>> Monday, July 11, 2011
Okay, this is a first for me. I've never had the urge to write fan fiction because, truthfully, coming up with characters and scenarios has never been a problem. When I've been prompted by something to write before, it was usually because a good idea was so badly mangled I had to rework it into something good. Admittedly, it was usually unrecognizable long before I was through with it (and that was largely epic poetry that will never see the light of day).
But Nakamura Yoshiki, author/artist for Tokyo Crazy Paradise and Skip Beat! has built such terrific sequences and characters that I couldn't stop myself. Whereas the bit I wrote for Tokyo Crazy Paradise is a bit of consummation after the end of the series (which is complete), what I wrote for Skip Beat! is largely my speculation on how it could come to a close. It's not over yet so there are many many opportunities for her to resolve it any number of ways. I won't post the TCP bit until after I've reviewed it. Truthfully, I expect the mangaku to spin it out longer than I have it here (much longer) and probably in little bites than I've done here. And, as I've said, it's just speculation using someone else's story. Note that I have also written fanfiction for Tokyo Crazy Paradise that begins here.
If you haven't read the manga, you probably will be confused. If you want to read it but haven't yet (and I definitely recommend it), I'd avoid reading this because spoilers are built all through it. In fact, this is unlikely to be of any interest to anyone other than a fan of Skip Beat! if even that because this is how I see the characters.
Disclaimer: these characters and scenarios are based on the work of Nakamura Yoshiki and I'm just speculating on what might happen later in the story. Nothing more, nothing less. It is not an original work and I will never try to market or profit by it in any way. The manga is rated "Teen" but this is probably closer to "older Teen."
There was something about that hallway.
Kyoko didn't consciously seek Ren out, even if her mind had been wrestling with concerns for him. Something was eating away at him, she could tell: the yearning looks she caught now and again on his face, his near constant sighs, the reserve that she'd thought long gone between them that had come back. As her own interest in him, affection for him, became undeniable, she noticed more and more that he struggled with something silently, without confiding in anyone, even his manager. Certainly not her.
It hurt. He had no reason to confide in her, surely, but they were at least friends, even if her unfortunate love for him was one-sided. He'd never failed to be there when she needed it; it was painful to see him suffer with no way to help him.
She knew he'd struggled with his current role, the darkness, the violence, the callousness, but she'd thought he'd broken through on that, conquered it. This seemed different. Why couldn't he talk to her about this when he could about his violent past, his darker side?
As she'd mulled his unknown problem, she had waddled down the TV station's corridors, never really asking herself why she had taken a walk still bundled into her bulky costume until she'd turned the corner and seen him, sitting in a funk in his favorite remote corner. She wasn't surprised. A part of her wanted to find him in the only guise she knew that might get him to open up. Of course.
As she crept close, the look on his face broke her heart. She wanted to extend a wing and touch his face. How could anyone look so alone? She knew that feeling, though she hadn't felt that way in some time. She angled into his line of vision and waved her wing instead. "Yo."
The slightest hint of his genuine smile touched his lips before he shook his head. "I should have known. How do you know when to find me?"
"I'm the smartest chicken you know."
He chuckled briefly, but his smile quickly faded. "I'm losing my sanity, friend."
She perched gingerly next to him and folded her wings on her lap. "Tell me what's wrong."
She expected to have to cajole him like she'd done in the past. Instead, he asked, after only a brief pause, "Do you remember what we talked about when last we met?"
A year previously, she recalled, he struggled with Katsuki's role, though what they had really talked about was...love and his attraction to someone else. Her heart ached. Talking to him about his love life was hardly what she'd wanted. She'd conveniently forgotten his interest in some unknown high school girl. And yet... she saw his face, his pallor, the exhaustion, the despair. If she loved him, shouldn't she help him however she could? "There was a girl," she offered.
"Yes." He stared at his hands, clasped on his lap. "You were right, then. I did love her. I didn't want to. Didn't want to care so much about anyone. I was stupid. It was already too late. And it's changed my life, saved me."
It hurt more than she expected, so she took a moment before she asked. "Do you love her so much?" She'd forgotten to disguise her voice and was surprised how small her voice sounded.
He looked up sharply, studying her mask for a moment, before returning his gaze to his hands. "More than anything. So much, I can't bear to lose her."
Torture. She cleared her throat. "So, why the long face? You should be cozying up to the girl you like." She'd managed to disguise her voice, but had not injected the enthusiasm she'd been shooting for. Some actress she was.
"She doesn't like me." He shook his head. "No, that's not quite it. I think she likes me in a way. She respects me, listens to me, looks out for me. Perhaps she thinks of me as a friend. But lover? Not a chance. She doesn't want me."
"You're kidding, right?" she asked with a snort of laughter. When he just looked at her coldly, she stopped laughing. She indulged in a moment of reflection on any girl he might covet who wouldn't be thrilled. Even at her worst, when she'd feared loving him the most, that fear had been largely driven by her knowledge that any love she might have for him could never be returned. He might thoughtlessly shatter her heart with his teasing or his acting power, completely unaware of his hold over her, but it was just his normal charm. Nothing personal. Someone like Ren didn't end up with a nobody like herself. "That's hard to imagine," she finally managed. "I thought all women wanted you."
He snorted this time. "Hardly. But she's not like regular women. She's something special. So brilliant, so unbelievably beautiful in ways outside the common way, so kind, so talented. I've never met anyone like her in my life. She takes my breath away."
"Sounds wonderful," she said, her mouth tasting like dust.
"It's hell, too. I find every excuse I can to see her, talk to her, single her out. Fate's helped with that. She's friendly, but if I so much as touch her, even give her a genuine smile, she recoils. She respects me, but thinks of me in light of a teacher, a brutish one who lives to bully people." He sighed. "Guess I can't blame her for that."
So I'm not the only one he bullies, she thought. Why did that thought depress her? Somewhere, in the depths of her brain, a bell rang, but she ignored it as she tried to imagine who he might be talking about. How could she not have noticed some girl he'd gone out of his way to spend time with, look out for?
"Meanwhile, every man with a pulse has started to come sniffing around her. With them, she treats even the most pointed advance with careless nonchalance. She has no sense of self-preservation against anyone but me. Even her worthless ex comes on to her now, and she thinks nothing about being alone with him. Of course, she doesn't notice he's coming on to her, but it's only a matter of time. Someone's going to get through to her and she'll be lost to me."
Who was this paragon? She couldn't be a costar. Kyoko knew them all and there wasn't a one of them who wouldn't weep with joy to be adored by him. A fast-rising star? Beautiful enough to attract hordes of men? Kyoko suppressed her jealousy. She didn't begrudge the hordes, but she couldn't help but envy this unknown angel this one particular man, especially since she was breaking Ren's heart. Damn it, the woman obviously didn't deserve him. Who was she? Maybe Kyoko could get more information. "She's in show business?"
He narrowed his eyes, suspiciously. "Why?"
Kyoko blinked at him in confusion, unsure why she was detecting anger until it dawned on her that he saw her as a potential rival. He didn't know she was a girl after all. "Um, uh, I thought she might have been on the show?"
He snorted. "I doubt it. She doesn't seem to think much of variety shows and I'm sure she would have mentioned being on Yappa Kimagure Rock. My agency is closely tied to the hosts." He sighed. "Sorry, friend. I'm crazy over this. If this keeps up, I won't be able to stop myself. I'll kiss her for sure and she'll toss me out of her life. I can't sleep. I can't eat. It's going to affect my work."
"You haven't kissed her?" Kyoko squawked. "Not even when you confessed?"
"I can't tell her. She's scared to love because of the way her ex treated her. She's so romantic that she'd rather feel nothing than take a chance on love. She's kind of all or nothing. As for kissing her, you should see the look of fear she gets on her face if I even think about it."
More bells were ringing in the recesses of Kyoko's mind, but she was still focused on his problem. "Close your eyes before you kiss her," Kyoko suggested practically. "Her look can't stop you if you don't see it."
"You're pretty callous when it comes to this girl. She's not some bimbo I just want to get into bed, you know. I really love her."
Kyoko fought back the blossoming jealousy. "Sorry," she managed through gritted teeth. Then sighed. "But you do want her, right?"
He clenched his fists on his thighs before replying in a strangled voice. "Desperately."
What she wouldn't give to have him speak that way about her! She wanted to touch his face, comfort him, but she could just imagine his reaction to being fondled by an oversized stuffed chicken. She had to help him. Who knew more than she did the pain of loving in vain? He was suffering. "I'll help you however I can." Damn it, she forgot to disguise her voice again.
This time, he didn't seem to notice, but he didn't exactly look comforted. "I don't want you to be offended, friend, but I'm not sure how you can help me. If you hadn't noticed, you're a chicken."
"But I'm very popular with the ladies." Kyoko retorted. "The problem is you haven't told this girl anything and you're guessing at what she's thinking. She might not be so hard to win over as you think." I can't think how she could be. "Problem is, if you continue the way you are now, you're going to lose control and you really might scare her off."
"That's what I'm saying," he pointed out.
"So you have to tell her. Kiss her. Let her know. Even if she says, 'no,' you'll know where you stand."
"You make it sound so easy. Would you tell someone you loved, even if you didn't think they'd love you back?"
Good question. Right to the heart, like always. "I can see how it's hard. But you gotta do it. What's the worst that can happen?"
"She might cut me out of her life. I could handle being hated. I could win her over from that, but dismissed from her existence. I don't think I could bear it."
"That won't happen. Impossible. I'm sure of it. If she cares anything for you. When have I been wrong?"
Ren regarded Kyoko appraisingly. "Actually, you've been uncannily accurate. Alright, you win. What should I do?"
"Kiss her. Gently," Kyoko told him without hesitation. The pain and yearning left her feeling exhausted, but it was all for his sake. Didn't he deserve some happiness? He'd been there for her so many times. It was hardly his fault he didn't love her.
"I've almost kissed her a dozen times, nearly did so on Valentine's Day, but her bastard of an ex beat me to it." He snorted, his face softened with memory. "Even a kiss on the cheek scrambled her brain. It was so cute. And frustrating."
Kyoko went entirely still, her body suddenly cold despite the layers of padding. Valentine's Day. The faint ringing of bells became a claxon as pieces she'd been ignoring fell into place. Shotarou, that bastard, kissing her in front of Ren and then Ren, kissing her on the cheek after she'd given him the gelée au vin. She was in high school. She spent inordinate amounts of time with Ren. She'd accused him of bullying her (and she'd never seen him bully anyone else). Sure, he'd started out hating her, but he hadn't seemed like he hated her for a long time.
She'd seen him get angry when Sho or anyone else got close to her. Remember the cast party? If he loved her, and not just as a protogée, all of this started to make sense, including his anger whenever she was around Sho. That meant his own jealousy was making him think other men were interested in her.
It was too fantastic to be true, but she couldn't shake how right if felt. She just couldn't believe he'd kissed another girl like that on Valentine's day and had the same effect. And she had been scared of him with his heavenly smile and heart-opening touch. But what could someone with the talent and beauty of Tsuruga Ren possibly see in an immature little nobody with no sex appeal like herself? She didn't even realize she said it until it was already out: "You love Kyoko?"
Ren grabbed the chest of her costume, yanked her up off her feet and was glaring into her chicken face with his most dangerous look. "How did you know that? How do you know her?"
Shit. She had not thought this through. Time to lie. "Oh, I know Kyoko. She's got a regular gig at this TV station, you know."
Ren lowered her back down. "I'd forgotten that." He surprised her by releasing his hands with an apology, looking pointedly away from her. "Sorry, I didn't realize you were a girl. I shouldn't have been so rough."
Heat flooded Kyoko as she realized what he'd felt. Reflexively, she crossed her wings over her breasts.
Ren cleared his throat and offered his gentlemanly smile, the one that masked both ire and embarassment. "So, that's how you know Kyoko." The scintillant power of his smile increased. "And she told you I kissed her cheek on Valentine's Day?"
Danger! Danger! "No, but she told me what Fuwa Sho did. I could figure out the rest. I know all about that idiot. And I know you work with her." That seemed pretty safe. He seemed to be much calmer now that he realized she was a she. "She says you really are a bully."
Ren sighed. "She would."
"Kyoko doesn't just fear you. She respects you, depends on you, says you make her feel safe and brave."
"She gives me far too much credit."
Kyoko sat back down, reeling with the knowledge that she was the one he loved. She'd thought it impossible. "So, Kyoko? Really? She's so... I mean, hey, you can have anyone."
Ice edged Ren's voice, his eyes as cold as Hokkaido in February. "What do you mean by that?"
Kyoko took a moment to gather her thoughts. If he thought she was insulting herself, he'd get angry. The thought stunned her. "I like Kyoko," she said carefully. "She's a nice person. But she's kind of ordinary and immature."
"There's nothing ordinary about her," Ren said. "And she has many characteristics that are far more mature than her years. She's entitled to a bit of childishness here and there." His eyes softened. "It's part of her charm. It's a big part of her talent."
Kyoko swallowed. Had anyone ever spoken in her defense like this before? "I guess I just thought you'd love someone spectacularly beautiful," she said at last.
"She is beautiful, more beautiful than anyone, maybe even my mother. She's gorgeous all the way down to the core. She thinks its make-up or magic, but it's a magic she has inside her." His eyes were misty, his face angelic. She'd seen this face so many times. Only now did she realize why. He was thinking of her. That's how he saw her.
She didn't know what to say. Somehow, a selfless interest in helping Ren had become like eavesdropping into sentiments he'd never have shared with her if he'd know who she was. This isn't how she should be hearing this. On the other hand, she now knew how to solve his problem.
He wasn't really paying attention to her anymore. "I think I've always loved her, ever since she first confused me with a fairy prince."
"Hmm? Oh. Sorry. I was just talking to myself. Precious memory. You know, you're amazingly easy to talk to."
"Friendliest chicken you know."
"She's easy to talk to, too, except about this. In some ways, you're very alike. Wait, you won't tell her about this, will you? You can't!"
"I would never betray your confidence. I've never told a soul about any conversation we've had," Kyoko assured him, feeling guilty though she spoke the truth.
Ren chuckled in a relieved sort of way. "I think I knew that. So, friend, what do you suggest I do, now that you know my problem? Still think I should kiss her since you know her?"
"Yes," she said, chest clenching, aching at the idea. Her own world had just upended, but she knew what she needed to do, for Ren, for herself. "But first, you're a mess. You need a break. Take a night off. Better yet, tomorrow, too. Call your manager and have him rearrange your schedule."
Automatically, Ren frowned. "I can't do that."
Kyoko hopped to her feet and lifted her wing admonishingly. "You can't eat. You can't sleep. You can't think. Better to postpone a job then fail spectacularly. You need a break. When was the last time you took one?"
"Well, I... That doesn't matter. I can't just..."
"What are you doing here? That TV drama? How long?"
"'Til about six. But then I have some studio modeling work."
"They can do it another time. Call your manager, Yashi-something-san, and have him rearrange your jobs. That's what managers are for. Tomorrow, too. When you're done with this, go home, have a good meal—get it delivered if you can't cook—and then get some rest. I'm positive, if you do what I tell you, the world will look differently tomorrow."
Ren looked at her, his stunning face drawn, his eyes exhausted, and she couldn't stop herself from stroking a wing along his cheek. At least he knew she was a girl. "Call him."
Ren looked as though he wanted to ask a question, but saw past her to someone behind her. "Here comes Yashiro-san now. I'll see what I can do."
Kyoko left as quickly as she could manage, but waited around the corner long enough to be sure Yashiro was doing what she wanted. Yashiro knew Ren well enough to see how frazzled Ren was. Yashiro even argued for the break, saying that it was about time Ren put his foot down against the unreasonable demands his employers were always making.
As Kyoko padded away to get changed, her mind raced. She only had four hours to think this through, to prepare herself. She hadn't been able to keep her box locked for some time. No matter how firmly she locked it up and how many layers of protection, the moment she saw him, the locks would fall away. But, today, as he opened his heart to what he thought was a stranger/friend, the box flew open and she knew she could never close it again. Only he could do so, if he chose to.
Like it or not, her heart was in his hands. It had been for a long time, apparently. Time to act on it.
See part two: Taking the Lead.
See part three: Dinner Theater
See part four: Matinee
See part five: Curtain Call
See part six: Date with Natsu
See part seven: Shoudown