I own nothing. I blame yam. XD
"Catching dinner?" Ren joked. He had come out into the newly-minted greenhouse on top of LME to relax, only to find Kyoko kneeling in the dirt, a frog in her hands.
She looked up at him, offended. "No! He's hurt!"
He dropped his jokes and to his knees. "What's wrong?"
"His back leg is injured somehow. I found him limp-hopping when I was repotting plants." She gestured with her head to a tray of plants behind her. "I gave him some water and a couple bugs I found, and he took all of them. But I don't think he can survive on his own like this."
Ren glanced around and found a small, plastic box. It was deep enough to put some water in and wide enough that the frog would have some room. He grabbed it and set it down in front of her. "Here."
"Thank you," she said, lowering the frog into it. He let out a soft ribbit of protest before settling down to rest. "I just wish I knew how to help him. I don't know any veterinarians around here, never mind one that would look at a sick frog." She hesitated, and he heard in the offing: Or that she would be able to afford it.
"I can look into it. Have Yashiro ask around. Lots of actors and directors have unusual pets." His heart went out to the little frog. He rummaged around in his bag and found a water bottle. The frog blinked up at him happily when he poured a thin layer into the container. "There you go, bud."
"I wonder what he's doing here," she mused. "He should be in the wetlands, or at least by a pond. I wonder if he came here on a plant." A shadow crossed over her face, and for a second he was afraid she might cry. "He must be missing his home. Poor, confused thing."
"It's hard to be far from home," he agreed. "From everyone you love."
"And to suddenly not have a home to come back to… to not have anywhere to feel safe." She rubbed her arms, but he knew she couldn't be cold, not in this greenhouse, not in her jumpsuit.
"To not know where you belong," he added softly. He had a feeling that neither of them were talking about the frog anymore.
"Yeah," she sighed, her fingers fisting in the hot pink material.
It was strange to see Kyoko so… subdued. Granted, there was a hurt animal involved. But still - he would have thought she'd have tried to name it by now. Maybe something like Sir Hoppington, so she could imagine that he'd gotten injured saving a princess. He wanted to reach out to her, take her hand, and promise her that it would be okay. That even if he couldn't fix it, that he would be there for her. If she would let him. Instead, he asked, "Are you alright?"
"Hmm?" Her head snapped up, as if he'd jolted her out of her thoughts. "I - yeah. Just a gray day, I guess? And then the poor frog…." She bit her lip. "I'm okay, though."
She glanced down at her knees, not answering his question. "Ah. I got my jumpsuit dirty."
"Casualty of gardening?" he offered. "I think the dirt goes well with the pink. Dulls it a bit, so you can look at it."
She let out yet another sigh. Maria would scold her if she knew how much she was sighing. "It does hurt your eyes."
"But it's attention-grabbing." He smiled softly, thinking of that early time in their… well, it wasn't quite a friendship at that point. In their time since they reunited.
She tried to smile, but it fell. "I know it's my armor most of the time, but sometimes…" she trailed off.
"Sometimes?" he prompted quietly.
She kept her eyes fixed on the little amphibian. "Sometimes it's just another reminder of how broken I am. Of what I'm missing." She tilted her head back then, staring up at the sky. "Sometimes I don't feel like a real person."
A sad smile crossed his face. "I know what you mean."
"Because of your fairy heritage?" She finally looked at him, eyes sparkling. Hopeful.
"What?" he asked, taken aback.
She blushed and looked away, embarrassed. "I just - because of how much like Corn you are. And you have your own magic, the type that makes people feel safe and happy around you. Encourages them. Just like Corn. So I thought you must've had fairy blood in you somewhere."
His gaze fell to the frog as she spoke, not knowing where to look. His heart swelled and clenched at her words, full of gladness and guilt in equal measures. He longed to tell her everything, but he couldn't, not yet. Because he wasn't ready, and because he was afraid that once he told her, he would no longer be someone who made her feel safe. She would know that he was a liar, a traitor, a fake, a-
"I'm sorry, I know it's silly, I just - yeah." She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.
"I'm honored that you view me that way," for now. "But that wasn't what I meant when I said I knew how you felt."
She met his gaze, eyes searching as if they could read his very soul. What did she see when she looked at him like that? Did he even want to know the answer? Her head tilted slightly; she hadn't found what she sought. "What did you mean?"
"I'm not whole, either. I don't feel like - like a person most of the time." This time, he was the one to look away, back down at the little frog. "I feel more like a character that I'm acting than a real person."
"Like a shell," she supplied. "An empty shell."
"Exactly." He mustered up the courage to meet her eyes again, and what he saw took his breath away.
Kyoko was smiling at him, her eyes soft. There was none of her usual rigidity or nervousness, her sitting in seiza aside. There was just understanding and - love. He could see it clearly. He knew how she felt about him, but to see it was something else entirely.
"Maybe," she offered, her voice so tender it physically hurt him, "we can pretend to be real people together."
It took him a moment to be able to speak. "I'd like that," he said at last, sounding croakier than Sir Hoppington. He cleared his throat. "I'd like that a lot, Mogami-san." God, he wanted to kiss her right then. To say forget waiting, forget their secrets, and just be together. Kiss, like real people did.
"Kyoko," she said, lowering her eyes back to the frog. "You can call me Kyoko."
The weight of her words laid heavy on his heart, reminding him of why they couldn't be together yet, how much he still had to tell her. How close she was, and yet how far he had to travel before he could reach her. "Then please call me Ren."
He half-expected her to protest about him being her senpai, about it not being appropriate to call him so casually. But instead, she just smiled up at him and said, "Okay, Ren-san."
She may as well have shot an arrow through his heart. Unable to stop himself, he leaned forward. He managed not to kiss her, even with the way she closed her eyes as he drew closer. Instead, he gently pressed his forehead to hers, willing her to know how loved she was.
Tomorrow, he would leave a proper terrarium at the Darumaya, and Kyoko would figure it out and scold him about the cost. Tomorrow, he would tell her that it was on sale, and tell her how much he loved animals. Tomorrow, Yashiro would tell him the number of a good vet who could look at the frog. Tomorrow, they would go back to facing the real world.
But tonight, at that moment, they were sitting there, being in love like real people.
And maybe, just maybe, that was enough.