As so many troublesome things do, it begins at LME, where Yukihito Yashiro stands outside the agency building feeling extremely mixed feelings. On the one hand, the fact that Ren has taken off unexpectedly for reasons that can only be Kyoko-chan-related fills his heart with joy and his soul with anticipation. He can hardly wait to bring it up to the idol tomorrow and relish the infinitesimal twitches of love-ridden anguish recognizable only to a trusty manager.
On the other hand, this leaves the aforementioned trusty manager, who has not yet had a chance to replace his latest destroyed cell phone and who also does not drive, currently a bit stuck.
He’s shivering on the bench outside the parking lot and contemplating this complicated situation when he happens to glance up and see a beautiful woman squinting at him over her cigarette.
Yashiro puts on a polite expression and prepares to break out the ice freeze if necessary. Of course his face isn’t known like a talento’s, but Tsuruga Ren’s more dedicated fans have been known to recognize him on occasion and hone in on him as a sign that their prey might be close. “Excuse me, miss – can I help you?”
“Ah – my apologies.” The woman dips a small apologetic bow. “You looked a bit familiar, but that’s no excuse for staring.” She takes a puff on her cigarette; her eyes slide back out over the parking lot, and she sighs.
Yashiro sits up straighter. Nothing she has said so far rules out ‘super-intense fan’ from the equation. “. . . Are you waiting for someone?”
“My idol,” explains the woman, but she doesn’t say it like a fan. In fact, her tone is one that Yashiro recognizes all too well, professionally speaking, and he begins to relax. “He’s always doing irresponsible things, but this . . .” She thwacks the hand not holding the cigarette into her forehead. “I understand his feelings, but couldn’t he have thought for two seconds that I wouldn’t have a way to get home?”
Yashiro feels himself smiling back in rather sheepish sympathy. “I wonder how often managers find themselves in this situation.”
The woman blinks at him, and then shakes her head wryly and grins back. She really is very pretty. “You too?”
Yashiro pushes his glasses up his nose and sighs in agreement, “Idols.” Which isn’t really fair, because generally Tsuruga Ren is a very mature idol for his twenty years. All the same, given the circumstances - not to mention all the other attacks on his nerves since Kyoko-chan entered the equation, entertainment factor aside - he feels he’s currently somewhat justified in sounding long-suffering.
“Well, look,” says the woman, after a beat passes. “There’s no use us sitting around here in the cold, is there? This isn’t my agency, so I don’t know the area well – my client just came by to visit someone here. So tell me, is there anywhere around here we can pass the time?”
Which is of course how they end up in a bar.
Her name, it turns out, is Aki Shoko, and Yashiro is thinking that's just a great name until she adds, “Everyone thinks it’s funny, since my idol’s name is Sho too,” and suddenly he feels his spine prickling with foreboding.
It couldn’t be, could it? Such a coincidence . . . but then, the coincidence of Tsuruga disappearing, and Kyoko-chan disappearing, and Shoko's client disappearing all at the same time . . .
“Sho, you said,” says Yashiro, his voice very calm. “That wouldn’t happen to be . . . Fuwa Sho, by any chance, would it?”
Shoko blinks at him. “That’s a good guess! How did –”
“The same completely unforgivable Fuwa Sho,” repeats Yashiro, rising to his feet and planting his hands on the table, staring at her with his most intimidating face, "who turned Kyoko-chan’s heart black with hatred and ruined her for love?!?! By any chance.”
Shoko squirms a little in her seat. “I – I wouldn’t say ruined her . . .”
“Can’t you keep your client under control? Isn’t it your job to keep him from causing devastation?” demands Yashiro. “Do you know how much agony that idol singer has put –”
“I know his behavior was inexcusable,” says Shoko, clutching her hands together, “but you have to understand – he’s really been changing recently! I think he’s really starting to understand his feelings for Kyoko-chan!”
“Feelings? Feelings? For Kyoko-chan?” Yashiro's eyes widen in horror. “That’s the last thing in the world anyone wants!”
“. . . . Wait.” Shoko is squinting at him again, her brow furrowed suspiciously. “Wait, you’re an idol’s manager . . . who I recognized . . . who works with Kyoko-chan at LME . . .” She stabs a finger at him suddenly. “Tsuruga Ren! You’re the manager of Tsuruga Ren!”
“The number one idol in Japan,” agrees Yashiro, with a slight bow.
“Not for long,” retorts Shoko. “Sho’s definitely going to overtake him soon, if . . .” Her eyes widen. “Tsuruga and Kyoko-chan . . . no!” She leans forward, her face suddenly transformed with vehement determination. “I won’t let you! If it turns out that Tsuruga Ren and Kyoko are . . . if Sho finds that out, he’ll wear that scary stone face forever and it’ll be the end of his career as an idol! Sho is definitely going to win her back before that happens.”
“Ha!” Yashiro takes a long gulp of his drink, for the purpose of setting it down as a vehement gesture. “Kyoko will squash that jerk like a bug!”
And from then, the fierce verbal battle for Kyoko’s heart that will have absolutely no effect on the outcome for Kyoko or anybody else given that Kyoko is the only one who gets to make decisions on the matter and also it takes place in a room where none of the principals even appear is on.
“Be reasonable,” Shoko informs him, leaning back. “Kyoko-chan is a teenager like Sho – sure they’ve had their ups and downs, but young love is always like that. Kyoko's very talented, but she's definitely not yet completely an adult, and Tsuruga Ren is too mature for her.”
“What Kyoko-chan needs is someone with maturity beyond his years – someone who will treat her well,” Yashiro says, emphasizing each word. “Of course Ren’s feelings for her are so powerful that Fuwa Sho’s manager couldn’t possibly understand them, but that aside, he’s also a gentle man who would never trample on her heart. Unlike some.” Although he does have to take a moment to remember the terrifying vibes that very occasionally emanate from Ren . . . but that’s so rare as to be insignificant, surely?
“Gentle,” says Shoko. “Well, that’s sexy.”
“He’s consistently voted the sexiest man in Japan!” cries Yashiro, stung.
“For now,” says Shoko, smirking, and drains her glass.
In a gambit he’s not proud of, Yashiro snaps, “Well, Tsuruga is taller!”
“That’s not a plus!” retorts Shoko. “With a monster his size, how could a tiny little speck like Kyoko have any kind of comfortable relationship with him? Sho is the right height for Kyoko-chan.”
“Hah! But then, if Sho and Kyoko have children, they’ll probably be short like Kyoko-chan! Tsuruga and Kyoko’s children are guaranteed to be tall and talented!”
They order another round.
“However you look at it, twenty is too old to be dating a high school girl!”
“However you look at it, Sho is too much of a selfish, immature bastard to be dating any girl!”
A more sober Shoko might have been able to field a comeback for that one.
“Okay, okay I’ve got it,” announces Shoko, slamming her glass down on the table with great force. “Threesome!”
This triggers a small sputtering incoherent explosion from Yashiro, in the midst of which can clearly be heard the words “image!” and “tabloids!”
Shoko heaves a sigh. “Idols with squeaky-clean reputations are so much trouble. Give me a bad-boy image to work with any day.”
"Even Fuwa Sho's image wouldn't survive that one!"
“You just can’t get around the connection they have," Shoko explains, with the patient condescension of one who is at least reasonably sure she has sobered up more since her last drink than her companion has. "I’m sorry, Yashiro-kun, I know you feel bad for your client, but a connection like that, all the way from childhood, a newcomer just can’t get between it. You can see it every time they’re together."
“Ren and Kyoko-chan have a powerful connection too,” points out Yashiro, folding his hands around his empty sake cup. “He’s her mentor, her senpai, the one she trusts and goes to for problems! He’s got that demonic charm, and he’s alone with her all the time, and one of these days he’s definitely going to have the right opportunity. ‘Mogami-san,’ he’ll say, using the voice that you hear in the commercials, and as she looks up, adorably startled, he’ll reach out a hand to caress her cheek, and –“
He gradually becomes aware that Shoko is staring at him, and flushes bright red, which he would formally like to blame on the alcohol.
“Yukihito-san,” Shoko says, frowning, “just out of curiosity, when was the last time that Kyoko and Tsuruga were alone together?”
“Before today? Sixteen hours and forty-five minutes ago, when he gave her a lift in his car on the way back from her TV shoot.”
“And when was the last time you were with a woman?”
If Yashiro were drinking at that point, he’d choke on his drink. He’s grateful that he isn’t, because instead it gives him the opportunity to gather the remaining shreds of his dignity, straighten his back, push his glasses up his nose, and announce with his most withering glare, “That’s an extremely rude question, Aki-san, and absolutely none of your business.”
“Fine,” says Shoko, undaunted. “When was the last time you were on a date?”
“Um,” says Yashiro. He can vaguely remember the face of the last woman he dated, he thinks. Surely it wasn’t that long ago.
“Exactly,” says Shoko triumphantly, after five long seconds have stretched by. “You can’t remember, can you? Neither can I! How sad is that?”
Yashiro scowls at her. “The life of a manager for a popular idol is an extremely busy one. Our jobs rest on their emotional well-being. It doesn’t leave much time for other commitments. We both knew that when we went into the business.”
“That’s right,” Shoko agrees. “We eat, sleep and breathe them. We do more than babysit them. We know them better than they do themselves – and it’s worth it, to be involved in show business that way.” She thumps her chest with a fist. “But for god’s sake – do we really have to live out our sexual frustration through them too?”
Yashiro is a mature, grown man of twenty-five, and is certainly not too prudish for this conversation. Of course not. “Sexual frustration?” he repeats, trying not to sound shocked.
“Why should it matter to us,” demands Shoko, starting to gesticulate as she warms to her topic, “whether Fuwa Sho or Mogami Kyoko or Tsuruga Ren ever get laid, or even get a date? Sure, it’s sad if they all spend the next five years pining in agony and living off their frustration and sad memories of a complete lack of anyone ever getting to first base. But that's their problem to work out! We don’t have to agonize for them!”
“So are you saying you don’t care whether Kyoko-chan ends up with Sho or Ren?”
There’s a pause. Then: “Of course I care,” sighs Shoko. “I’m just pointing out that it’s really stupid to care, that's all. Did we really just spent three hours talking about nothing but our respective jobs, Fuwa Sho and Tsuruga Ren? Don’t we have lives of our own?”
“No,” says Yashiro, bluntly, and when Shoko looks up, he smiles at her – full charm, turned on as many watts as he can manage. It’s nothing like the patented Tsuruga Charm, but on occasion it’s been known to do the trick. “That’s show business."
She smiles back, in rueful agreement.
Yashiro takes a breath. "But if you want . . . you know, if you want, we could try this again next week, and see if we can talk about anything but Tsuruga Ren and Fuwa Sho. Kyoko-chan can be off-limits too as a conversational topic.”
“. . . you know," Shoko says, after a moment, "it'd be nice to try, but to be honest with you, I don't even know when was the last time I had a conversation that wasn't at least a little about Sho."
Yashiro grins, and lifts his empty glass in a much-belated toast. “Well, if in the end we find out we’ve got nothing at all to talk about without work, we’ve still got the topics of Fuwa Sho’s ridiculous dress sense, Ren’s superior career position, and the support of Kyoko-chan’s agency head to cover as far as the present argument goes, don't we?”
Shoko clinks her glass against his. “I would have said Tsuruga Ren's overrated looks and troublesome overimaginative manager, myself, but either way, it's a date."