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Foreign Influence

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It wasn’t a very good morning, but that didn’t have to be a bad thing, he decided as he fumbled for his alarm and slid out of bed. He could still make it into a good day.

Stumbling about a little, Kuon managed to blink and wince his way through dressing, ran his hands through his hair a couple of times until it settled more or less neatly, and made his way downstairs.

“Morning, Mom,” he mumbled as he walked by, dropping a kiss on her head and making her turn and smile at him as he wandered toward the fridge. As expected, nothing looked good.

“Long night?” Julie asked with a somewhat knowing and frustrated smile. Kuon grimaced and went back to scanning for food. There had to be something in here. “Kyoko made breakfast.”

The tone was more self-deprecating than teasing, but Kuon felt guilty anyway as he looked towards the stove and spotted the Kuu sized pot waiting there. Almost without thinking, Kuon was crossing the room, sniffing the contents, and sighing in relief.

“If you’re having any, you better get some now,” his father announced, coming into the room. “I’m hungry.”

“Like you’re ever not,” Kuon grumbled under his breath as he served. His father didn’t catch the words, but a play-acting pout told Kuon that Kuu had recognized the tone. The only appropriate response the son could manage was to stick out his tongue and take his own modest breakfast to the table.

Over the next few minutes, Kuu managed to settle with the giant pot next to his wife at the table and steal at least three kisses from her before, giggling, she pushed him to stop flirting and eat his food. Ignoring his parents as best he could, Kuon still couldn’t help but smile at the exchange.

He got about halfway through gingerly sipping his breakfast before Julie asked, “Did you have plans for today?”

Kuon nodded. “Kyoko and I are going out for a while. Then I’ve got work this afternoon.”

“With who?” Kuu asked, pausing between gulps, a slight frown on his face.

Kuon hesitated. “With that new director…”

“From Japan?” Kuu pressed.

An even longer pause. “No. The other one.”

“I thought Director Ogata-“

“I’m not ready for the part,” Kuon interrupted, trying vainly to ignore the look of disappointment in his father’s eyes. “I- I liked his vision. For the project. But I don’t think I’m in a place where I would lend the… right kind of credit to it.”

That Hizuri name hung silent and unsaid in the room, making everyone at the table glance down.

It was into this heavy atmosphere that Kyoko burst with a cheerful, “Good morning!”

Kuu was the first to manage a smile, but Julie and then Kuon soon joined him giving their own good mornings. “Kuon says you’re going out today,” Julie said mildly, her smile slightly more pronounced.

“Yes,” Kyoko answered, taking a seat at the table and declining when Kuu offered to find her some more food. “I wanted to explore a few more parts of town today, before I have to go home.”

The smiles were all still in place, but the shift in atmosphere was palpable. Kuon was proud that Kyoko’s head was still held high, her own smile still in place. She’d gotten better at that look, and it wasn’t just an act. He respected her resistance to their pity. He’d never wanted it either.

“We’d better get going,” Kuon said, dropping his dish in the sink. “We don’t want to waste any time.”

They left the house after a shower of hugs and kisses for both of them, and the extraction of no less than three promises apiece that they would stay safe. Kuu’s final hug to Kyoko before he let them go involved hauling her off the ground and swinging her around in circles until she laughed. Kuon smiled.

Something was obviously on her mind as they started out. Kyoko kept flipping the hood of her jacket up and then back or fiddling with the cross necklace she was wearing, but stopped as she noticed Kuon watching her.

“Late night?” Kyoko asked the time he caught her playing with the ties of her hood, the painted flowers on her nails distracting him slightly. It was a bit of an arch question followed by a small smile, but there was also concern in her eyes as she asked.

“A bit,” Kuon admitted reluctantly. “It’s the end of summer break and Rick wants us to live it up before I have to go back for fall term.”

Kyoko nodded, frowning. “He’s like that,” she agreed. “But it’s kind of silly since you live so close and he’ll see you all year round anyway.”

“We set drinking limits for the school year,” Kuon admitted, without also confessing that it was mostly his idea. He’d gotten tired of forcing himself to go to class hung over, and his parents would have intervened if he’d tried skipping even a bit. “So this was something of a last hurrah for a bit.”

His lack of enthusiasm earned a giggle, and he glanced over to catch a look at her smile. Kyoko clasped her hands behind her back, eyes dancing as she returned, “And you just loved it.”

“Oh, so much.” Kuon was grateful they were back to teasing each other again. Last year had been… difficult.

“How’s Rick doing?” Kyoko asked with something close to a studied casualness.

Kuon almost frowned. “You saw him last week.”

“I meant this morning.”

“Oh.” He shrugged. “I haven’t asked.”

Kyoko’s eyes went wide and she said in a carefully sweet tone, “You didn’t call him yet? But it’s already morning. Shouldn’t he be up?”

Kuon laughed at her vengeful streak. “Ah, of course. I forgot. Isn’t he lucky?”

“That’s what he says,” Kyoko smiled back. But there was something else on her face now. Something that Kuon couldn’t quite place. “You’re really lucky to have him for a friend.”

Kuon wasn’t about to disagree with that, but he wasn’t sure what made her feel that way in particular. She tended to be around when Rick was at his most goofy, not when he was standing up for Kuon or telling him what to do. “I don’t think I would be who I am without him,” he confessed.

Or Kyoko, if he was being honest. But Kuon wasn’t sure he could be quite that honest out loud yet.

There was a short silence before Kyoko asked, “What happened at breakfast?”

She’d said it gently, but Kuon still winced slightly, shaking his head before he could even think about it. “Nothing. I just-“ How to put it? “Dad asked about work.”

Kyoko frowned. “I thought work was going well. You said you’d had a good summer.”

“I did,” Kuon agreed. “Dad’s just disappointed because I’m going to film a commercial this afternoon, not a drama.”

“You turned down Ogata-san?” Kyoko was clearly very surprised. “I thought he wanted you to play Katsuki!”

“Yeah,” and now Kuon couldn’t quite keep the bitterness from his voice. “I thought that too.”

It was the gentlest touch, but her hand rested on his shoulder and he knew she understood. Really understood how disappointed he’d been. “He didn’t- I’m guessing he didn't just say it outright.”

“No,” Kuon admitted, pulling himself together to try and give credit where it was due. “He said he’d seen some of my other work and that he thought I could be a good fit for the part. If I brushed up a bit on my Japanese first.”

They shared a smile at that. She’d been giving him grief for years for his accent.

“But you didn’t want it?” she pushed after it became clear he wouldn’t continue.

No, it was more like, “I don’t want to get cast in a son’s remake of a father’s drama because I’m the son of the guy who starred in the father’s drama. It’s just- It’s really cheap to me.”

There was a gentle hum from his companion. “It’s going to be impossible to ignore that fact if you take the role. But I didn’t get the impression that Ogata-san wanted you because you were Otou-san’s son.”

It took him several seconds to decide which extraordinary thing she had just said he should respond to first. “You met Director Ogata?”

“Yes, he was at the acting camp last week. We had a very nice chat.”

Oh, Kuon would just bet they had. Especially if, “You were talking about me?”

He didn’t mean for it to come out sounding like an accusation and was concerned when Kyoko blanched slightly. “No no no no no! We weren’t talking about you. I mean, you came up and I said your name a few times but I wouldn’t presume- It’s just not possible for me- I wouldn’t ever dare- Kuon!”

The last came out in a tone of rolling anger, her eyes snapping as he laughed. “No, I- Kyoko, I’m sorry. I’m not- Haha!”

He’d almost forgotten that she would do that. It’d been so long since the last time. Kyoko sniffed at him, her nose up in the air.

“Well,” she huffed, “if you’re going to be like that I just won’t tell you the rest.”

“You won’t,” Kuon pouted, turning soft puppy dog eyes her direction and watching her crumble under them. “Not even a little?”

There were a series of grumbles at this, but she eventually said, “We were just talking about his project. He brought you up. But he didn’t say anything about your father when he talked about it. Just that he liked your role in that film last year, where you played that bully. He said it spoke to him a lot, about your potential. And that maybe you’d be a good fit for this.”

Which was both good and also precisely not what Kuon had wanted to hear. He’d gotten that role thanks to his own childhood bully, smirking and recommending the cheap half-Japanese actor as the perfect clownish villain. It had been more than a little spite that had made Kuon base the character off his referral. Closely enough that he knew he still hadn’t been forgiven for it by said pest.

Oh well. No regrets.

“Kuon?” Kyoko had stopped walking, apparently because he had. “Are you okay?”

“Yes,” he managed to get out. “He liked my role as Slick?”

Kyoko nodded carefully. “Which is why he wanted to ask you. He knows you’ve never acted in a main role before, or in a romance. But I know he really thinks you could do it. And he’s right,” she added fiercely. “You can do anything!”

He smiled and swung an arm across her shoulders, making her squeak as he pulled her into a one armed hug. “Thanks, Kyoko.”

She smiled and gave him a moment like that, but soon pulled back. “Do you really not want to take it?”

No. Kuon really did want the part. And he wanted to succeed in it. Desperately. He just didn’t have enough confidence to think that he could right now. And that was more depressing than the assumption that Director Ogata wanted a cheap advertising gimmick.

Apparently, Kyoko could see some of that in his face. Her cheeks turned slightly red as she stumblingly admitted, “I just hoped- I thought- If you took the part, then you would be in Japan for it. I could have seen you.”

That stopped Kuon in his tracks. “Oh.”

He hadn’t thought of that. He hadn’t thought of that at all. How on earth had he missed that? It would have been almost perfect timing too. He could still rearrange his class schedule, do online courses for the few credits he needed for his last semesters, call the drama an internship, and be in Japan only a few weeks after Kyoko got back. Even if she couldn’t make it to Tokyo, he could see her regularly throughout the year.

Actually, it would probably be better if she wasn’t in Tokyo, since that cockroach was there…

“Kuon, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be so selfish!” Kyoko’s panicked words pulled Kuon back from his thoughts. “I don’t- You’re not- You shouldn’t take the part because of me. You should only take parts that you want. I don’t have anything to do with-“

His hand firmly on her mouth stopped the tirade. “Kyoko,” he said with careful steadiness, “I would be really happy to take this job and to see you while I was in Japan. Now I’m just sorry that I turned it down.”

He really, really regretted it.

Kyoko slumped, apparently not reassured by his words. “I didn’t mean to make you sad,” she mumbled around his fingers.

Smiling as sincerely as he could, which was easy when she so obviously cared for him, Kuon told her, “It’s okay. Maybe I’ll reach out to Director Ogata again. We only talked yesterday. He probably hasn’t found someone else yet. Maybe…”

Pulling his hand from her mouth and cradling it in both of hers, Kyoko finished, “Maybe we can see each other this fall?”

It was a shock to Kuon to realize in that moment how much she wanted it. Wanted him to be there where she could see him again. Only two years ago she had still been so in love with Sho, so crushed when he hadn’t been willing to wait one summer for her, a summer that he had known was coming, that had come every year since the first time Kuon’s parents had sponsored Kyoko’s study abroad. And now. Now…

She wanted to be with him.

Okay, he was probably over thinking it. His family had been hers for years now, and that wasn’t romantic. He hadn’t even realized his own feelings until this year when Rick- Well, damn Rick, he’d made it really obvious.


“Sorry,” he shook his head slightly. “I’m just… trying to make new plans. I think- I think I really like this. Really want it. And I almost missed it.”

Which would have been one of the biggest mistakes of his life.

But Kyoko was smiling again now, embarrassed and happy and… something else? He couldn’t quite place it.

“I’m glad, Kuon,” she said, her tone and her eyes conveying what her words could not. “I’m just… I’m so glad.”

“I don’t have the part yet,” he reminded her, flicking her nose and taking her hand to pull her along.

She fell into step neatly beside him, utter confidence on her face. “You’ll get it. Ogata-san really wanted you. You should call him right now.”

It was tempting, but, “Later. On my way to my job. Right now, we have plans.”

Kuon accepted the script, half his attention still on his class schedule and all the things he would need to do to get it adjusted in the next week. He almost missed what Director Ogata was saying, which would have been very bad because the director was already speaking to Kuon in Japanese to help him get more used to it.

“I’m really glad you reconsidered,” the frail, timid man smiled. “I know… I know I probably didn’t do a very good job of presenting the project to you, but I really think it’s going to come together very well. Kyoko-chan seemed very sure of it too.”

Kuon looked up from his casual perusal of the script, which made him regret so many years of refusing his father’s offers to teach him kanji, to blink in surprise. “I didn’t realize you had told her so much about it.”

The director’s smile was stronger now. “She really was the one who helped solidify some of the changes that I want to make. But I would have told her anyway. I didn’t want her to go into it without understanding what it was.”

Trying to keep his face neutral, Kuon managed, “I’m sorry, what does Kyoko have to do with this project?”

“She didn’t tell you?” Ogata looked incredibly surprised. “I mean, she mentioned she was heading back soon, but I thought she would have said something. Although maybe she didn’t want your father giving her too much advice. She did mention being worried about being influenced by the original if she asked him for help.”

Scrambling to catch up with where this had to be going, Kuon asked, “Kyoko is part of this project?”

“Oh yes. She told me she was transferring to a performing arts school in Tokyo this year to get a jump start on her career, so I felt like it was a good time to make the offer. She got a scholarship through LME’s student program. Didn’t you know? She’s playing Mio.”

“Oh.” Kuon took a moment to digest that. “I guess… I’ll be seeing her this fall.”

After a few more minutes of polite conversation, Kuon escaped into the hall and out to the parking lot, where Rick was waiting for him.

“How’d it go?” his friend asked, putting a light punch into his shoulder.

Kuon was still too shocked to respond properly. “Kyoko’s going to be there.”

“Uh, yeah. That was the whole point of you taking this job. Get closer to your girl.”

But the teasing just slid off. “No,” Kuon repeated, “she’s going to be there. In Tokyo. In the drama.”

That made Rick stop. “What? Seriously?” Kuon could only nod. “Damn. How long before she’s legal?”

“Rick!” Kuon growled.

His friend just shrugged. “I just need to know if I should be saving up for a plane ticket. I’m not mooching off your parents just to see you get hitched.”

“It’s not like that,” Kuon groaned, thumping his head against the back of the seat to prevent the idle fantasies from Rick’s words taking root. “She’s not interested in me like that. Not yet.”

There was a brief silence from the driver’s seat. “You know,” Rick said slowly as he started backing the car out, “it’s probably a good thing you can’t marry her yet. You’ve still got a lot to learn about women, Kuon. And probably not more than a year to do it.”

“Why’s that?” Kuon demanded, distracted by the last part.

“Once your lady’s rich and famous, she’s gonna have the world at her feet,” was the simple reply. “And I’m not sure you can compete with that.”

“We’ll see about that,” the actor almost hissed in response.

Rick just chuckled. He couldn’t wait to get home and tell Tina about this.