Kyoko stared down at the little cloth purse hiding her Corn stone from her anxious gaze.
It's fine, right? There's a protective barrier. I've blessed it even.
She worried at her bottom lip for half a second, before she shrugged away the dread that was crawling across her shoulders. It was fine. She needed to stop letting her imagination get the best of her.
She had to focus on the upcoming location shoot, and ignore the irritating Beagle boys and Shotaro, and just do her job well.
Even as she thought that, her concentration broke when her phone rang. She flipped it open as she noticed the message of the no caller id.
"Good evening, I hope I'm not calling too late?"
"Good evening Tsuruga-san. It's not too late, no."
There was a long pause between them and she felt the stirrings of unease the longer it went on.
"Got everything packed for the on-location shoot?"
Her shoulders relaxed and, almost in relief, she kneaded her furrowed brow.
"Yes, I've prepared everything I think I need."
"Good. Keep your head down while there; there's no need to call unnecessary attention to yourself. Might cause you some trouble if you're not paying attention. You'd be recognized more as a celebrity presence these days."
"Yes, Tsuruga-san. I'm aware of that."
The Japonet Scoop interview was still vivid in her memory, and she really didn't want to invite any untoward attention her way. One brush with those dumb Beagles, and getting tossed out of that studio after fighting with Sho, was more than enough for her for the week.
"Yes. You probably are. But still, friends worry, yes? This is a big on-location shoot, in a prominent area. It can invite its own kind of trouble."
"Well thank you for worrying, I suppose."
"I know, I know. My worrying is probably overbearing, but-"
"Only a little."
"Sorry Tsuruga-san, it was too easy."
"Regardless," his voice came out stern, if kind, and it made her smile, "Just be careful."
"I promise I will."
"I appreciate the reassurance. I'll be able to join you in a couple days."
"Don't worry, you'll be missed. Don't tell me you haven't heard Fuyumi-san gossiping."
"Fuyu… Oh wait, your makeup artist?"
"Uh-huh. She and some of the other crew just can't get enough of you, you know. And even some of the other girls I've been working with. I think you may be their celebrity cruuuush."
Kyoko half-whispered the last phrase for dramatic effect, and then felt her cheeks burn red in embarrassment for being so bold. Her pride certainly still stung over the Beagle thing, and getting thrown out of a studio over a fight, otherwise she was pretty sure she'd have kept her mouth shut.
Ren let out a loud sigh over the phone line and involuntarily-her embarrassment becoming a quickly fading memory, she giggled as she heard his exasperation.
"I'm so glad I'll be missed," he said, without a hint of irony in his voice. Kyoko wasn't sure if it was droll humor, or just how tired he could have been. But, he always was mature about that sort of thing, wasn't he? Tsuruga Ren wasn't so easily flustered.
"Well, really, we'll eagerly await your arrival to the set," she said instead.
"Keep out of trouble," was his only reply before they said their goodbyes to each other.
Kyoko stared unseeing at the phone in her lap as she played the conversation back in her mind. Frustratingly, his maturity often showed through in instances like this. He always did try to be a good senpai and, increasingly it seemed, he was sincere in his friendly reassurances.
"Well thank you Tsuruga-san," she said quietly to herself, looking about her small room and catching sight of the poster she'd once pinned to her wall as she'd sworn revenge.
She very dearly hoped she could make him proud with her acting. And one of these days, she hoped she could be on a level playing ground with him. That'd be something to see.
Ren tossed his phone to the side, frowning at the PV Yashiro had gotten him the copy of.
He trusted Kyoko to follow his instruction as best she could, but that was the caveat. As best she could. What if something happened that was outside her control?
He thought back to that moment when Fuwa had shown up on their set, as he watched Kyoko's angel fall into devilry. Fuwa had done all that and for what? To apologize to her? What made you do that Fuwa? What have you gotten into your head about you two that required you going out of your way like that?
Was Yashiro right? Was it about this PV? Or was it about whatever mark that had shown up on Kyoko's face that she'd been hiding? Had Fuwa been responsible for Kyoko getting hit?
It was frustrating not knowing the answer. Kyoko had deftly danced around answering him outright about it. She'd only mentioned how foolish she'd been, and how sorry she was about letting him down. Because an actor's tools included their own body and Kyoko had been afraid that she'd disappointed him. He'd reassured her as best he could, but it still felt like Ren had actually needed to say the words, keep out of trouble. Kyoko was just reckless sometimes.
Which… well, teenagers were like that. He knew that very well.
Ren blew out another aggravated sigh.
Let the shooting go well. Please, God, just let her do well.
Ren had the distinct feeling that even as he prayed, there might have been a devil giggling diabolically on his shoulder.
Ren had done his best to put the Karuizawa issue out of his mind while working on location in Okinawa for an Armandy shoot. Kyoko and the rest of the cast and crew had been there a couple days already, and nothing had gotten out of hand enough that it had been reported yet, thankfully. As he was mulling it over, he thought he heard a sly chuckle from his manager.
He glanced over out of the corner of his eye, and sighed internally at the smug look on Yashiro’s face. Yashiro inclined his head towards two of the younger models working on the shoot that were chattering back and forth about women.
“That guy is such a fan of Kyoko, isn’t that great?”
“Uh-huh. Good for her.”
There was a pause, and Yashiro let out an explosive sigh.
“You aren’t even jealous about a guy paying attention to her? And you didn’t care when that Fuwa kid visited the set a few days ago. Sometimes I second-guess myself about whether or not you even have feelings for her.”
Ren’s shoulders tensed as Yashiro tsk ed at him as he leaned back in his chair.
“Honestly Ren. What if that kid meets up with her in Karuizawa too? Doesn’t it have that famous music studio those types like to use?”
“I highly doubt any of them have the time to go visit a recording studio.”
Ren heard himself say the sentence and then closed his eyes in despair as Yashiro shot him a self-satisfied grin. Damnit .
“I mean...I do second-guess myself about how you feel. This is the first person you’ve seemed to have any interest in, in the three years I’ve managed you. But wow. Even I didn’t anticipate that response. What are you gonna do if they do meet?”
“Nothing Yashiro-san. Because she can meet whoever she wants whenever she wants. I was just referring to how busy the schedule was.”
“Well at least you’re not outright denying you’re worried. Baby steps of progress I suppose.”
Ren sighed and loudly flipped to another page of the pose catalog he was studying. He was of two minds about it, really. He already knew that it was highly unlikely that Kyoko cared one whit over the Fuwa kid, no matter if they met up or not. She’d made that abundantly clear in their last few discussions. But it’s Fuwa that bothers you, right?
Ren wanted to snarl at his inner voice. That meddling voice of insecurity and doubt. He hated it. He thought back to that night at his apartment when he’d held Kyoko close, and when her eyes had blazed with fury, but then had been tempered with a soft, bewildered wonder. She’s so passionate, and her beautiful eyes show it, and damnit Fuwa must know that too .
It was maddening to think that another man might know those charms. Ren wanted it all to himself. He sighed again as he pinched the bridge of his nose, and then rubbed at his jaw.
He needed to not think about this. He may have been on a break, but his professionalism depended on his decorum. He continued to peruse the catalog and deliberately ignored every prodding comment Yashiro made for the rest of the afternoon.
While he was able to complete his shoot successfully, he wound up being bothered enough to try to give her a call later that evening. Well, it was a combination of worry, and having had enough whiskey and nagging from his colleagues to bite the bullet and make the call. They didn't know much about his personal situation, but they had dubbed it a plight of the 'womanly kind' and their teasing commentary had been the final straw.
When her phone just went to voicemail, he decided enough was enough. There really was no need to worry. She was a big girl, she could take care of herself.
He ignored the small voice in his head that reminded him that he wanted Kyoko to rely on him, and depend on him, and he let out a small groan as his thoughts started to spiral.
Damn, but they hadn't seen each other in what, a few days? He needed to get a grip on this. Tsuruga Ren couldn't afford for him to do anything less.
When Kyoko stumbled out of the public baths, in a rather speedy getaway to avoid Shoko-san's depressing mood if she was honest, she found herself jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. Perhaps, had she been less hassled by running into both Sho and Vie Ghoul earlier that day, she could have felt less like she was about to face her doom as she looked upon them. She stared daggers at the squawking musicians lingering outside the baths, and found herself sneering.
"I'm sure all of your fans would love to know that you all like to perv on the women's baths."
That the men's baths were just literally around the corner made no difference for her. That they held no bathing accouterments, or robes, indicated something else was up. So of course she had to add some snide commentary.
Sho pulled himself up, shooting her an offended look, and appeared to be about to make some sort of comeback, when Reino stepped forward towards her.
She flinched back, not at all wanting him near her. This behavior caused Sho to frown, but seemed to have no effect on Reino himself. She narrowed her eyes, steeling her nerves so she could make some sort of smart remark if he decided to be an ass again.
Reino did not conform to the expected behavior, and simply stepped closer again. She frowned, and took another step back. What was this Beagle up to? His other bandmates had already started calling her all sorts of names for impugning their honor about perving on women's baths, but Reino stayed silent. It was the most unnerving thing he'd done while around her. She glared, but all he did in response was let his lips curl into a facsimile of a pleased smile. She shuddered as she saw him slide a glance over her, from her hair to her slippered feet.
When she'd accused him and his band of being perverts, she hadn't actually expected him to be one!
"Back off!" she finally snapped at him.
He did nothing of the sort. Instead, he reached a hand out, and when it got within range of her face, she found herself startled as her own hand snapped up, and smacked his hand away. The ball of tension that had been building deep inside her relaxed a little, as he finally seemed to get the message and stopped trying to move closer to her.
"Aaaah," Reino smiled again and she suddenly felt like she may throw up, "You're on your guard. I find that to be… quite alluring. And the yukata with the wet hair?"
He let his appreciative glance linger and she sent him her most ferocious scowl, backing it up with what grudge spirits she could manage to spare.
"Yes. Very alluring. Even… erotic."
Tsuruga-san, she thought in a blur of panic and fury, I can now answer your question of what I would do should someone hit on me when I don't want them to. Of course Ren hadn't phrased it that way that one time at his apartment, but she could read between the lines.
She sneered back at the man,"Keep those disgraceful thoughts to yourself. I don't exist for the pleasure of your perusal."
Unfortunately, her disgusted tone seemed to bother Reino not at all, but instead of having to hear whatever awful thing he might say next, Shoko Aki finally emerged from the baths and startled a little, gasping as she saw the group of men.
Kyoko sniffed, "I told them they were pervs for lingering outside our bath, but apparently that doesn't seem to matter."
Reino's bandmates started huffing and puffing again about how they weren't perverts, but it was Sho arguing with them and causing a scene that appeared to make Shoko-san come to her senses and start doing damage control.
Kyoko scampered away to her room in the ensuing nonsense, not caring that Sho frowned after her as she did so.
She leaned heavily against the door to her hotel room when she got there and closed it behind her, breathing a humongous sigh of relief that she'd escaped unscathed this time.
"Kyoko-chan! Did you have a good bath?!"
Momose Itsumi called out to her from their joint bathroom and Kyoko cleared her throat before she responded.
"Uh, yeah! Uh-huh. Great time!"
So freaking great she thought darkly to herself, deliberately not wanting to think about the look in Reino's eye. Or the fact that his bandmates had made incredibly crude commentary as she'd made her escape-about ripping away everything Fuwa Sho had, even if that included her . Sho had been trying to defend that they were only friends, or so she'd heard as she'd been staring Reino down, but Reino clearly didn't care, or follow, what his bandmates thought. No. Reino was a threat of an entirely different level.
She wrapped her arms around herself as she sank onto her bed, hunching over slightly to stare down at her slippers. She inhaled deeply, still feeling the tang of nausea at the back of her throat. She wasn't unfamiliar with Reino's kind. She'd seen that kind of man plenty of times in her various waitressing positions-the kind of man that was pleased to have a woman scared of him.
She just needed to stay very, very far away from him. And if he and his band could maybe not involve her with their pissing contest with Sho, that'd be even better. She wilted a little as she thought about how unlikely that may be.
"Oh, by the way Kyoko-chan!" Momose-san said in between gargles of what seemed to be her rinsing her mouth, "Your phone was ringing!"
Kyoko was so exhausted for a moment that she almost didn't even want to put in the effort to look. She sighed, and then eventually picked up her phone. She was immediately more interested when she saw that it was a call with no caller ID, and a small smile spread across her face.
The phone rang once, and then twice, before she heard the familiar voice and the background noisiness of a bar.
"This is Tsuruga."
"Hello Tsuruga-san. I hope I'm not interrupting anything? You called me?"
"Ah, yes. Yes I did. No, nothing to be interrupted over here. Was just giving you a call. To, ah, check on you, I suppose. I imagine following the schedule of a location shoot can be somewhat difficult when you're new to it."
"You say that like you've been doing them since you were a kid," she smiled softly down at her feet, happy to focus on anything else, so long as it kept her from dealing with the problems she didn't have a solution for yet.
"Well that's not inaccurate. I've been in the business a while you might say."
"Oh but," she paused, suddenly struck by the fact that she'd asked this before, even if it had been as Bo. She'd looked into his CV since then, and the period of time he was active, "Did you not always work in Japan? You've only been active for about four or five years right? Oh! Did you used to have a different moniker when you did stuff as a kid?"
There was a pause that went on long enough that Kyoko wound up wincing. Her train of thought about that topic appeared to have hit a landmine. He'd avoided answering this question too, back when Bo had asked.
"Sharp intuition there. Yes, that's right. Enough about me though. How have things gone?"
Her mood immediately worsened as she thought of the nonsense with Sho, and the Reino incident that had literally occurred not ten minutes before.
"Shooting's gone well," she began, wording her experiences carefully, "Everyone has been really supportive since this is only my second time with an on-location schedule. It helps that Mio is needed less as a secondary character."
There was another pause, and Momose-san stepped into her peripheral long enough to gesture that she was leaving for a moment. Kyoko waved her off with a weak smile, and then turned her complete attention to faking a polite and cheerful demeanor for Tsuruga-san as she said a few more things about the pretty mansion, and the beautiful forests they were near. The conversation stalled out awkwardly as she ran out of pleasant topics.
"So that's all?"
Kyoko got the impression that Tsuruga-san may have been unimpressed with her levels of honesty. Damn . How well could he read her?? She swallowed hard as she remembered back to the conversation they had a few days ago about Sho.
"Uh, I mean… What else is there to say?" she asked, unsure if her shameful guiltiness was really so evident in just the tone of her voice.
"Oh I don't know Mogami-san. Usually you've asked me how I've been, or how Yashiro-san is, and inquired after our work by this time in a conversation."
She froze as his sharp observational skills came back to bite her in the ass.
"Considering that you've yet to do so, it seems to me you have something on your mind. Do you?"
"I'm sorry Tsuruga-san… I...I guess that I do."
"Well I'm happy to listen to your concerns, you know that. That's what friends are for, yes?"
"... Yes," she mumbled back. The problem was where to start. Which meant…she'd probably have to start from the beginning.
The truth of it spilled out of her, beginning with the Japonet Scoop interview where she'd first learned of Vie Ghoul. As she wrapped up her near five-minute-long rant about Reino and Sho’s assholery, and the Vie Ghoul band that had been so crude to her, on top of being pisspoor musicians that copied others, she sighed.
"But it's their leader that's actually worrisome, you know? His bandmates aren’t anything I’ve not dealt with before. My old schoolmates that bullied me said nastier things. And Sho is an ass on a good day. He actually marked up my face when I told him to just get over himself and be better than these idiotic fakes! But he at least listened, right? And apologized for his bad behavior. But this Reino guy…" she sighed again, "Tsuruga-san I just am not sure how to handle him. He's… I mean we were right outside the baths and I told him to back off… And for a second there, I thought he just...wouldn't. I can't seem to get a read on how to handle him. So ye-yes. It's not a problem I can push out of my mind just yet."
"Of course you can't. What you are right now, is scared."
Kyoko flinched at his quiet statement, and bit into her bottom lip, worrying at it.
"I'm glad you were honest with me. Thank you Mogami-san," his voice was still gentle, but knowing.
Kyoko's anger, her rant, he'd seen right through her. And doesn't he always? She should have expected it really. She hadn't wanted to worry him, had promised him that she'd be careful. He must be so disappointed in me. Fresh tears sprang to her eyes and it took her a moment to realize he'd heard her sniffling through the telephone line and had called her name more than once.
"Mogami-san…Mogami-san? Hey, it'll be alright..I'm going to send Yashiro-san ahead of me. He'll be able to meet up with you probably tomorrow afternoon. Mogami-san? Are you listening?"
“Tsuruga-san! But! But I don't want to inconvenience you either, you know?! I'm sorry! I should have been able to handle this."
"Hey, no. Mogami-san. This isn't an inconvenience. You are asking for help. And I'm giving you help."
She blinked down at her feet. Just hearing his reassurance somehow made her fears dissipate in the face of its warmth. He's… He's not disappointed? She could only faintly acknowledge that he appreciated that she'd asked for help, feeling as if it was something that was echoing from far away. And he was still talking.
"... promise it'll be fine. I've just got another day of shooting. Yashiro-san can do his work pretty much anywhere, although it’s not like he has much right now. Summer modeling and Dark Moon take up ninety percent of our time, I'm pretty sure. So long as you stay on set until Yashiro-san arrives, he’ll be able to escort you anywhere so you don’t have to be afraid of getting trapped in a bad situation with this guy all by yourself."
She relaxed a bit further, hearing how calm his tone of voice was. He continued, some light humor entering his words, “I can’t even begin to explain how incredibly useful it is to have a manager around so you’re not by yourself when you...oh I don’t know...have an incredibly intense fangirl try to propose to you for example.”
She gasped, an involuntary, if horrified, giggle escaping her, “No! Tell me that’s not happened to you!”
“Oh yes. I was 18. I was incredibly uncomfortable, but then Yashiro-san exited the bathroom and thankfully, she was so embarrassed she ran off.”
“Oh nooo! I’m so sorry Tsuruga-san!”
He let out a small chuckle, “If I know anything, I know how to handle zealous women. But yes, many of us in the industry can come across some… unfortunate situations. And this guy might very well be particularly stubborn. So it makes perfect sense to me to send Yashiro-san ahead of me."
"Well I appreciate that. Though, all bets being considered, this also could just blow over."
Thinking about it in retrospect-and her head now in a better place than it'd been for most of the last half hour-Kyoko knew how difficult it'd be for Reino to get access to her set. So long as she avoided being alone there was a decent chance that Reino would be so preoccupied trying to find her, or copying songs like the horrible human he was, that it would be a non-issue.
"Sorry Mogami-san, I'd rather send Yashiro-san ahead. I'm sorry, but I'm not gonna bet that on-set security will be able to keep your best interests in mind. They have Dark Moon as their first priority."
"Well I bet my paycheck that all this could actually blow over."
"Are you really still trying to bluff me?? Don't think I can't tell that you're just trying to put me at ease. You're even using your customer service voice."
"Tsuruga-san!! Really, why can't I just try to bluff my way through this mess?! I'd sure like to think it could work!! I'd really rather not be involved!"
She tried hard to hide it, but she was pretty sure a faint hint of misery was still present in her voice.
"I'm sorry Mogami-san, but you know as well as I do, that you don't bet on a bluff. Why would you take the risk?"
"No, yes you're right. I get it," she twisted her robe hem guiltily between her fingers, desperately searching the depths of her brain for any way to avoid Reino.
"I know you will do your best to be careful," he soothed her, "Mogami-san, when have you ever let some asshole get the best of you? That's not the girl I know, hm?"
His gentle, teasing tone made her lips turn up into a small smile.
He continued, "I know this is bothersome, I do. If you weren't in such a tight spot because of being on location, and out of reach of LME's security, I'd be less concerned."
He couldn't see it but she nodded, "I think I would be too. Thank you for the help Tsuruga-san."
"You're very welcome Mogami-san. Yashiro-san is going to head your way."
"Alright. Um… thank you again,"she thought she was done then, but she found herself asking him anyway, "So you aren't angry that I kept that thing about Sho from you?"
"I've no idea what you mean Mogami-san."
"Oh uh… It's just that last time..." she worried at her bottom lip as he kept silent on his end. But whenever Sho came up...well, suffice to say, she was pretty sure Tsuruga-san didn’t care much for him and there was a reason Kyoko did her damnedest to avoid any Sho vs Tsuruga-san conflict.
"Last time you hid what he’d done from me? Yes, as you’ve now explained the situation, I may be angry at him for doing such a thing. But that does not translate to being angry with you. Besides, as you said, he apologized. When he interrupted our work, I may have been frustrated, but I also had very few facts about what was wrong. And there was no easy way to help you then, wouldn't you say? You guys had already fought, but because the situation has now escalated this time…”
His voice trailed off expectantly and she almost wanted to cringe. Instead she sighed in what she hoped was an agreeable manner, finishing what he was implying, “This time you have all the facts, and there’s now a way to help.”
“Precisely,” he sounded satisfied with her deductive ability, “Don’t get me wrong, these boys sound like absolute assholes.”
“Yeah…” she mumbled to the floor.
“Mogami-san?” he prodded, his voice expectant.
“Don’t worry, I’ll be careful.”
“That isn’t wha-nevermind,” he cut himself off, his tone sounding exasperated and she winced. But his voice was gentle when he spoke again a moment later, “Mogami-san. You have every right to be angry with these two, ok? I still am. They’ve treated you with very little respect, and that isn’t at all fair. You’re showing a lot of maturity in at least acknowledging that someone who hurt you can also apologize for it. You don’t have to dismiss your anger over how this mess started, but I am proud that you talked about what was bothering you. It was the right thing to do, and very mature.”
Momose-san darted back in at the same time Tsuruga-san finished saying that, and Kyoko's bright red face had to be the first thing she saw. It was unavoidable, and they stared at each other for a long second before Kyoko let out a small, awkward cough and broke away from her interested gaze.
"Well thank you very much for your help Tsuruga-san. I'll be waiting for Yashiro-san."
There was another long pause and then a sigh.
"Good night Mogami-san. Sleep well."
"You too," she mumbled, hurriedly shutting her phone and diving beneath her covers.
"...Good talk then?" inquired Momose-san innocently.
"It was fine," she replied shortly, abruptly turning off her nightstand light.
Momose-san let out a small chuckle that had Kyoko's face flaming again, but she asked nothing more. Meanwhile, Kyoko fell into a troubled sleep, anxiously waiting for the next day to come.
And yet, the next day dawned with her having slept for around five solid hours, in spite of her tossing and turning. She peered over at Momose-san brushing her hair and abruptly felt terrible all over again.
“I’m sorry,” Kyoko said, doing her best to stare at the really rather fascinating pattern of their hotel room carpet.
Momose-san paused in brushing her hair, “For what?”
“I feel like I was a bit short with you last night. I’m sorry.”
“Oh I just thought you were tired. You’ve got a lot going on it seems like.”
Momose-san went back to brushing her hair and putting on her lip gloss and Kyoko still felt ill at ease.
“...You’re not mad?”
The older girl let out a small laugh, “Goodness no! What do I have to be mad about? You should hurry up though, we start shooting in a couple hours. You’ve got to be in makeup right?”
Kyoko wasn’t sure what to say to that, and so just started getting ready. Maybe she was so used to other girls her age getting annoyed with her that she didn’t know how to handle the more forthright types like Momose-san. But Momose-san always did have a good head on her shoulders. Kyoko relaxed as she went about her morning routine, happy that she hadn’t annoyed someone else.
Yashiro Yukihito arrived at the on-location shoot in Karuizawa as the cast and crew were finishing up lunch and felt a brief moment of relief that there were still sandwiches around he could grab for a bite to eat. He peered around at the milling crowds, curious as to where Kyoko might be, and concerned that perhaps nobody had eyes on her. After a moment of searching, it became clear that some of the cast and crew had gone back to set earlier than the rest, and he chomped down the last of his sandwich as he hurriedly made his way to the set proper.
He kept his eyes peeled for Kyoko's dramatically dressed Mio-sama, but had no luck as he strode from the outdoors set, towards the mansion set proper. It wasn't until he caught sight of one Fuwa Sho booking it towards the forest, with a frantic Ogata attempting to keep pace, that Yukihito felt the first stirrings of real fear. Ren hadn't had to say much when informing him why he'd wanted his manager to leave ahead of schedule. He'd only said, "Kyoko has someone she feels is threatening her. It' s unclear how serious of a threat, but it's another celebrity… I think we both might know how alarming of a situation that can turn into."
And he'd understood. And so they'd booked a ticket for him to arrive as fast as he could, but Yukihito's heart twisted at the realization that perhaps, even as quickly as they acted, he may still have arrived too late to be of help. He hightailed it after those two, and Ogata glanced at him with something like relief on his face as he approached.
"Follow Fuwa! He said this guy was going to try to corner Kyoko-chan!"
Yukihito nodded, and sped past the Director, regretting his hastily-downed sandwich in the hot weather. He kept pace with Fuwa well enough that the younger man shouted out directions.
"If he's not down here, try that other path! It's not as well-known!"
"What's this guy look like?!" Yukihito hollered back.
"Dressed in black, light-colored hair. Weird-ass fingernails. Tall!"
They split as Fuwa called out those details, and Yukihito kept his eyes peeled for two darkly-dressed individuals.
But only a couple minutes later, the paths came together again, near a riverbank and he heard Fuwa growling in frustration. Before they could discern another way forward, off to their left, a shouting match echoed through the forest.
At least he thought, as he and Fuwa started that direction, at least she's cognizant enough to be yelling.
They came across them as Kyoko was shoving the taller man away, "How dare you!! To be so despicable!!! I've done nothing to warrant your attention! How dare you lay a hand on me!"
Fuwa catapulted himself over a rock and slammed into the other man while Yukihito grabbed at Kyoko, hastily zipping her dress back up and putting a comforting arm around her.
They heard a faint wheezing from behind them and Yukihito knew then that Ogata must have caught up by now.
Fuwa and the other man were scrambling near a tree, and Ogata's voice echoed out over them, "Fuwa, no! If you hit him, he'll press charges! Violence isn't the right thing to do here!"
"He deserves it!" Fuwa snarled.
"Sho!" Kyoko called out from where she'd been slumped in relief against Yukihito, "Sho! He's stealing your songs! They weren't being copied!! Then THIS ASSHOLE decided he wanted to steal me too!"
"Look asshole," Fuwa directed this at the other man, seemingly both disgusted and outraged, "She's a person. How fucked are you in your head, man? She's not into you. Get over it."
For the first time, Kyoko seemed caught off-guard at that response, and she looked confusedly between Fuwa and Yukihito. He could only shrug back, not sure which part she was confused by. Ogata bent over, still trying to catch his breath, and then straightened.
"I really wish you could whale on this guy too Fuwa, but violence never works to our advantage when we're...well when you're celebrities."
For the first time, the other man spoke, "He can whale on me however much he likes. If I can't get what I want now, I'll just leak to the media that Mio of Dark Moon was raped by Reino of Vie Ghoul."
A positively chilling smirk was leveled at Kyoko, and she stiffened in Yukihito's arms, nearly going white with how quickly she paled.
Ogata stared at the man in abject horror. Yukihito felt, for the first time in a long time, a rage settle into his bones.
"Go ahead and beat him then," Yukihito told Fuwa softly. He felt all eyes in the clearing swing to him, as if noticing him for the first time. He stared the man, Reino, down, and knew there was fury apparent in his gaze as he did so, "Beat him, he asked it of you after all. But leaking something to the media? Such child's play. I make one phonecall...and Vie Ghoul as a band won't ever enter into the media's consciousness again."
"Who are you?" snapped Reino, as he straightened his clothes and took another step back from Fuwa.
"I'm the man with a certain...connection to the media. I've an uncle as an editor, and a cousin that covers music for a rather...well-known network. All I need to do is make that call. Go ahead. Try and throw your weight around," Yukihito let his lip curl in disgust, "You newbie."
Kyoko gaped up at him and Fuwa blinked, and the anger on his face cleared up. Yukihito sighed internally with relief. For a man like Reino who would so willingly threaten a young girl by smearing her reputation that badly...well...Yukihito knew when it was time to employ the big guns. He'd only had to do it a couple times for Ren, but if any situation called for it...this one did.
Kyoko swallowed, then spoke, "I don't...I don't want my image as Mio to be so tarnished. I've played her as someone noble and proud. I can't let her dignity...I can't let it be besmirched like this!"
She looked on the verge of tears, "I'd rather keep my mouth shut about this for the rest of my life than have anyone know. I'll just drench my pillow with my tears!!"
She did indeed start tearing up at this point, and Reino scoffed as he heard it, "Well that's not good enough for me. I guess, if leaking it to the media isn't an option..." He swung a furious gaze between Kyoko and Yukihito as he spoke, "I guess I'll have to think of another plan to get you to hate me Kyoko. Don't worry. You'll hear from me soon."
He started to walk off, as Kyoko hollered after him, "I never said you could use that name! You despicable man!"
A smirk lifted Reino's lips as he glanced back at her, "Til next time Kyoko."
She let out a growl of frustration and Yukihito leveled a gaze at Fuwa. The younger man glanced between the group left in the clearing, and the departing Reino, before he cracked his knuckles, and sauntered after Reino.
Ogata looked around, distressed as the pair of them left, "Oh noooo. We should have been on set twenty minutes ago. What are we going to tell people?"
Yashiro furrowed his brow as he continued to comfort the slightly trembling Kyoko.
"Yashiro-san," the girl gasped between sniffles, "How could you say those things to them?"
"I'll say whatever I must for that Fuwa kid to grasp the seriousness of besmirching your reputation. Reino understood it almost immediately. Any celebrity can lose or gain roles by virtue of their reputation...or a lack of one. It affects musicians too. You don't gain venue access and offers without being known. I've had to make similar threats for Ren. There's a reason he's got a squeaky-clean rep in the media."
Ogata ran a shaky hand through his hair, "What can we tell people though?"
Ogata ran down some of the details of what he'd heard from his security team, while Kyoko pitched in to clear up the whole why of the situation. Yukihito frowned in thought. He patted Kyoko's arm comfortingly as she sat on a rock, and attempted to pull debris from her dress and pantyhose.
"Well," Yukihito began, "There will be gossip about why this Reino guy approached Kyoko, but just swear the security staff to secrecy about the actual threat level, since they were also out looking. The public story though, could simply be that Kyoko mistakenly received a threat that was supposed to go to someone else-some musician or vocalist or what-have-you. It would explain both Fuwa's presence, and why this Reino character was hanging around. They were just trying to figure out why it went to Kyoko instead. So when another one came in, you two went off to handle it as quickly as possible. Simple story, and a short one too."
Kyoko had slowly stopped her sniffling as he'd kept talking and Yukihito smiled at her encouragingly.
"That's close enough to the truth right? Reino was going after Fuwa first after all."
She blinked, but nodded hesitantly back at him.
Ogata sighed in relief, "Yes, that's actually quite plausible. A case of mistaken identity that we were able to help with. Logical heads prevail. Thank you very much Yashiro-san."
"You're very welcome," just for good measure he sent a reassuring smile to the young director as well.
He then turned his attention to the path that Fuwa had gone down, following Reino, a worried frown on his face. Yukihito was just going to have to trust that Fuwa wouldn't be too reckless. As for himself, his immediate concern was his LME charge, and he helped Kyoko up, still patting her soothingly on the shoulder.
They returned to the rest of the cast and crew, with Ogata running interference on everyone with questions, and highlighting to the security staff to not ever reveal the level of threat Kyoko had been under. In short order, the cast and crew returned to their regularly scheduled shooting, and the weird hiccup after lunch mostly dissolved into mere gossip. With the literal crisis out of the way, Yashiro turned his attention to soothing Kyoko's nerves between takes, and making sure she had plenty of water.
After a couple hours of this, she turned to him with a sigh on her break, "I am OK Yashiro-san. I promise."
He patted her on the shoulder again, "I'm not doing anything out of the ordinary you know. You've had a shock, and been threatened. This is a simple response of a manager to a charge who's been through something… scary."
He phrased this as matter-of-factly as he could, knowing how easily she could throw herself into apologies and dogezas.
That trick seemed to work and she sent him a hesitant smile,"Thanks so much for your help."
He was relieved to see it, "You've got another surprise coming you know."
She cocked her head in curiosity, "I do?“
He leaned in to whisper, "Ren will be meeting you in the dining hall of the hotel after you're done with your shoot."
A broader, more genuine smile crossed Kyoko's face, "Thank you for telling me! How did you guys know I'd be scared to be alone?"
Yukihito gave her a knowing look, "Who wouldn't be, in a situation like this? Of course a friendly face would help."
A faint blush colored her cheeks as she mumbled another thank you at the floor. He let out a small chuckle as he decided he'd make sure to give Kyoko and Ren some space. As much as they liked to dissemble about how much they truly cared for each other, Yukihito would bet they could really use some quality time together.
Ren had just situated himself at a table with a cup of coffee in the hotel dining hall when the Dark Moon cast and crew started filtering in from the day's shoot. He watched them go by, having been informed via text by Yashiro that he and Kyoko would be in shortly. Yashiro had also sent him a picture of one Reino of Vie Ghoul so Ren knew who to keep any eye out for. Yashiro had also apparently emailed the LME president about a potential media problem that would need quashing, as Ren noticed he'd been cc'd on the email thread as he'd checked his email once he'd stepped off his plane.
Ren tapped a couple fingers nervously against his coffee cup as he watched the crowd from beneath the brim of his ball-cap. Yashiro had said that Kyoko was primarily unsettled, and not truly afraid of Reino, but that wasn't helping Ren's temper much. He wanted to find the man and pummel him into the dirt. That old fury that used to so-frequently simmer beneath his skin, was threatening to unleash itself in a way that it hadn't for a very long time and Ren inhaled deeply. He then exhaled, and pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to ease the pressure there.
He needed to be calm. He needed to be reassuring. And he needed-Kyoko was approaching. He straightened, making sure to send her a gentle smile. She paused for a moment, studying him uncertainly, before a small smile curled her lips.
He shuffled himself further into his bench seat, and directed her to sit next to him. Blessedly, she did so without questioning him, and her knee grazed his under the table. That faint touch, and the faint hint of her perfume, settled something deep inside him that he hadn't realized needed settling.
"Thanks for coming early," she said quietly.
"I'm okay you know."
He patted her hand softly and then wrapped both hands around his coffee cup in an effort to keep himself under control, "I'm glad to hear that."
"You know...I learned something from all this."
"Yeah. You remember you asked me that one time, what would I do if...if someone approached me? Well," she paused and he almost forgot to breathe he was so startled she brought up that night, "I've learned that if they do so and I really don't like them, I'll yell at them a lot. I'm pretty mean about it too."
Doing his damnedest to keep his tone unfazed and reasonable, he replied, "Well, that tracks. You've no problem with telling assholes off, I well remember."
This surprised a giggle from her, and he relaxed enough to send her another reassuring smile.
And thusly, the night went, as Yashiro joined them for dinner, and Ren saw with his own two eyes that she was alright. And he saw Kyoko smile and make jokes, and finally, finally, that pit of fear deep in his stomach dispersed. Even as they were joined by Director Ogata and a couple other castmates, even as everyone wanted to gossip about the lie that they had spread around the set to keep Kyoko's reputation safe, Ren's nerves finally settled enough for him to smile at Kyoko and her antics. He could finally think she's safe, and not immediately doubt it for being a lie. She was safe, and she was alright, and he could finally believe that to be true.
In the hassle of the Reino situation, Ren had completely forgotten about the Fuwa component until he went to the dining hall the next morning and was confronted by the abruptly disorienting sight of him sitting with Kyoko and Momose Itsumi at their table.
Momose seemed to be chatting with a nearly non-verbal Fuwa while Kyoko determinedly stabbed at the egg on her plate. Ren frowned as he watched Fuwa eat part of an apple, and then push half of it towards Kyoko, as if by habit. They'd been childhood friends after all, of course they'd eaten breakfast together thousands of times. He studied Kyoko carefully as she weighed the option of taking part of his food, or if she should just ignore it while Momose's mouth hung half-open as her gaze darted between Fuwa and Kyoko.
Ren grabbed a yogurt and some granola and strode their way. Momose saw him coming and scooted over, again, watching all of them carefully. Ren cursed internally, but then knew he'd just have to play up the concerned older senpai. Easy-peasy. He could do that in his sleep.
"Did you rest well?" he directed this question to Kyoko and Momose as he took a seat, and they blinked at him, startled, but nodded their assent.
"Good. Glad to hear it," he said this with some irony as they had yet to speak, "Do you two of have full days ahead of you?"
Again, they blinked, confused. He didn't blame them. They were all on set all day. The three of them had the earliest call-times. But Fuwa didn't need to know that.
"Ah...yes. I'll need to get to make-up shortly," Kyoko said.
Ren tensed as she absently picked up the apple piece and bit into it. Ren caught the flash of Fuwa's smirk, before the boy ducked his head again, scribbling down something on a piece of paper.
Momose was again watching everyone carefully, but spoke up after a couple quiet moments, "I'm really curious how the stunt with the stairs is going to work. Do you think it'll be too difficult?"
"I imagine it won't be. We've a well-trained crew around here," Kyoko assured her.
Fuwa snorted, "Wish we could say the same about your security."
Kyoko shot him a glare, "That wasn't his fault!"
"Nevertheless," Ren inserted sternly, "I'm sure things will go well today."
"Goodness I hope so," chuckled Momose, "Yesterday was such a pain!"
Ren hid a wince as the black look on Kyoko's face deepened. Momose looked horrified by the words that had just escaped her however, and hurried to reassure Kyoko, "I only meant I hope no one else bothers you! I mean...we totally complained about this yesterday already, so no need to do it again, yeah?!"
Her pitch rose higher with her nerves and Kyoko eventually sighed, "Yeah. Let's hope today goes well. Excuse me. I need to be in makeup."
She tossed the last of her food in the bin near their table as she stood, but kept the bit of apple with her and Ren nearly let loose with a furious scowl as Fuwa smirked back at him, and rose to follow Kyoko. But it was foolish to automatically follow them as well. Momose let out a light groan as she left.
"I don't often put my foot in my mouth, but goodness...when I do..."
"You're fine Momose-san. She knows that you were only trying to chat about the day."
Momose looked up at him remorsefully, "I sure hope that's true."
Ren shrugged noncommittally as he sent her a smile, "I have to get going as well, but let's work well together today, yeah?"
"Yes!" she replied, looking a little more reassured.
Doing his best to speed after Fuwa and Kyoko without looking like he was actively doing so, was rather more difficult than he expected. He had to dodge both the catering team, and his own manager, and brushed by with a hastily tossed out, 'Restroom!' both times.
He ignored the fact that his manager gave him a weird look as when he got out to the entryway, he caught sight of Fuwa and Kyoko through a window. They looked to be chatting in the courtyard of the hotel, behind some of the entrance pillars. He exited, and slowed to a stop as he got close enough, ducking out of sight so they couldn't see him.
They seemed to be speaking quietly, but as he hid himself, he heard Kyoko's voice grow louder, and she sounded so frustrated that he winced in sympathy, "Just tell me already! I bothered to say thank you! Just tell me how on earth you could talk sense into a pervert who's beyond human!"
"You know..." came Fuwa's voice, a little louder now, "When guys settle things they don't...always talk."
"So you did hit him!"
"Beat his A-line to a pulp," said Fuwa, the satisfaction obvious in his words.
"That was so reckless! He could still go public! WHY-?"
"Even a man like him has his pride."
"But why...why risk so much just for me?! WHY? You've got nothing to gain!"
"I wasn't thinking at all about what could happen to me. All I was thinking about was your safety."
The words Fuwa spoke left the pair at a quiet, tense impasse and Ren shifted uneasily, his heart thundering in his ears. Thoughts and doubts that were so present in him whenever these two were near each other surfaced again, and he nearly growled at his own insecurities. No. He wasn't going to stand by again.
He stepped around the pillar, casually approaching with his hands in his pockets, "Mogami-san," he called out, "I thought I heard your voice. Is it wise to discuss...such things out here?"
He cast a doubting glance around the courtyard, and then looked at the pair of them, making sure his features were neutral as he studied them.
Kyoko turned a bright red while Fuwa sent him a scowl.
"Sorry, but I couldn't help but overhear. But we should keep this quiet, yes?" he carefully stepped closer to Kyoko, making sure to keep his body language neutral so she wouldn't assume he was thinking the worst. For good measure, he even checked his watch, "When did you need to get to makeup by again?"
"Oh! Oh no! Fuyumi-chan will kill me!" she let out a noise of frustration and then swung around to look at Fuwa again, "See here! I'll thank you for your help, but don't forget you got me into this mess! We're even!"
"Yeah, sure," Fuwa looked tense, but he managed to smirk at Kyoko, "Yeah, we're even. But one more thing Kyoko. I won't concede defeat to anyone else. I won't allow anyone else to make me feel defeated or hopeless anymore. The only one I'll concede defeat to...is you Kyoko."
Ren had stepped closer to Kyoko, to usher her along, but she had stepped away from him as Fuwa had addressed her, and a cold finger of dread ran down Ren's spine as she answered Fuwa's declaration with nothing but a look of pride, and something that looked like satisfaction clear on her face. Fuwa shot him a challenging smirk and Ren glared darkly back at him.
Fuwa let out a small chuckle, turned, and left with a slight wave signaling his goodbye, "Until next time then."
"Is your business completed then?" Ren's tone was icy, and he had to swallow back more words tinged with jealousy. He closed his eyes for a second as he took a deep breath, and then looked back at Kyoko.
She looked slightly embarrassed at having been scolded for how she was prioritizing her time, but otherwise appeared to not have noticed his behavior, and just walked towards the bus to get to the set.
Ren strode after her, and did his damnedest to cool his jealous temper. Katsuki needed to be in top form today. And he didn't think he'd be able to live with himself if his acting disappointed Kyoko.
Ren had requested Kyoko's number so she could text him in case she needed any help while they were in Karuizawa, (which had been a ten-minute long conversation before she gave in only because he'd been backed up with Yashiro's insistence), and he sent her a text a couple mornings later, seeing if she wanted to meet up for breakfast. Yashiro had provided the idea, and Ren had agreed and was relieved that she sent a text back with a positive response. Perhaps when this whole situation was more than a faint memory, he'd feel less like he needed to keep an eagle eye out for her, but as of now, he was simply relieved that she'd agreed to meet up for breakfast.
"Well I can meet you there Ren," Yashiro yawned out, as unfurled himself from where he'd been answering emails on the couch in Ren's hotel room, "I've just got to run to the restroom first."
Ren nodded absently, tucking his phone away, "I'll meet you there then."
As he exited the elevator to head towards the dining hall though, he once again heard Kyoko's voice raised in frustration. Nearly immediately, his hackles were raised in irritation. How many times was Kyoko going to be cornered?! The past couple days had lulled him into a false sense of security, evidently, and he scowled as he rounded the corner to where the drinking fountains, and a quiet lounge with vending machines were located.
Reino. Ren recognized those awful nails and terrible hair immediately. He felt his face twist into a snarl as he saw Reino grab Kyoko's arm. Neither of them had caught sight of him yet, but Reino was struggling to grab something.
"Just let me see it! It probably needs exorcised-"
And Kyoko cutting him off, "Get off me! This is my precious treasure! Get your mitts off-"
Enough was enough. Ren's hand snapped out and he grabbed the other man's wrist in a fierce, tight grip and hauled the man away from her. Reino scrambled to right his feet, and Ren was merciless as he kept the man off balance and tossed him down the corridor.
"Stay. Away. From. Her."
He bit the words out, not caring if Kyoko saw how furious he was. He could reassure her later. Right now, he wanted to do serious harm to the man that dared touch Kyoko.
The man stared at him, his face pale, "You...who are you?"
"Never seen Tsuruga Ren before, you miscreant?" Kyoko snapped as she cradled her forearm.
Ren's anger almost completely evaporated as he saw her do so, and he wrapped a comforting arm around her shoulder.
Reino's eyes narrowed, "That's not your real name."
"Obviously," Ren replied acidly.
"No...it's an assumed name."
"It's my stage name. But enough about me for now. Let's talk about more important matters, Stalker-san."
He stepped closer to him, dropping his arm from Kyoko's shoulder.
The other man scoffed, "Talk? Hah. You must be joking. I'm fragile you know. Why hurt me?"
Ren sneered, "Don't worry. This can be a very short talk. I'll do...nothing, so long as you swear to never go anywhere near her again."
"Fine," Reino said abruptly, and Ren for the first time noticed how carefully he was holding himself upright. He gave Fuwa a modicum of more respect than before. The boy could obviously land a hit, "As has recently been shown to me, I'm not much for the pain games."
God, this Reino guy was absolutely asinine, and Ren had had enough, "So long as we're clear."
He turned and placed a hand on Kyoko's waist, to usher her back towards a more populated area of the hotel, "Let's never meet again Stalker-san."
"Gladly," came the muttered response.
"Mogami-san, how do you get into these situations? First Fuwa, and now this guy corners you too??"
Kyoko stumbled as Ren escorted her down a back hallway, a hurried enough motion that a couple of the early-morning cleaning staff scrambled to get out of their way. She was almost breathless after the first couple flights of stairs, but he finally ended their trek to push her into his hotel room, and shut the door behind them.
"But breakfast…" she trailed off, feeling like she was missing something.
"Neither of us are scheduled until after lunch. We can take a late breakfast. Don't worry, you won't miss it."
He'd been holding a can of tea apparently, and it got cracked open, and he began pouring it into a glass on his side table.
She blinked at him dumbly, wondering what on earth was happening that he could be so nonchalant. She stiffened as that thought crossed her mind. He wasn't nonchalant, she realized in a split-second, he was simply acting. The stiffness of his shoulders and the blase teasing gave the game away.
"I'm not worried about missing breakfast."
"Well then, no worries!"
He sent her a brilliant, sunny smile, and she bit back a scowl. Very abruptly, perhaps because of anger still simmering away inside her, she decided to stop playing the game.
"Why are we here instead of at breakfast?"
His act dropped almost completely with that demanding question, and he studied her carefully.
"Surely I don't have to tell you that the timing of these incidents are beyond the pale. They seem to wait for when you're alone on purpose," he said quietly.
When she remained silent, he frowned, "Mogami-san, did I not already ask you to be careful?!"
"None of this is my fault!"
"I'm aware! So at the very least, could you explain to me why you would even try talking to that VG guy? After everything?!"
"I really get the concern, I promise I do," she hastened to add when his eyebrow arched in almost comical disbelief.
"But look, there was actually very little real danger. He got what was coming to him. And you were right. People kept me safe enough that a relatively quiet, semi-public area near elevators I thought was fine for a bit of conversation. And it's not like I wasn't keeping my guard up."
"You should have just ignored him."
"Maybe. But I knew I would be safe anyway, even if I said sure, let's talk. After all, you'd already texted me to say let's meet up for breakfast. I knew you'd be stepping out of that elevator in short order."
He scowled, "Fine. Are you now satisfied? Or will I have to keep extracting you from these impossibly awkward confrontations between these two boys?"
She cocked her head, her gaze drifting to the tea can he held tightly in one hand while his other scrubbed roughly through his hair.
"Not that I don't appreciate the genuine concern, especially about Reino," and it was reassuring so many people were looking out for her safety to be sure, but something about what he was saying... "What is it about Sho being involved that bothers you so much?"
He froze. Kyoko knew she was on the right track then. His persistence in questioning her about Shotaro had been bugging her since that night at his apartment.
"Surely just his mere existence can't make you that angry. He makes me that angry, but you don't know him like I've known him."
"He hurt you."
There was a pregnant pause, and Kyoko was so shocked at his forthrightness that she almost forgot to take a breath. He stared her down, the can in his hand screeching as the metal bent beneath the weight of his curled fist.
"He hurt you and I would happily tear him to pieces because of it."
Somehow, as she shakily took a breath and remembered to inhale and exhale, she didn't think he meant he'd give Sho a rightfully-earned dressing down. She glanced over his stiff form as he glanced away, his nostrils flaring, and decidedly tried to forget how terrified Reino had been when he'd been hauled away from her and tossed down the corridor.
"I um… appreciate the friendly concern...but that seems a little unnecessary now. Sho can't hurt me anymore, you know?"
"Oh, so his behavior doesn't factor into this situation whatsoever then??"
"That wasn't his fault anymore than it was mine...well, mostly. And that's a little uncharitable of you, considering he's been one of the ones trying to help get me out of this ridiculous situation! No matter how impossible he is or the hassle he gives me, I can acknowledge his help, at the very least."
"And if you see him tomorrow? What will you do? Curse his name? Or say hello with a cheery smile on your face? Would you perhaps join him for breakfast again?"
They were quiet questions, and she thought she may have misheard him, she was so stunned by his line of inquiry. She shot him a look, but he appeared to be studying the ground. She'd waited so long to respond though, that he glanced back up at her with a frown.
"Join him for breakfast…again?" she said flatly, "I see the set is as ripe as ever with gossip. And what would you do Tsuruga-san? If I said yes to that question?'
Tellingly, the aluminum of his can of tea crackled as he squeezed it tight. The sound was loud enough in the tense air between them that he almost-almost-flinched.
The look on Kyoko's face was curiously blank. The pendulum between them swung once, twice, and Ren once more felt her tighten the strings of power between them, and his shoulders bowed further, his willful pride breaking just enough for him to grit out:
"I would think it… ludicrous."
"Of course you would. You've asked such things of me before after all, and have answered similarly."
Kyoko remembered it vividly. And the memories of his touches that night, frustratingly, often came to her unbidden these days, making her question everything. It was maddening, and she had continued suppressing them on her own in her everyday routine, but unerringly so, they always burst forth in his presence. She could never quite shake the memory of the brush of his hand over her hip. And neither could she forget how sometimes these days, his fingers would linger on her wrist, her shoulder, her forearm.
In a weird way, the thoughts of that having resurfaced now, wiped away how gross she'd felt when Reino had grabbed her. Maybe that was what made her so bold.
"I'm curious what you must think of me, to even wonder whether I'd bother with either of those egomaniacs. I thought I'd been pretty clear that some people just aren't worth my time."
He stared at her, speechless, but she only sighed.
"It's just weird, Tsuruga-san, that you're so concerned about Sho and me. I get a little friendly concern, but your insistence about how he's hurt me… what, have you never had your heart broken?"
A muscle jumped in his jaw as his lips thinned. She held back more words, knowing he must have little patience with her right now. But the question had just… slipped out, and she was reminded again of his demeanor he'd shown around Bo.
"If you're fine, then we should go down, yes?"
He asked this quietly, and a familiar frustration filled her.
"Tsuruga-san! You're the one that dragged me here!! What, I can't ask questions about your persistence?!"
"Why do you always do this?!" she cried, after another long moment of him saying nothing, "You're honest-but only just, and then you try to change the subject! Or-or avoid things or dismiss them. You said we were friends! What is it that you keep hiding from me?! I keep trying to meet you where you are, but then sometimes you just… wh-why aren't you saying anything?!
He only stared at the ground, and let out a small huff of laughter, soft enough that it was more alarming than anything else.
"No. You're right to question what I'm doing. I've been a piss-poor friend. I'm sorry."
He looked back up at her, his face calmer, less full of tempered anger, and she felt herself relax, if only a minuscule amount.
He stepped closer, his can clattering onto the side table, and tucked her into a hug, "I'm sorry Mogami-san."
Maybe it was the soothing warmth of his hand on the nape of her neck, or the reassuring strength of his arms as they encircled her, but she found her frustration melting away ever so slowly. Every single place Reino had touched her seemed less vile when it was Ren that was hugging her, and touching those same places. And she finally could relax enough to speak without wanting to scream.
"I'm…I'm sorry for being the cause of your concern."
"Nah, don't worry about that. None of this has been your fault. And I'm sorry for being so frustrated. I just… I wanna know that you're alright. And I'm sorry I keep questioning you about the Fuwa kid. I just… I would just feel bad if he broke your heart again."
"What, why would you feel bad?" she lifted her head from his chest, confused, her gaze darting up to meet his.
There was a complicated furrow in his brow, and a bitter twist to his lips.
"You...you just deserve to be treated better. I hate that you've had to deal with this, with him."
"I mean… I'm really alright. I promise. I've been well-protected, even here. And you've reassured me more than I think you may realize."
She stepped back and bowed a little, "Thanks very much for your help."
He raised a hand to the nape of her neck again-a soothing gesture to him she imagined, as she fiercely repressed the full body shiver reaction to his hand on her.
"Just… if you need anything Mogami-san…" his thumb swept from her jawline to her cheekbone, even brushing her bottom lip, and she swallowed hard at the gentle kindness in his eyes.
"Always the gentleman, isn't that right Tsuruga-san?"
"As you've so aptly pointed out, I'm being rather uncharitable right now to… certain individuals… were I truly such a gentleman."
She didn't know if the gentle teasing was worse or better, when included alongside the soft strokes of his thumb on her cheek. But she also found it practically impossible to step away yet.
"And yet, as always, you're showing me a great deal of kindness."
He leaned in closer to her, his other hand lifting so he could cup her face in both hands. She froze as a small smile crossed his features and he pressed a soft kiss to the top of her head.
"Oh I'm sure Kotonami-san would also join me in kicking anyone's ass that tried to hurt you. You inspire a surprising depth of loyalty you know. And a great deal of kindness. Of course we'd want to protect that."
Oh no. She knew the tell-tale signs of an oncoming blush better than anyone, and did a direct about-face so he wouldn't see, tearing herself free of his grasp. She inhaled deeply, trying to make herself a little less dizzy.
"Well thanks for that. Breakfast time now?"
"...Yeah. Uh, yes. Shall we?"
He gestured to the door, as she quickly rushed by, and exited. He stood there for a second longer, and raised his hand to his mouth. He placed a gentle kiss to his fingers, remembering the feel and the smell of placing a kiss on the top of her head, his heart still somewhere in the vicinity of his throat, and then very carefully, buried everything he was feeling, beneath his Tsuruga Ren facade again.
The door quietly clicked closed behind him, and Yashiro Yukihito finally stepped out of the bathroom, where he'd been hiding since he'd had to wash his hands for what seemed forever ago now. He blinked dumbly at the now-quiet room, staring between the closed door, and the glass of tea left on the side table.
Ren was resting in his trailer when Kyoko found him next. Tossing and turning last night instead of sleeping-and the events of that morning, had left him tired before their lunch break was even finished. Unfortunately, today was a day with night shoots, so Ren kept to himself and escaped for a nap for the brief period of time he wouldn't be needed on set. Later, he'd wonder if he was just excusing his behavior, but right then he roused to a quiet click of his door as it closed, and a soft sigh as someone knelt by his futon. When he felt a soft hand reach out and brush his bangs out of his face, he smelled the faint scent of plum blossoms drift by. It was Kyoko then, who felt so comfortable around him that she actually came to check on how he was doing.
Warmth infused his body, and without his express permission, his eyes fluttered open, wanting to meet her gaze. She froze, her hand still in his hair as he looked up at her. Not a second later, a blush blossomed on her features and she hastily pulled back.
"Just checking if you're alright!" she squeaked out, "Yashiro-san said you-"
He snagged her outstretched fingers with his own and she abruptly stopped speaking as he cupped her cheek with his other hand, as she tried to squirm away.
"And are you pleased with what you've discovered?"
His voice was huskier than he originally intended, and even as his muddled brain tried to swim closer to the more appropriate, professional facade he did his damnedest to upkeep, a larger part of him just enjoyed that she hadn't flung herself away from him yet.
There was a loaded silence before she cleared her throat. His eyes snapped to the muscles of her neck as she swallowed, and then shakily exhaled. Her hand tightened in his grasp, but he let it drop as she pulled away again. As his fingers speared her hair and his thumb dropped to graze her cheekbone, he caught sight of her nails catching on the edges of his couch and digging into the seam.
"Hm?" He didn't even spare her a word, so fixated he was on what her hands were doing.
"We're friends right?"
Confused, but intrigued by the way her tongue darted out to wet her lips, he responded, "Of course."
She ducked her head further-or tried at least, but he hadn't anticipated such a sudden motion and his grip was still firm on the side of her face.
The sound emanated from deep in her throat as he mistakenly pulled on her hair and he froze as the air between them thickened with tension. There was a millisecond where Ren knew that his feelings were writ large on his features for any observer to understand, but blessedly, she had ducked her head to hide from him. Her fierce blush was a bright pink on her cheeks he noted briefly, as he forced his face into its typical reserved politeness as she glanced back up at him.
She seemed to be steeling herself to say something, her eyes burning with resolve as she dared to stare him down, "So. It'd be a good bet to say you're this touchy with all your… friends?"
Ren inhaled sharply as his eyes narrowed on hers. Wide awake now, with a quietly simmering displeasure starting to stoke his temper, his grip tightened in her hair for another millisecond. He swung his legs off his futon, now directly facing her as her head was tilted up further. Her eyes widened as she quickly understood his challenging look, and he found himself dragging his fingers through her hair, until he grasped her jaw in his palm. When he was absolutely sure he had her undivided attention as she half-knelt before where he was sitting, he finally spoke.
"Mogami-san… I've warned you already… don't bet on a bluff."
She abruptly jerked away, and took a step back, almost stumbling in her efforts to hurry away from him. At another time, this perhaps would have been an indication to behave in a more gentlemanly way, and not scare her. But as she glared down at him, he got the sense that her temper had been riled, just like his had.
"Bluff?!" she squawked, "How-why… You! Are you trying to say that you're never overly-friendly with people sometimes? I'm no fool you know! Ladies that you lavish attention on are gonna assume you want to be friends! And-and those ladies gossip!! And that gossip usually includes their...their other, more fanciful ideas! Don't tell me I have to list all the incidents I've heard about when the others gossip about you and-and… women you've been friendly with. Certainly there needs to be some boundaries so people don't get o-odd ideas you know…" she stuttered out the last sentences, her gaze firmly affixed onto the trailer's musty-smelling carpet.
Ren stood, stepping closer, and her eyes swung back to his, unease creeping across her features.
"I'm curious… what bothers you more Mogami-san? That you know that gossip to be untrue? Or that you know I treat you so very differently from everyone else?"
He stared her down , as her cheeks slowly turned a deep red, and felt the old, familiar sense that they were daring each other to make the next move in their odd little game.
"... No...no you don't... I'm not…" came her half-mumbled response a long moment later.
He shoved his hands deep into his pockets so she wouldn't see his fists tightening in pointless frustration at her dismissal. She was desperately trying to reinforce their boundaries in her own mind, so she wanted to insist that they were just friends, so of course, to her, his behavior must indicate that she wasn't an exception, and that he did indeed act like that with others as well. But, and he let a slow smile grow as he finally understood something that had eluded him before now, she had also snapped at him because she actually did want to be the exception.
"Oh Mogami-san," he let out a loud sigh and shoved his hair back away from his face as he looked down at her bowed shoulders and down-turned face. The more he was around her, the more he understood those quirks of hers. The deflection, the denial… he almost admired her dedication to it. It was on par with his own.
Instead of letting her flee from this encounter, he suddenly had the fierce wish for her to leave in a flustered enough state that it'd be evident to those who didn't even know her. It wasn't like anything would truly change between them. If he dared to be bolder it wasn't like she'd scamper away, terrified of him. She'd proven that much at least, that night in his apartment. She'd gone on her way bewildered and unsure, but then when enough time passed, she had tested him again. He wondered briefly if she even realized that that was what she was doing.
He stepped closer, reaching a hand out to cup her face again. She darted an uncertain glance back up at him, but didn't pull away. Slowly-slowly but surely, he was earning her trust. And that was such a prized treasure to get, that all he did was pull her closer, wrapping an arm around her midsection as he tucked her face into his chest.
"Oh Mogami-san, I know you know better than that. Don't tell me you've already forgotten what I told you that night."
She was as still as a statue in his arms, but she didn't outright flee. The last of the tension that had knotted up in his shoulders relaxed then, as she let out a soft sigh, and let him give her a tight hug that she returned. He combed his fingers through her short hair, the product in it having faded by the afternoon, and buried his smile in her hair, so his pleased look wouldn't scare her.
A moment passed before they recollected themselves, and stepped away.
She smoothed out invisible wrinkles in her skirts, and hurriedly groped for the trailer door, stumbling backwards.
"Ya- Yashiro-san said to make sure you got enough sleep. I'll let him know that you're getting a-a um. I'll let him know you're resting up."
Her cheeks flamed and he stuffed his hands in his pockets so he wouldn't reach out to her again.
He was silent as she lingered, and when she finally dared to glance back up at him, he gave her a slow, certain smile-one intent with promise.
She squeaked, and scrambled out the door, the door closing with a click that rang of finality. He sank back onto his futon wondering precisely where his inhibitions had gone in the last five minutes. He then decided he didn't give a damn as he inhaled deeply, and noticed something unusual, but very, very welcome.
The scent of her plum blossom perfume lingered in the air, like a promise waiting to be fulfilled.