brain saw the look that Ren gave her and thought: more.
Kyoko turned over, adjusting the covers and pulling them all the way over her head. If she suffocated in her sleep, at least she would be done with these stupid thoughts. Who was she, all of the sudden? What happened to Mogami Kyoko? She was afraid that she was losing herself, and she was even more afraid of the fact that part of her didn't seem to mind. Part of her, the part that was Setsu and Nacchan — wanted Kyoko to do more. To find out exactly how much Tsuruga Ren liked her.
Kyoko flipped back over. She turned her pillow over, hoping the cool side would cool her brain down as well. Normally, she had no problem falling asleep. Kyoko felt a knot of worry in her stomach. If this was how it was going to be, it was going to be a very long few days.
COWARD. You total coward. Stupid, dumb, idiotic coward, Ren's thoughts repeated as he walked towards his own room. He had chickened out. Kyoko's formality had somehow activated the 'polite gentleman Tsuruga Ren' circuit in his brain and he had simply fled the guest room, afraid that if he tried to step towards her it would be like when they first met, and she would run away screaming.
The actor glanced at the alarm clock glowing on his nightstand. It wasn't even close to midnight. There was no way he was going to fall asleep this early. And yet he had told Kyoko that it was time for bed, and walked to his room. What was he going to do now, turn around and walk back out? And do what, exactly? He didn't want to turn on the TV in the living room in case it disturbed her. And besides, he wasn't even interested in watching something. Maybe he should go check on her, just in case. Had he shown her how to work the thermostat? What if she needed more blankets, did she know where to find them? Perhaps she needed something, but didn't feel comfortable knocking on his door.
We should leave it cracked open. What if she's too nervous to knock and needs our help? part of his brain offered in a suspiciously helpful tone. Ren wanted to kick himself. Next he was sure his brain would be trying to convince him that he should go poke his head into the guest room. What a creepy suggestion. Don't even think about it. He told himself sternly. You invited her to your house. What creepy old man behavior, to watch a high school girl while she sleeps!
Doesn't she graduate in a few months?
Ren really needed a drink. Badly. Except all of his liquor was stored in a bar cart in the living room, as Ren had learned long ago that keeping a bottle of scotch in your nightstand was generally the first step in a long line of bad decisions. So now all he had was his overactive brain, fervently running through every word, glance, pause and breath that Kyoko had taken. His memory poured over each of her expressions, flipping through the evening as though he was looking at a gallery of movie stills, trying to analyze even the slightest raise of an eyebrow for some hidden, deeper meaning. Even though the actor knew it was a fruitless exercise. He was looking for something that obviously didn't exist — Kyoko was not the kind of person who would drop such obscure hints. And yet, for lack of a better occupation, his mind kept circling back around, wondering what thoughts she hadn't voiced or why she had shaken her head. And from there his brain would spiral out and down in all directions until Ren was certain that he would never be able to fall asleep unless he got up right now and marched down the hall to Kyoko and demanded an explanation.
It was torture. Generally, Ren felt similarly to sleep as he did about food: a minimum amount was necessary to properly function, but he wasn't interested in anything beyond that. Except tonight, the actor would give anything to be blissfully asleep already. It would be infinitely better than trying to escape the unending loop that was the tangle of his thoughts. At least if he was asleep, his brain couldn't actively try and persuade him to do something stupid. Christ. Ren rubbed his temples. It's like part of me wants to sabotage this relationship.
Ren tried not to think too hard about what part of him exactly that might be. Eventually, his brain got tired of running in circles, and Ren felt himself gratefully drifting off to sleep.
He woke the next morning at the same time he always did. Ren didn't need an alarm clock, his body just seemed to know most days when it was morning. The actor lay quietly for a few moments, pondering the best course of action for the day. Maybe he could sneak out and buy breakfast? He wasn't so stupid as to try and cook it himself — the last thing he wanted was to wake Kyoko with the fire alarm. Yashiro had mentioned a bakery nearby that was supposed to have excellent pastries and morning buns. Would Kyoko think that's too much sugar for breakfast? Don't most countries eat carbs in the morning?
The smell of coffee brewing came through his partially-cracked bedroom door, sparing Ren any further internal debate about the merits of pastries as breakfast food. He sprung out of bed, reminding himself not to run down the hallway to the kitchen.
"Oh! Good morning, Tsuru— um, I mean, Ren-san!" Kyoko said brightly. She was already up and dressed, and Ren felt a twinge of disappointment. He wanted to know what she looked like in the mornings, with bed head and dressed in rumpled pajamas. And suddenly, Ren felt very underdressed in his rumpled t-shirt and gray sweatpants.
"Good morning." Ren smiled sheepishly. He smiled, eying the coffee pot. "Is there enough for two?"
"Oh! Yes!" She turned around to fetch another mug.
"It's fine. I can get it myself."
"O-okay." Kyoko said, backing off. "I uh, I hope you don't mind that I—" Kyoko gestured to the coffee machine and her own cup.
"Not at all." Ren sat down at the counter. He smiled at her, and Kyoko had to turn away. She clutched her chest.
"Is something the matter? Are you alright?" He started to stand, but she waved a hand at him frantically.
"I'm fine!" She squeaked. Kyoko's heart was hammering in her chest. She snuck a peak at him through her bangs and bit down on a squeal. Ren's t-shirt was baggy and wrinkled, and his normally perfectly styled hair was a bit mussed. Tsuruga-san had bedhead. BEDHEAD. It was too cute. Her heart couldn't take it. "What would you like for breakfast?"
"What would you like for breakfast?" he countered, smiling. Then he frowned. "You don't have to cook. We can go out."
"I don't mind!"
"We have to go out anyway. I'm pretty sure there's no food in there." Ren nodded at the fridge. Actually, Ren knew there was no food in it. He had bottled water and tea and coffee, plus milk and sugar because that was how Kyoko liked it. But solid food? There wasn't much of that. The actor had considered going to the store and stocking up just to avoid a scolding. But it had seemed like a waste of food, since he wasn't even sure what he should buy. And besides, Ren wanted to treat Kyoko to dinner. If there was food in his house, she would insist on not wasting it and cooking at home. "Yashiro told me there's a new bakery nearby."
"That's hardly a healthy breakfast." Kyoko crossed her arms, frowning.
Ren held up his hands in defense. "It was just an offer."
"Let's go to the store. They should be open by now, and then you won't have this disgraceful empty box you call a refrigerator." Kyoko said primly. Ren relented, finishing his coffee and leaving to change. Kyoko was grateful to have a few minutes in the kitchen to collect herself. She had done a reasonably good job recovering from the surprise of seeing Ren at home in his pajamas, but she would need several more minutes to fully calm down. And it was impossible to forget how cute he had looked with his hair in disarray.
Their trip to the grocery store was brief, since Kyoko was an efficient shopper and the stores were mostly empty. But making breakfast ended up being a long affair as Ren tried to persuade Kyoko that he could be helpful in the kitchen. He couldn't cook, but he could at least slice bread or stir some eggs. Kyoko's distrust showed immediately on her face, which of course had made Ren use Cain's pout and somehow it had evolved into Kyoko trying to show Ren how to make western-style pancakes, and Ren making a terrible mess as he tried to make one in the shape of a bear.
When they had finally eaten, Kyoko slipped out of the kitchen (as Ren insisted on doing the clean up). She grabbed her phone, wanting to text Moko-san to see if the actress was at her location yet and wish her best friend good luck on the shoot. Instead, Kyoko saw that she had three missed calls and one voicemail from an unknown number. She hit play.
"Hi, Kyoko-chan! Erm, I hope I have the right number. The office gave me your phone, since I realized I didn't have it… hahaha.. Oh sorry, this is Hikaru, by the way. I should have said that earlier. Anyways, uh" — there was a brief cough— "I'm calling uh, because our produced reached out about filming a holiday special this weekend for Kimagure Rock. But nobody was sure if you were available. Anyways, if you're on vacation somewhere we can always get someone to cover for you as Bo-kun, although there's no way they'll be as funny as you are. Sorry, this message is getting long. Anyways, if you could call me back and let me know if you can film tomorrow, my number is 0X-XXX—"
Kyoko listened to the message again with dawning horror. She replayed the message, grabbing for a pencil and scrap piece of paper to jot down the number Hikaru had given her, before typing it into her phone and hitting call.
"Hello?" A familiar voice answered after two rings.
"Um, Hikaru-kun, hi!" Kyoko said. "This is Kyoko. I'm sorry, I hope I'm not interrupting—"
"Oh! Kyoko-chan! I thought it sounded like you. No, you're not interrupting— QUIET, you two!" Hikaru shouted at two voices in the background. "Sorry about that. Thanks for calling me back! You got my message, then?"
"Yes! Um. I did."
"Great!" Hikaru beamed. "So, are you available tomorrow? The director told me it shouldn't take much longer than normal." The other end was silent. Hikaru pulled the phone away from his ear, checking his service. "Kyoko? Can you hear me?"
"Ah! Yes, sorry!" The teen replied. "Yeah, um, I'm here in Tokyo—"
"Great!" The rockstar-host said, unaware he had interrupted. "So we'll see you tomorrow at TBM! Same studio and everything — oh, but stage call is at 2:30, not 2:00. You know, holidays and all that…" The young man realized he was rambling. "Anyways, I don't want to take up too much of your day. See you then!"
And then the call ended. Hikaru prayed he hadn't made too much of a fool of himself, as Shinichi and Yuusei cackled.
Kyoko stared down blankly at the phone in her hand. The time log proved that the call had actually happened, and was not, unfortunately, just some nightmarish daydream. Not that it was a nightmare to work with the Ishibashi onii-sans. She really enjoyed all of them. But the timing was… less than ideal.
Ren's soft knock on the open guestroom door startled Kyoko, causing her to drop her phone with a screech.
"Ah, sorry. I didn't mean to startle you," Ren said. "I just… wanted to make sure everything's okay?"
"YES!" Kyoko yelled. "EVERYTHING IS FINE. THANK YOU!" She bowed, ignoring the fact that she was facing away from Ren and so instead of properly bowing was mostly just showing him her back.
Ren's lips pursed slightly. "That doesn't sound like everything is okay." He saw her open phone on the floor and frowned. "That's not— nobody is bothering you, are they?" He asked, reaching down to pick it up. But before he could help, Kyoko scrambled forward, diving to cover her phone and tuck it behind her back in a way that was not at all subtle.
"Everything's fine!" She repeated loudly. "I just, um… I wasn't expecting it, but I got a sudden call from… the office." Kyoko finished lamely. It wasn't too much of a lie — Hikaru was from LME, after all. Luckily, Ren seemed not to notice.
"Oh?" Ren stretched out a hand to help her up from the floor, but Kyoko ignored it, standing on her own, still hiding the phone behind her back. Whoever had called, it was clear she didn't want him to know. Which only made Ren want to know more. But he didn't want to pry.
"Y-yes!" Kyoko said distractedly. "It turns out the producer wants to film a special tomorrow, so—"
"A special?" Ren asked. "What producer?"
"Er, that is—"
"Is it for Box-R?" Ren frowned. He was fairly certain he knew Kyoko's schedule quite well. A Lotus in the Mire had wrapped, and Box R had been renewed for another season, but she had told him it wasn't starting for a few more weeks.
"Um, no, it's…" Kyoko said, floundering, not meeting Ren's gaze. Which obviously only made him more curious.
"Is it for your debut?"
"No! No, wait, I mean, yes!" Kyoko scrambled desperately, but it was too late. She could see Ren knew it was a lie. "I'm sorry!" She apologized immediately. "I'm really sorry! It's not that I don't want to tell you! I meant to! Well," she amended, "okay I didn't mean to, but that's because— you hated me— and it's my first Love Me job, and I really never thought it would go on this longbecauseitwasjustacoincidencethat—" her words began to run together as Kyoko's frenzied, apology-rant crescendoed.
"It's okay." Ren relented. The actress stopped immediately, but was still sniffling and looked miserable, even a little guilty. Which only made Ren feel even more guilty. It wasn't as if he didn't have secrets of his own. "It's fine. If you don't want to or can't tell me, that's okay. I understand."
"It's just…" Kyoko looked up at him through wet lashes. "Do you… do you promise you won't get mad?"
"Why would I get mad?" Ren asked, confused.
"Because… the r-role that I play… it um… it's…." Kyoko hid her face in her hands, mumbling something as she sank back down the floor. Ren crouched, gently trying to coax Kyoko out of the strange ball of worry that she had turned into.
"I'm sorry, I missed that." Ren smiled encouragingly. "Won't you please say it again, Kyoko?"
A visible shiver ran up her spine at Ren's use of her name — just her name. For a second, Ren was elated. And then, Kyoko burst into tears.
"I'M SO SORRY, TSURUGA-SAAAAAAAAAAAAN!" She blubbered, looking up at him with giant, wobbly eyes. "I BETRAYED YOU! I'M THE WORST KOHAI EVER!"
"Kyoko, er, Kyoko-chan," Ren amended, afraid of whatever had just started any worse. "I don't know what you're talking about. But it's fine. I'm not upset or anything. And I'm sure you haven't betrayed me."
"BUT I HAAAAAAAAAAVE!" came the wailing reply.
"And how is that?" He said, hoping she would catch the teasing note in his voice.
Kyoko met his eyes. Her hair was wild, her cheeks were wet and even her nose was dripping. But the teen seemed unaware as she took a deep, shuddering breath in, bracing herself. And then, when she could no longer hold it, Kyoko exploded. "BECAUSE I'M BO!" She practically yowled, throwing herself into a dogeza on the floor where she continued yelling into the carpet. "I AM SO SORRY! IT'S TRUE! IT'S ME! I'M BO! PLEASE FORGIVE ME TSURUGA-SAAAAAN!"
For a moment, Ren was stunned. Then he wanted to laugh. But instead, all he could manage to say was…
"I'm sorry… what?"