Sigh For Me
A/N: Sempai=senior/upperclassman; kouhai=junior/underclassman (impolite; self-deprecating); onii-san and variations mean big brother. Moe is a quality like cuteness that inspires protective instincts. I stopped reading the manga at chapter 190, so anything after that that contradicts this story, don't tell me. I can't wait to finish this and get back to Skip Beat!
I keep Japanese honorifics to convey the relationships between characters better. Bear with me; if there's a term you didn't catch, ask me.
Chapter One: Catch Me on the Rebound
Ishibashi Hikaru would try to drown his sorrows in alcohol, but there wasn't enough money in his brothers' pockets. In any case, the rate at which his tears were leaking out probably meant there would be no need to serve his margaritas with salt.
"Uuh…uuh… how could she—do this to me~ee!"
Yuusei patted the poor guy's back while Shin'ichi deliberated the last member of their little quartet with well-placed wariness. Mogami Kyoko was literally fuming.
"Uh, Kyoko-chan, why is there a black cloud over your head?"
By way of response the amber eyed cutie banged her fist on their table and half-rose from her seat across Hikaru at the four-man booth. Shin'ichi smiled reassuringly at a family with young children sitting next to them—we're not hooligans.
"Hikaru-sempai, love is a deep dark abyss that sucks your mortal soul in and gnaws on your bleeding heart! You must learn from this mistake and never love again!"
Shin'ichi's smile cracked a bit. The family glared at him.
"The woman that left you is clearly a curse set on you by some denizen of hell! Luckily this humble kouhai of yours knows how to make charms to ward off such evil!" she began digging frantically through her bag as Hikaru's wailing continued unabated. Yuusei stopped comforting his brother to stare at the clearly crazy chick's really hazy actions.
"Aha!" Kyoko pulled out, with no moderate triumph, a small string purse. Shin'ichi quit smiling at the family to see what it was, and they quickly took the opportunity to get their meal to go. Kyoko, careful not to touch Corn the Stone, dropped it onto a neatly folded napkin by Hikaru's plate. Yuusei and Shin'ichi both turned expectantly to their sibling. He peered at it through weepy eyes.
"Wha—whuh—what is it?"
Good question. A while ago, Corn was Kyoko's most precious and private thing. Once Reino and Ren had gotten their grubby mitts on it, it had become…something else. Ren's scary kiss and Reino's stupid ruminations combined weirdly to turn it into a talisman, a blue ember throbbing with a heady mixture of love and hate. Kyoko wasn't about to touch the thing, but still believed in its powers to heal. She looked deep into Hikaru's eyes as she spoke.
"It's the answer. Please pick it up with your bare hands."
A hand, trembling slightly, reached out to the sapphire. Yuusei watched tensely as Hikaru wrapped his fingers around it. The wet-faced woobie frowned.
"Kyoko-chan, is something happening?"
"Hold it up to the light, sempai!"
He did, and under the restaurant's bright yellow bulbs the sapphire glowed darkly.
"Pretty," Shin'ichi commented at length.
"Useless," Yuusei thought to himself.
Hikaru sadly brought it down onto the napkin again. A waitress brought them a fresh round of beer, and he blubbered into his mug.
"Uuh…hnng…thank you for trying, Kyoko-chan, but…" he swiped a sleeve under his drippy nose, "Nothing can make me feel better right now. I miss Naie too much!"
"And we," Shin'ichi spoke with no little disgust, "Miss our big brother. Who's this pussy? Jeez. Ow—Yuusei!"
Yuusei was like, "You need to shut up. Hikaru-nii doesn't need your brand of comfort. Hug him."
"Hug him!" He reached over and pushed their heads together. "Give onii-san a big hug, Shin'ichi!"
"Leggo of me, you idiot! Hikaru—hey, Hikaru! Put a stop to this!"
Kyoko packed Corn away, uneasy. When Shoutaru had betrayed her Corn had been her one comfort. Corn had even helped Tsuruga Ren, that man whose bad moods spelled death to Kyoko, feel better. Why wasn't it working for Hikaru?
And another thing. Why did Hikaru have to suffer? Bridge Rock's lead idol was her favorite among the three, always cool and considerate. When talking about his girlfriend, he was soft and affectionate. He reminded her of herself. Before Shoutaru's hideousness had come into the light. It was too much of a pity to think of him losing that important human emotion—the one Kyoko herself was still struggling to regain. Oh, sure she adored Kanae (sometimes, Kanae feared, more than entirely okay for a best friend to adore) and sure she worshiped the Darumaya couple. The missing emotion went deeper than that, though; had further levels. Kyoko still couldn't trust a man with herself. Ogata Hiroaki, Yashiro Yukihito and Tsuruga Ren (!) were the closest she'd allowed eligible men to come, and even they were unattainable and worlds above her one way or another. To think of starting up a r-r-romance with one such man was—
Her phone erupted (interrupted) with a jingly series of rings that she'd taken from Kanae. An overseas number. Kyoko blinked stupidly at it until Shin'ichi noticed.
"Kyoko-chan, aren't you going to take that?"
"Uh, right." She stood and excused herself to the lobby. Yuusei and Shin'ichi nodded their understanding, and the teen tap-tap-tapped her way on Natsu-heels through the cozy, casual restaurant. (Bridge Rock had this wholesome-family image that they didn't want to muss by hanging out anywhere too cool. As if making a ruckus in a respectable eatery like this was better…) The phone still throbbed in her hand, keening like a banshee now. Kyoko didn't know anyone abroad. Ren was bound to Japan until they finished filming half the new movie. Yukihito wouldn't leave his side at such a time. Kanae had a regular drama. She didn't consider Shou; as far as she knew he never called her. She did think of another fair-haired asshole, though. A denizen of hell that could be calling from his homeland—talk about your foreign lands…
The jingle as near its end, the girl was in the smoky lobby. Wrinkling her nose at both the burning nicotine and the prospect of speaking to Reino, she answered the call.
"…!" Kyoko's mouth worked wordlessly, trying to blurt out the endearing endearment Hizuri Kuu wanted to hear. She couldn't though, not yet—Kuon rose up in her like a favorite song and she sang out, "Da~ad?"
"This is a really expensive phone call you're making, old man."
"Dad! What do you want?"
She—Kuon—he(?) could picture the look of spurned adoration on Kuu's foolishly handsome face. His voice filled her ear and her heart brimmed with happiness.
"Hey, don't be mean to your father. I wanted to keep in touch with my boy. The boss wouldn't lemme have your number for the longest time, though. Seemed to think I'd disturb your work…can you imagine? Me! Uh, you're not working right now, are you?"
"Nah," Young Kuon said, "Just hanging out with some guys."
"That so? Then why don't you get back to them…I'll call you later."
"What?" Kyoko could've died; this was too brief a reunion, "Dad, wait! I wanna talk more."
"Hizuri Kuon," Kuu rumbled across the Pacific, "I didn't raise you to be the kind of man that leaves people waiting for him to take a frivolous call, did I? Quit trying to bring me shame."
Hizuri Kuon, whoever that was, drooped. "Sorry, Dad…"
Suddenly, sunshine! Kuu practically transmitted sparkles across the globe, "That's okay. Do better next time."
"Yeah! Then I'll hang up now?"
"Mm. Wait. …Kyoko," and the scene was cut, and Young Kuon left her like a sweet puff of some passerby's perfume, "The 'guys' you're with, are they from the Dark Moon cast?"
"No, sir, they're my seniors at…at, uh, a different job of mine." An ache settled in, the loss of the father-child dynamic to the servant-superstar one. Kuu had told her to use Kuon for as long as she needed, but both of them wanted to have the same rapport even without him. Well, work with what you have. Kuu hummed again into the phone.
"Okay, go join them—no wait. Hold on! Your mom wants to know when you'll come home to play. I told her it'd be a while but she insisted find out from you personally if you have a break in your schedule… Kyoko? Hello? Are you okay?"
He asked because she'd sucked in her breath sharply during his soliloquy. Mom? As in mother? As in the unapproachable iceberg that had dumped her on another doorstep as a child? Or…or had fate, having given her a faux father, decided to throw a mother in for free…
"Mom?" she asked.
"My wife, Julie," Kuu spoke the name like a reverent caress. "She's always wanted a daughter. You wait till you can call us parents without being Kuon. She'll spoil you rotten. You'll be her little princess."
Kyoko, a princess? Her mind must be cracking from the strain of having her heart overrun by demons.
"You know they used to call our Kuon a beauty? Ooh, he used to get so mad…Julie tried to put him in a frock once when he was six. That was the first time he threw a tantrum…" Kuu laughed in the thrall of memory. "Our little prince, a minotaur in disguise! Oh, Julie still can't remember that day without laughing or crying until her face is red."
Kyoko didn't get it. This beautiful couple, this perfect pair of swans, had lost their cygnet son…and wanted a mediocre gosling like her to take his place. She was blessed. Surely, she was blessed beyond reason, beyond recklessness even.
She stood immobile, both hands holding the mobile to her ear, eyes welling up. He lower lip was wobbling like a too-high stack of pancakes, the kind she'd cooked for Kuu because he felt like eating them. Shin'ichi poked his head into the lobby and sighted her.
"Kyoko-chan? Oh jeez, you're kidding." He disappeared into the restaurant main, not that his voice wasn't voluble enough. "Hey big brother! Hikaru, quit sobbin'. Your love failure has Kyoko-chan in tears. The President will murder us in our beds for making a Love Me member cry…"
"…Kyoko?" Kuu finally cottoned on to the meaning of her surreptitious sniffs, "Are you crying?"
"Yeah. I'm so happy…"
"I have to go, Dad. Call me again, okay?"
She disconnected the call without even realizing what she'd called him sans Kuon. Classic Kyoko. Shou had really messed this chick up; any blip in her loveless heart that smacked of affection directed at men was brutally ignored. Quite a mind game. The Bridge Rock brothers spilled out in quick succession. Shin'ichi thumped her shoulder.
"Smile, Kyoko-chan, if you're moody then we'll throw you and Hikaru both into a fountain! Nice weather for it, too."
She grinned as they all emerged into the parking lot. Yuusei stretched, reaching his hands to the dark sky while they headed for their car (Kyoko's cycle attached to its back).
"So brothers—milady—where next?"
"Hmm," Shin'ichi tried to factor in both a girl's presence and a guy's deathly sad aura, "How about karaoke? Or baseball. No, somewhere in between…uh, bowling? A movie?"
"Movie sounds good," Hikaru spoke levelly from within his cloud of doom (hey! That was Kyoko's. He ought to ask permission before pilfering it like that), "I would at least be able to bear my anguish in silence."
"Nii-san," Yuusei sighed, "If only you were bearing your anguish in silence."
Kyoko checked her watch and yelped, "Whoa, I'm late!"
"Late for what?" Yuusei asked curiously.
"I'm meeting my brother," she explained distractedly, dialing a number, "I can't come anywhere with you…in fact he'd freak out if he knew I was with three guys by myself…stupid big brother…ah, hello?" Setsuka slid smoothly into her as the boy band watched in developing consternation, "Cain-nii? Yeah, I know I'm late…whaddaya mean 'why'? isn't it your fault? You told me we were meeting an hour from now! Yes, you did." She listened to the dangerous sibling accept a mistake he hadn't made. "Well, I forgive you. I'm on my way over. Buh-bye. Kiss."
Snapping her phone shut, Kyoko curled a few fingers' farewell at Yuusei and Shin'ichi—even Hikaru looked confused—before pedaling away on the bike they'd detached for her. The pick-up point was pretty close…if she could do her make-up and change costume in the car it'd be great. It was horrifying that she'd lost track of time, but nothing derailed her like love gone awry.
Back in the parking lot, the trio looked at each other for explanations.
Tsuruga Ren was a man of many traits. Aw hell, he was a man of various faces. Of course in his case, it was less a psychosis and more a profession. Whatever, dude was deep.
Deep. In. Thought.
The Cain Heel version of Japan's most desired man leaned callously against a lamppost, waiting for his baby sister. The strangers on the street gave him and his shady trench coat a wide berth. Ren knew he ought to get into character now—Setsuka had called, not Mogami Kyoko. But the whole business nagged at him—living with his protective charm of a sister, having his mask as Tsuruga Ren slowly corrupted as BJ drew more and more from Kuon's personality… he'd begged this upon his own head; he'd chosen this; he'd worked the President non-stop for this. What he hadn't done was ask for Kyoko. What he never wanted was her interference.
It made a lot of sense to have her around. The girl was his savior. When she called Ren's name he became real, a true thing instead of a character Kuon hid behind. But neither part of him—no part of him—wanted her to help him with this, wanted to confirm what was already obvious. This exercise would mean nothing if he couldn't achieve it on his own.
Ren twitched slightly, nerves shaking the Cain out of him. He was not nearly strong enough to face his past, and accept it, and forgive himself, and allow others to forgive him. Though Lory had said Kyoko would stop him from dropping his façade as Ren altogether, Kuon couldn't help but feel it was her fault that his true self wanted to wake up in the first place. It wasn't just Tsuruga Ren that had fallen for the child. Kuon had too, and that was scary. He wasn't ready for that. She didn't deserve that.
Lory had said, if that's how you really feel, we can kill off Setsuka. But you will have to tell her yourself.
Naturally, Ren had recoiled from the concept of taking a role away from his previous protégée (right, because that was all she was to him. Where would he be without rock-hard denial? On the same level as that scum stalker Reino, frightening the wits out of her and earning her rich, frothing hatred). Kuon, being less genteel, had noticed something. In one of their out-of-character conversations Kyoko had confessed (her undying love for him! Pfft, he wished) the following:
"It's pretty nerve-wracking, Tsuruga-san! I keep expecting you to NG me. You're too generous a colleague; I've messed up so many times…but I guess you have low expectations of me to begin with since I'm an amateur."
If Ren broke it to her that Setsu wasn't needed, wasn't wanted, wasn't even doing an adequate job, Kyoko would not be surprised. As far as she was concerned she was working hard, but wasn't fit to act with him yet. Ren didn't understand, but Kuon did. Kyoko had him up on a goddamn pedestal—maybe that was why she didn't see him as a man. Firing her would fire her urge to improve, to surpass him—it wouldn't break her heart like he vaguely hoped (in a poisonous, selfish way) it would.
Setsuka ran up to her big brother and threw her arms around his…uh, waist, because the neck was somewhere in the stratosphere. Kyoko had been thinking furiously all through the ride about how Setsu would apologize for her tardiness and decided it made most sense to moe it up and rely on her big brother's buttery heart to melt.
"You're late," Ren blurted out before making the switch to Cain. "This is no good as an apology."
Setsu let him go and pouted, tapping a finger against her lower, pierced lip. "Then, I'll make you a big dinner!"
"That's a punishment. To make up your unpunctuality, let me buy you a diamond necklace."
Setsu stuck her tongue out and said, "How much money do you think you're getting for this acting job! That's way too extravagant."
Cain adopted his kicked puppy expression in a flash. "All I want is for my sister to feel beautiful like other girls her age…"
"What kind of girl my age goes around wearing diamond necklaces? Don't just make stuff up!"
He pinched her cheek and started dragging her down the street. "You're rude. I should teach you a lesson."
"Ow ow ow ow ow—teach it without torturing me? Ow….!"
Later tonight he would rid himself of her and the unwelcome desires she built up in him. For now he would enjoy the novelty of her skin against his without hysterical aftereffects. Transferring his grip from cheek to her wrist, he leaned into the wind.
"Setsu, what do you want to do?"
"Hmm? I thought you were gonna punish me?"
"Let's postpone that. I feel like spoiling you."
"No diamond necklace, nii-san…"
"The carnival," Cain suggested, "You like the Ferris Wheel."
She did? Sure she did. Kyoko filed this information away in a folder reserved for Setsu-traits. Loves heights.
"You hate heights though, so I don't know why…"
Uh, okay. Hates heights, loves clinging to her brother with that excuse. Kyoko was once again bowled over by how inappropriate Setsuka's brother complex was. Even creepier was how Cain Heel seemed to utterly return her obsession so that the dangerous siblings were in constant danger of toppling into an incestuous embrace. Kyoko fervently vowed to not let the character development go there. If ever again Ren exposed her to his Emperor of the Night look, she might not survive.
"Let's go, then. And hey, nii-san, buy me cotton candy when we get there."
"You didn't even have to ask, kid."
The carnival was a strip of bourgeois pleasure in one of the lesser city wards. Young couples and young children flitted here and there, the latter chased by white collar parents with worn out laughs. Balloons everywhere and music from speakers on tent poles added to the atmosphere. Ren, ill at ease, turned up that factor in Cain that chased people away. Passersby flicked their eyes to his enormous black presence and scooted away. Cain looked down at his baby sister.
Setsu's eyes glowed.
"Look, nii-san, clowns on stilts!"
This was Kyoko, Ren thought with a rapidly beating heart, Kyoko was with him at this bright, noisy, crowded carnival. Then was this a date? The clowns on stilts leaned down to offer her one of the roses woven through his wig and—it was Kyoko—she reached out one small hand for it…but stopped half way. A panicked expression skittered across her face—a surreptitious glance at him that he felt like a floodlight—a fear of getting NG'd at last (this was his chance; fire her, Ren!)—and a brisk return to being Setsu, who ducked under her big brother's arm and begged him to pluck the flower from the clown-bush.
Cain was a doting brother; he did as he was told. Ren was a fine gentleman; he resigned himself to heartbreak. Kuon was a murderer and a hooligan; he was incensed.
Setsu took the bloom and beamed. "Thanks a ton. Let's ride the Ferris Wheel now!" She turned on bouncy heels, and Tsuruga Ren spoke out.
Every other reason he had to get rid of Setsu stood dwarfed by this one: he could not act with her. Desire made him desperate, desire made him unprofessional. Desire had him nitpicking her act for one hint of her that might hint at wanting him. It had to stop.
Kyoko turned slowly, sadly. "Yes, Tsuruga-san?"
"Let's start over."
She swallowed the NG with a nod of her dark head.
"Take a break for ten minutes." He pointed to an empty park bench. "I'll bring us some cotton candy."
She nodded again, winced as Fuwa Shou's latest hit twanged through the speakers, and trudged away. Ren, a little overwhelmed, went to buy the promised treat. When he returned with one huge stack of spun sugar, he found her arguing with a stranger. When she saw him, she latched onto his arm—Setsuka latched onto Cain's arm—and squealed.
"Cain-nii, tell this guy to go away! This bench is just for the two of us, right?"
She was trying to show that she could do a good job by bringing in a new character to act against. If she could convince the new guy that Setsu was an obnoxious young bitch then Ren wouldn't fire her. He almost smiled. Then he looked over at the newcomer to give a gory glower.
By some totally staggering and entirely gratuitous coincidence, it was Fuwa Shou he glowered at.
Good actors are generally good at disguising themselves. Tsuruga Ren boldly accepted the ludicrous idea of playing BJ anonymously because he was confident that he could dissociate himself from Ren's famous face by emoting differently. That was also why he could bang around in public as Cain Heel and not be recognized. Kyoko wasn't as good as him, but she wasn't as much of a household name either, so she managed.
But Shou? A top-notch (or getting there) idol? A musician? His idea of becoming invisible was pulling on a black wig and dark shades, and dressing like his misconception of a school boy. Ren saw through it in a heartbeat because he knew the signs of an inexperienced star going incognito. Kyoko just saw an unusually dressed nut going around in tinted evening glasses.
But why? He'd dolled up and stepped out of his vicious, wonderful world to escape the torrential pour of praise. Just for a minute! Shoutaru adored being adored; Kyoko's relationship with him was one long testimony to that. He was painfully wary of becoming careless, too, because everyone was telling him he was the best. Kyoko was a slap in his face; he couldn't afford to relax if she was going to have a rival worth defeating. Head whirling with his plans for the next album, Vie Ghoul (haha, beagles) and Kyoko, Shou had stepped out.
And stepped on a teen's tail. He didn't get it. Even in a wig he was hot. The girl, dressed though she may be like a Gothic punk, should have swooned when he sat next to her on the park bench. Instead…
"Hey, get up."
He looked askance at her. "What?"
"I'm saving this seat for my brother. Go sit somewhere else."
What was really strange was that she'd waited a solid thirty seconds before picking her fight. Forget that, what was strange was that she was picking on him at all. Shoutaru shrugged.
"This bench is big enough for three. Your brother will fit."
"No he won't, he's really big! Go sit somewhere else, why don't you!"
He glared at her. "Don't be annoying. Why should I move? If you wanna be alone you go away."
She began to retort, and then the brother showed up: about twenty feet tall and dressed like a Hollywood criminal. Shou realized as soon as the girl grabbed the man's arm what was wrong—she was one of those little sisters. The brother stared in shock at him, and then lowered his eyes. Shou tugged at the ostentatious scarf around his neck. Had he been recognized?
"Setsu, let the man sit. Sorry, sir. She's just a kid."
"No, don't worry about it." Shoutaru like hell was gonna hang out with people this creepy. "I have somewhere else to be anyway."
"You didn't have to be there ten seconds ago," Setsu smugly said, "You're scared Cain-nii will beat on you."
"Yeah," Shou rolled his eyes, "Absolutely petrified." As he strolled away, he noticed that the brother—Cain—looked relieved. Probably glad to be able to feel up his jailbait sister in peace. Shou was an only child, but that sort of behavior put him off his meals. Brothers were supposed to protect, not molest. It was probably consensual now but when she grew up that girl's entire childhood would be one bad memory, and that was just unacceptable.
His phone rang loudly with the sardonic love ballad he'd set specifically for Shouko's calls. He answered.
"I woke up and you were gone. Is everything okay, Shou?"
"Yeah, only needed a breather." And he took a deep breath to support his statement. "Don't worry, I haven't run away."
"Mm…don't stay out too long…stay safe."
"Your valuable superstar, right?" he stopped at a popcorn stand and bought the caramel-coated junk.
"My Shou," Shouko corrected him, "My polygamous burden. Stay safe for yourself, not me."
"Yes ma'am. I'm hanging up."
A small commotion ahead caught his attention. As he drew close he saw that the Bridge Rock brothers had been surrounded by a fawning crowd. Shou watched them handle the fans by themselves for a while. Two of them were all smiles and patience and pleasant comments as they autographed scraps of paper and the occasional arm or bra. One of them, through—Hiroku, Shou thought nebulously, or Hoshi—had a droopy look to him, like he'd recently cried or been sick. Possibly both. They were technically his seniors, having debuted a full year before him, but he was so much more popular that he didn't feel obliged particularly to greet them. He was about to move on when a clearly dedicated fangirl screamed,
"Oh my god, Fuwa-sama!"
He was caught by irreverent yet awed hands and jovially thrust at the Bridge Rock brothers, pressed into autographing and faced with phone camera flashes.
"Hey, Fuwa-kun," one of them said, "How's it going?"
A young man sidled up to him and asked, "Yuusei-san, please, a picture?" and Shou replied after the man had melted back into the swelling crowd.
"Not bad. Wanted a quiet evening, but work," he scribbled his name onto a chick's neck, "It never stops for us."
Yuusei said gravely, "Too true, too true. Shin'ichi and I—yes, your name? Okay, 'to Honoko-san, with love'—brought Hikaru-nii here to cheer him up but work," he grinned into a camera, "You said it."
Hikaru, that had to be the sad puppy. Shou saw him properly; he was making a crap attempt at a grin.
"What happened?" he asked Yuusei. Shin'ichi, posing with him, answered after the flash had gone off.
"He remembered his girlfriend dumped him. Actually, it happened weeks ago. He's slow to come to terms with it."
Shou made a scornful noise. "Crying over a woman?"
Shin'ichi calmly replied, "Yes, well, Hikaru would cry over a man but he's not gay enough."
Shou cracked a quick grin and amended. "Crying over love…isn't he too old for it?"
"This is the difference between growing up at LME and growing up at Akatoki Agency," Yuusei laughed, "We're the agency with a Love Me section and a love-crazy president, Fuwa-kun. Love is about all we ever cry for."
Shin'ichi said, "I wonder what Fuwa-kun cries for?"
Shoutaru said, "The audience that accepts bad music as good."
Yuusei smirked. "Like Vie Ghoul's?"
"Visual kei," Shou remarked, blasé, "Is so passé."
The crowd thinned and dispersed entirely, then a new voice spoke up. Shou was quite startled. When he'd last heard Hikaru speak the man had just finished his show with Shou; he'd been pleasant and ingratiating—now? Now the eldest Ishibashi sounded like his karma had recently run over his dogma.
"I'm not having fun at all. May I be allowed to go home?"
Shin'ichi snorted. "Right, and Yuusei and I will go on the merry-go-round with Fuwa-kun. Don't be stupid. We're gonna make you have fun tonight if it kills us."
"if you keep walking around at night without security," Shou darkly said, "Some psycho fanatic might do just that. Anyway, he won't be magically cured of the blues by a carnival. You should take him home instead."
Hikaru raised his eyes in gratitude towards the blond pop star, and Shoutaru met his gaze with some surprise and some smugness. Yuusei looked to Shin'ichi to make a decision, and the drummer boy made it.
"Fuwa-kun, we're not as experienced as you are in matters of love. You're probably the best person to help Hikaru through his break-up. So you do it!" And, grabbing Yuusei's arm, he started to stalk right out of Shou's life.
"What? What? Hey—hey! Don't just randomly walk away!" Shou shouted far too late to no avail; Hikaru stood morosely beside him.
"It's no use," the man said, "They've done this before. If I'm bad company they dump me with the first person they find who'll have me. I'm just glad they didn't throw me at Kyoko-chan. She was odd today."
Shou swiveled his neck too fast and head it crack. "Ow. Wait, 'Kyoko'?"
Hikaru nodded. "Our colleague—she plays Bo on the show. Your rival," he added, and Shou for one ludicrous moment thought his childhood bitterheart had spilled her soul's secrets to this near-stranger. But then he remembered Bo—the chicken—and his on-air badminton match. Memorable stuff.
"You don't have to hang out with me, Fuwa-kun."
"I wasn't going to," Shoutaru said irritably, "But I will now. Have you gotten drunk yet?"
"Fuwa-kun, if not for the five liters of beer in my bloodstream right this moment I would be sobbing on your shoulder instead of behaving like a rational being."
Shou winced. "What happened, exactly? Why'd she ditch you?"
Hikaru looked down at his feet for a long while. "I'd rather not talk about it."
"You're forcing me to guess," the younger talent warned him, "Spit it out. It's probably happened to someone I know. Your brothers suck, but I won't leave you alone. I'm no monster."
"I hardly know you," Hikaru protested mildly, giving in almost immediately. "Naie didn't like being the girlfriend of a public figure. She's a student of literature at Kyoto, and one of my oldest friends. When we started dating she thought it was funny that the glitterati suddenly gained an interest in her. She got sick of it quickly, though…she got sick of me."
Shou was derisive of the fallen man. "And I bet she told you to still be friends."
"No," Hikaru croaked miserably, "She told me it would be too awkward and to not contact her for a while. Did I listen? Of course not—I sent her flowers every day and begged her to come back to me. I think I'm going to throw up. Could you take me to a trash can?"
Shou's disdain for heartbreak was overthrown by his desire to avoid being puked on; he pivoted Hikaru and aimed him at a bin so that his senior could relive his binge. The disdain strode firmly back onto his face.
"Being reduced to such a mess by a woman…do you think she's so affected? She's probably acing a test right now. Probably plotting to act in your next music video and embarrass you."
Hikaru couldn't make sense of that last part, so he focused on bringing the beer in his belly back out. Wiping his mouth with one long sleeve (that sweater went through a lot that night; he'd have to remember to take it to the dry cleaners) he swayed a little. Shou steadied him by the shoulders and tutted. Hikaru sighed.
"She made me so incredibly happy when she was with me. It only makes sense it would kill me to not have her anymore. Haven't you ever had a bad break up, Fuwa-kun? Well, I suppose you are still very young…"
"No," the boy grimly refuted, "I've had one. The most unbearable…she's now the worst thing about my life."
"Funny, isn't it? She used to be the best thing about your life…"
Shou was about to laugh and say no, Kyoko had never been…but that wasn't true. In a life where parents nagged, schoolgirls annoyed with a surplus of cooties and schoolmates burned with jealousy, his personal slave had worked relentlessly to brighten his day. As soon as Kyoko was old enough she'd taken over most of his responsibilities from his other. Since then there had been no sweets in his lunchbox, no sweaty socks left lying around his room, and no tub of bathwater too hot or too cold. Stupid, servile woman…
They got in line for the Ferris wheel because they had nothing better to do.
"Isn't this a ride for couples?" Hikaru asked presently.
"No," Shoutaru said, noticing something, "These two in front of us are siblings."
Noting the allusion to her, or perhaps recognizing his voice, the sister (Satsuki?) turned. Curiously, she gasped so hard she choked. This of course attracted the brother's attention (Cain. Shou wouldn't easily forget such a foreign name). He smoldered sinisterly at the un-flustered Shou and grasped his sister's shoulders.
"Setsu," right, that was her name, "Are you alright?"
"I-Ishibashi (cough) Hikaru-san…"
That kicked Shoutaru's vanity in the shins. Sure he was in disguise but it wasn't even a particularly good one. Why no reaction to the infinitely desirable ass Shou was but a hacking head-over-heels cough for Hikaru, who didn't even make music to suit her tastes? Bridge Rock dealt mostly in, well, punk rock while the girl looked like a death metal fan. It irked him even more when he looked closer and saw how much she resembled Kyoko.
"Hello," Hikaru said dutifully, "Nice night, hmm?"
"Can I have an autograph," the girl burst out, red-faced.
"Sure," obliged Hikaru, "Got a pen?"
She hadn't. Ruing it, she was about to let her autograph go when Shou pointed to her shoulder bag and said, "If you have any eyeliner in there," and judging by the amount on her lids she definitely did, "That would work."
She rummaged for it after hesitating a second, and Hikaru signed the white cuff of her black shorts, leaning down so that his hair brushed her bare, nubile belly. The brother twitched. The sister glanced uncertainly at him. Shou felt sick.
"There you go," Hikaru straightened and handed the eyeliner back, "All set, Setsu-san."
"Thank you," Setsuka said, too politely. Shou frowned. Cain gripped his sister's shoulder and suggested that the line to the Ferris wheel was too long (it wasn't) and that she had embarrassed the gentlemen (she hadn't) who probably just wanted to be alone (they didn't. Damn it! The Ferris wheel was not only a couple's ride!). Hikaru thought nothing of it when they exited the line, and Shou put it out of this mind soon after as well. As both a serious musician and a human being he had enough on his plate without fretting over a possibly illegal relationship between two strangers.
"Mogami-san," Ren broke the scene and let Kyoko's shoulder go, "What happened?"
"I got NG'd twice in one night," she ventured, "because I'm a terrible actress that should crawl into a hole and die?"
"What? No. I mean, you did leave character—I want to know why." Ishibashi Hikaru disrupting her when Fuwa Shou didn't confused him. It crossed his mind that the fangirlish act might not have been faked. Most young girls had a favorite idol. With the #1 in Japan as her sempai and the #2 as her nemesis, Kyoko could well have set her heart on someone lower down the ladder.
She chewed her lip while she thought of an answer and the clip-on ring dropped from her lip. "Oh," she said, and bent to retrieve it. Ren watched her ass and felt disgusted with himself. Or maybe with Cain. It was difficult to tell.
Kyoko, of course, was speedily making what could easily become a life-shattering decision. Telling Ren that she had jumped out of her skin when Hikaru had showed up because he was her colleague and sempai too would mean confessing she'd heard about Ren's underage love interest (and even other, juicier gossip) as Bo. On the other hand, if she lied and Ren saw through it, she was boned. And unlike the rest of Japan, Kyoko did not want to be boned by Tsuruga Ren.
"It's because," she settled for saying, "I wasn't expecting Ishibashi-san to be there. He's part of the LME family, and once Moko-san—um, Kanae-san and I were asked to do Love Me work as part of the audience of Yappa! Kimigure Rock. Also, don't you think Bridge Rock is very talented? It must be so nice to be a band of brothers."
She was babbling because of a desperate instinct for self-preservation, but Ren heard a sixteen-year-old schoolgirl gushing and crushing on her upperclassman. Christ, he'd never before appreciated so thoroughly Katsuki's twisted feelings for his untouchable student. He didn't even register as a blip on her love radar. Hikaru was his age, but more desirable. Hah. Hah.
Kyoko quite talking and waited for the word of Ren to indicate she was in the clear. He didn't know what kind of facial expression he was showing, but nervousness trickled along her features. Suddenly, Ren realized—
Now or never.
"How nice, Mogami-san. But you know, I don't think Setsuka would like Bridge Rock."
She hung her head in shame acknowledged. Kuon, pretending to be Ren, continued his dissection of her performance.
"This has in fact been a bad evening from the start. Maybe the reason you were late has something to do with it?"
He'd only been a normal amount of curious as to the cause behind her tardiness. However, the way she reacted to this mild rebuke—with a guilty flinch and a lowering of the eyes—had him burning to know. He could not stop right now, though…quickly, fire her…
"And despite your stumbles, I was able to stay in character."
"T-that's because," she exclaimed, "Tsuruga-san is a great actor! The greatest! Though I'm not fit to act with him now, every day I aspire to be like—"
Ren chuckled. "I'm flattered you feel that way. Mogami-san, you've done a wonderful job. Too wonderful. I no longer require you to become Cain Heel."
Kyoko had expected either a crushing rejection or a generous nth chance. This grateful letting go threw her off.
"I know you believe the President asked you to act with me to ensure I ate and slept at the appropriate hours. The truth, however…due to certain circumstances, I had great difficulty getting into and out of BJ's mind. Do you understand?"
Like Katsuki, Kyoko thought. Tsuruga Ren had to be as inexperienced in violence as he had been in love. What, then, was left for him to know well? Failure?
"I think so, Tsuruga-san."
"Thanks to you, I was able to create a background to put BJ's actor, Cain Heel against. I can enter and exit the character at will. You've done your job, and I hate to be eating up your evenings like I've been doing. Mogami-san, are you listening?"
"Yes," she said with a far-off look, "I did my job? It's over?"
"Thanks for the hard work you put into completing your role. It's a success."
A sudden grin tore through her lips. "It is. It is? Tsuruga-san, I've never accomplished anything before."
The dark haired star took stock of her. Behind them the carnival throbbed on, in front of them a comparatively quiet street reverberated with cars zooming hither and thither. Hadn't accomplished anything? Mogami Kyoko had never accomplished anything? What was the Kyurara soda pop ad, what was Mio? What was getting into LME and causing the formation of a brand new section for her sake?
"No, I shouldn't say that," the dollop of heaven corrected herself, "I mean…I don't know…completing a job. The Kyurara advert was so quickly done! And Mio's not over just yet. But this—I served a purpose. I see a point to my performance." She beamed at him. "I helped Tsuruga-san, my honored sempai!"
"Yes, well," the honored sempai, dissatisfied with his status, leaned towards the brusque. "You'll no doubt do many things that will quickly dwarf this moment…"
"I'll never forget this," she rashly promised. "I have to go tell Moko-san!" She glanced at her Setsu'd cell phone. Kanae would be working off her Valentine's Day assignment—something messy.
"Enjoy your evening," Ren didn't think she heard him say as she bowed thrice in rapid succession and ran away. Jelly Woods, that lovable stylist, would return her body to Mogami Kyoko, who would then go forth and cavort with her most previous person, who was also probably her lesbian lover and it didn't even matter because no matter who Kanae was, she was not Tsuruga Ren.
She wasn't Hizuri Kuon.
She wasn't even Cain Heel.
And she, the other she, the Corn-toting Shou-loathing red-blooded Kyoto girl called Kyoko…she was taking it too well. The outer Ren was content in her heartlessness to not see her heartbroken but Kuon had a rather different opinion. She wasn't going to miss him at all? She couldn't be less than joyous to stop spending time with him? Throw the dog a bone, Kyoko. Throw him something to cling to, some hope he doesn't deserve.
Kuon-Ren-Cain began his own sad march to the trailer, every step a fight to not call Kyoko and order her young, naïve ass right back into his dreary, boozy evenings. It was a lot harder to keep straight his reasons for keeping her away when she wasn't with him. All sorts of desires, building up within—they needed to be crushed before he acted on them.
"Ah," he stopped to think, remembering that Lory had made him promise to call and come over if her ever got the brass balls to fire Kyoko. The President hadn't believed Ren capable of it. Well, at least he could surprise the smug all-knowingness out of Takarada Lory with his news, if only for a moment.
He made the call.
A madhouse picked up.
Takarada Lory did not believe he was too old for parties. The evidence of that pulsed and swayed in a vibrantly noisy backdrop while LME's head honcho screamed, "Hello?"
"Boss," Ren said, "I'll text you."
When Kotonami Kanae had made a fuss about her assignment being 'something messy' and Lory had said, "Let's compromise," she really should've seen this coming.
"Hello?" the President hollered again into his phone, "Ren? Hmm, he hung up. Kotonami-kun—are you having a nice time?"
She was pressed against him by the rest of the seventy thousand (try knocking off a few zeroes) bodies on the dance floor. Lory's arm around her waist was reliable and protective; his breath on her neck hot and alcoholic. But pleasantly so—Lory wasn't drunk, just nicely buzzed. And that was his secret to a good time. His phone trembled with an incoming text message; he waited for her reply rather than turning to it.
"It's, um, very loud. Sir."
He laughed. Only Kanae, one of his beloved Love Me members, his precious diamonds in the rough, could be yelling at the top of her voice and still not be exclaiming anything.
"You should stand closer to the speakers! You won't hear a thing, just the feel of your heartbeat times, oh, a thousand!"
"That's alright, sir. This is actually fine."
"We'll go grab drinks, Kotonami-kun, as soon as I check my phone!"
"No thank you, sir, my phone is ringing too." Kanae was profoundly grateful for Kyoko as she looked at the mute (oh, it was ringing. But she couldn't even tell, the music took up so much earspace), blinking screen. Lory nodded, reaffirmed his hold on her, and guided her out of the club and into the blissfully, ringing with quiet lobby. The bass still ran through the floor and up Kanae's legs but it was easier on her nerves out here.
"Kotonami-kun," Lory said, his voice not even raspy like she knew hers would be when she tried to use it at human decibels again, "Why, you ears are red! How wasteful of your youth; have you never visited a place like this before?"
No, Kanae had never had the time or money or inclination. Instead of telling him this, she lifted her now audible phone in a gesture of apology and answered Kyoko's call.
"Moko-san~! You know how I've had work in the evenings lately?"
"It's ended! The job's over!"
"How much was the paycheck for?"
"Eh?" Kyoko paused on the other side. "Um, there wasn't one."
Kanae narrowed her eyes. A young actor would be denied salary in only a handful of conditions. "You…don't tell me you were fired."
Lory, deeply engrossed in his own phone, glanced up in amusement. "Is that Mogami-kun?"
Kanae covered up Kyoko's train of thought and also the phone's mouthpiece with one hand and affirmed to him that it was. Would he like a word with her? Lory shook his head, snickering. Kanae didn't get it. They turned back to their respective conversations.
"Um, um," Kyoko was answering, "I guess the term is…'employment terminated'…?"
"What? Why? What was this job anyway?"
Kanae rolled her eyes, hard. Lory, having just sent off a text, was watching her. He gave her an inscrutable thumbs-up sign. She smiled weakly at him.
"Kyoko, you idiot. Are you asking me or telling me?"
A thud on the other end signaled Kyoko's swooning over the use of her first name. Kanae could've shot herself. Various squealing, squeaky onomatopoeias of joy ensued, following by the sound of Kyoko halting and harassing passers-by to inform them of her impressive progress with her best friend. Kanae hung up.
Lory looked up. "Ready to rejoin the party, Kotonami-kun?"
"No sir, I'm calling her back." The reply was automatic and issued in self-interest. "She doesn't have very good signal, I'm afraid."
She made the call.
A madwoman answered.
"Moko-san~ would you like to go have ice cream with me?"
As in extricate herself from the President's company? Kanae couldn't say yes fast enough. Takarada Lory was very understanding. The love between two best friends was dependent on these times of small celebration. Besides, he had to go visit Tsuruga Ren. The poor dear superstar had just lost something he quite fancied.
Ren smiled like moonlight at the girl. She was about Maria's age. He complimented her dress and signed her purse. She blushed, devastated by his adult charm, and hid behind her mamma's legs. The father was a rich producer. He thanked Ren's indulgence, asked about his work, half-joked about wanting to produce his next feature film, and invited him to brunch the next weekend.
"Manager willing," Ren gently jested, referring to Yukihito's power over his schedule. The producer acknowledged it ruefully, allowed his daughter to say her goodbyes and led his yesteryear actress wife away.
Thus was the clientele at Mélange, the swanky haunt of Tokyo's rich and famous, where everyone was too cool to be star-struck. Ren was special, though, and couldn't escape adulation even here. The circular bar he sat at was near the entrance; deeper in was the more comfortable seated dining. An extension off to the side (separated by curtains of beads) boasted squashy beanbags and low tables for teenagers rolling in dough to roll around in, puffing at waterpipes and plunking down largesse to commandeer the occasional beer or real champagne flute.
Ren slurped down the last of his mojito and checked his phone, frowning at the text conversation between him and his liege.
I did it.
Ren! You did? You've agreed to marry Maria?
Don't joke. The other thing. The one you thought I couldn't do.
Ah, Mogami-kun…are you sure? She's speaking to Kotonami-kun right now and there doesn't seem anything wrong.
She took it very well.
Yes, I see. You'll need a drink. I'm in Roppongi—are you close by?
"Freshen your drink?" asked the bartender, sweeping aside the empty glass. Ren declined; he'd want his wits sharp for dealing with Lory. The bartender moved away and came back in a bit. Ren pointed at a picture of one of the house drinks hung here and there.
"That. I'd like to order that."
The bartender looked. "The Flaming Lamborghini? Flashy drink."
"I'm expecting a flashy guest," Ren explained, "Can you bring one as soon as he shows up?"
"No problem, Tsuruga-sama. I'll keep the tab open, then?"
"Mm-hmm," Ren smiled—Ren always smiled; it would've driven Kuon nuts to do that so much—and hoped to the Christian God Takarada Lory would skip the dramatic entry. The last time he'd waltzed into Mélange (literally, with a whole court load of ladies and gentlemen) the management had threatened to eighty-six him for life.
Lory came quietly, for Lory. Dressed as the King of Swing and strumming a 1968 Hagstrom Viking, he barely provoked a raised eyebrow here and there. Tokyo was slowly becoming jaded to his tastes, a phenomenon that greatly worried Ren.
Spotting his foster son, the fun father sauntered over and crooned in respectable English, "Tell me baby, are you lonesome tonight?"
Ren said, "That's really creepy."
Lory Presley said, "It's called rubberneckin'."
The bartender saved the day. With a polite smile he set down a cocktail glass of Sambuca and Kahlua and lit it on fire. Sticking a straw in it, he withdrew with a wink at Ren, who had to admire his timing and skill. Lory was seduced completely.
"I love these! Ren, have you tried one?"
"A while ago," Ren reminisced, "You bought it for me. I burnt my eyebrow. Terrible business."
"You know what else is terrible," Lory drank it in one go and refilled it with two shot glasses of blue curacao, "What happened to you today. You lost a talisman. A good luck goddess. And one I gifted to you with so much love, too."
"President…" Ren was tired, Ren wanted to go home. Ren wasn't getting away without hearing what Lory had to say. "Let me order a drink."
"Let me order it for you!"
"That's quite unnecessary. Bartender—"
"He'll have a fuzzy navel," interjected Lory. The bartender cast a pitying eye over Ren, who was after all the omega to Lory's roaring, flamboyant alpha, and busied himself with the drink. A fuzzy navel wasn't a gross part of anatomy, it was peach schnapps with lemonade, a total chick drink. For a guy to be caught with it would be like begging to have his man card confiscated. Lory was being an asshole. Ren attempted to communicate his embarrassment to the President, but the older man signaled for him to suck it up. The blond-turned-brunet submitted. Lory propped his chin up on his hand and sadly surveyed Kuu's son. (The original, and the best!)
"Ren," said he, "How do you feel?"
The hottie pulled a face at his highball glass. "Emasculated."
"Ren," Lory repeated, "Do you realize what happened tonight? You've made your call. The first girl you fell in love with—you allowed her to walk away, and committed yourself to not committing to her. How. Do. You. Feel."
He felt like shit. He wanted her, from the core of his being he wanted her. But then, he wanted also from the core of his being to see his parents again, together, and collapse into their smothering love as Kuon. That had to wait. So did his thing for Kyoko. Until she was old enough…until she was over Shou…until he found peace, until he stopped loving her…
Lory held out his arms, open wide with no pretense, no frivolity. Raw, accepting. The closest thing Tsuruga Ren had to a father. The broken young bird leaned his head against his chest, and Lory rubbed his shoulders and back, taking in what he could of Ren's longing. The bartender bobbed away in empathy, and the low-key chatter in the restaurant didn't quite drown out Ren's enormous sigh.
"You know," Lory began, "Ren, I love you. Enough to tell you this: you should be able to talk about love and the angst it causes to not an old man but a friend. Someone your age. Someone who knows your story…"
Ren lay still against him, listening but not replying. They'd been through this before. No one in the wide world knew how exactly Hizuri Kuon had become Tsuruga Ren, not even Kuu and his wife. Lory himself was privy to the details only because of how closely associated he'd been to the skeletons in the idol's closet—and that same association prevented Ren from coming to him on the really bad nights, when memories were like shark infested waters he drowned in. Lory had been after his life to get him to open up about it to another human being but Tsuruga Ren, pathetically enough, had no friends. Not one.
"President," Ren said, "Boss. Who could I possibly talk to?"
In the past, Lory had always gotten stuck at this part of the conversation. However, he'd been thinking long and hard recently, and there was a person. Not a friend, exactly, but nonetheless Yashiro Yukihito wanted Ren to be happy and successful, and knew something about the man's feelings for Kyoko. He was trustworthy, he was the right amount of nosy to find out everything if Ren gave him something to start on. Hell, he was Ren's manager. Lory trusted him to manage this. So he told his little boy that.
"Yashiro-san?" Ren looked shocked. "No. That would be so unprofessional."
"Think about it," Lory inveigled. He wasn't above bullying, it just wasn't called for. Ren had to spill his secrets willingly or it would be meaningless. "Drive home—you haven't drunk enough to not be able to—drive home, and think about it. Better yet, drive to his home and think about it. But don't tell me it's unprofessional, Ren. Yashiro-kun thinks of himself as your big brother, even if he hasn't fully realized what a challenge that can be, and you? Well, I hear when he's sick you visit him at home and he as to turf you out. So don't tell me your feelings for each other are only professional. Go. Wait—buy me another drink before you do."
Ren was a good driver.
Except for that one time, of course.
Rick. Rick. Rick. Rick of the psychotic grins, Rick of the good advice. Rick of late nights, sleepily insisting they go on a midnight drive for a midnight snack; Rick of early mornings, buck naked and not able to remember how he ended up that way. Rick on the beach, brown shades striking against his tan, Rick with Kuon, a guardian angel more potent than the magic of any girl the young boy thought he loved.
After Rick, Kuon's face had become un-cute and his tastes jaded. After Rick, Kuon had been fired from so many jobs he couldn't even count them all. After Rick, Kuon had gone wild and joined a teen bike gang until Takarada Lory dragged him in, gave him a new job, and threw him at the mercy of a manager. And when that manager, new to his business, asked his name, Kuon had opened his mouth and thought for a while.
And then he'd said, "Tsuruga Ren."
Yashiro Yukihito introduced himself as well, and then there'd been no looking back.
Kuon's new job was to be LME's face of the decade. To be Japan's biggest selling human resource. To be someone else until he could be adult enough to deal with his guilt, and his grief.
Who was Yukihito? Merely a manager that fancied himself a matchmaker. Did he even care about his charge's deep dark past? Did he even want to be burdened by the swirling monsters that sat in Ren's head?
Ren stopped at a red light and watched two young friends, girls, go by arm-in-arm. One of them was Kyoko. She was beautiful. She thought she'd squandered her life thus far on a jerkass. Ren agreed. Yukihito thought Ren should ask her out. Ren knew better. Kyoko was on the rebound. Rebound relationships rarely lasted. They were therapeutic, soothing to the ego, and rarely lasted.
Rick was his ex. Yukihito could be his rebound. And then he could go hook up with Kyoko. Or Hiroaki. Or Shou.
Probably not Shou.
Probably Ren was too drunk to drive…
Yukihito opened the door and looked surprised.
"Yashiro-san, may I spend the night here with you?"
A lightning-quick grin after Yukihito checked his young man over and assured himself that there was nothing urgently wrong. Four limbs, one nose. A beating heart and focused eyes.
"Sure. Will you pay me?"
For the Hikaru Challenge, as issued by Jhiz and Fangurl Ayane. The prompt proceeds thus:
"In five chapters or less, write a story that keeps true to the character's personalities (which means having a rational reason for personal growth) and allows Mogami Kyoko to not only see Ishibashi Hikaru as a potential suitor but also acknowledge him as a forerunner for her heart (in other words, establish that he has a portion of her heart reserved for him that says 'boyfriend' not senpai, co-star or even best guy friend). Alternative reality fictions will not count as part of the challenge (in other words, no removing Ren or Sho from the universe to make it work)."
Wish me luck! :D