"Ms. Mogami," Supervisor Sawara said, "you have been working very hard as a member of the Love Me section."
Kyoko laced her fingers before her, and dipped her head modestly. "It has been. . ." she paused, before continuing with aching politeness, "very rewarding."
Sawara beamed at Kyoko. "Yes!" he said, and his professional face crumbled beneath the force of his pleasure. He beamed at Kyoko from across his desk, as delighted as Kyoko had ever seen him. "You are right, Ms. Mogami--it has been a rewarding experience, indeed."
It would not be polite to shuffle in anticipation, and even less so to demand--no, to strongly request--answers. "Sir?" Kyoko said.
Supervisor Sawara chuckled to himself. "This is exciting news for a girl who bullied her way into LME!" he said, more to himself than Kyoko. "Who would have imagined. . . ?" He shook off his memories, and focused on the Kyoko Mogami of the here and now. Whatever she had been in the past, she was a fine young actress now.
"Ms. Mogami, I am pleased to announce that you have been recognized as a fine and upcoming talent. You have been nominated for The Best Newcomer in Acting Award!"
Kyoko's breath caught in her throat. An award? For her acting? The commercial that she and Moko had wrested from their rivals--the job they had won with their determination and guts--was going to be awarded! A beautiful vision unfolded before Kyoko's shining eyes: Moko, beautiful in a gown of pure white, laughing at Kyoko's side; Mr. Tsuruga, looking at her fondly and respectfully; and Sho. . . Sho, on his knees, wailing in despair as Kyoko sailed past him, her star bright and rising to dizzying heights.
Supervisor Sawara was still beaming. "I knew that appearing in Sho Fuwa's promotional video--" Sawara broke off in alarm when Kyoko's head snapped up, her slitted eyes zeroing in on him.
Kyoko's beautiful vision trembled.
"Sho?" she said, her voice flat. "Sho Fuwa's promotional video?"
Supervisor Sawara's smile faltered. He was suddenly very, very happy for the desk between them--and would not have complained had the distance been even greater. Such an impossible girl! he thought, swallowing heavily. "Your role as a fallen angel in "Prisoner" was quite remarkable. . ."
Kyoko's beautiful vision shattered. Moko vanished in a puff of smoke, as did Mr. Tsuruga, after one last long, disappointed look. Sho rose to his feet, smirking and insufferable: "Pathetic!" he sneered, "your star can't rise without attaching itself to mine!"
Kyoko tumbled from the heavens, flailing and wailing through the darkness--and opened her eyes to find Supervisor Sawara pressed as far back into his chair as possible, his face ashen. Kyoko's mouth was open, her anguished wail still lingering in the air.
Kyoko shut her mouth, and summoned her best smile. It transmuted into a grimace before touching her lips, and left Supervisor Sawara looking even more uneasy. "What," Kyoko said, very carefully, "about the Curara commercial Moko and I worked on?"
Supervisor Sawara straightened, and carefully eased his way back towards his desk. "Oh, is that what's troubling you, Ms. Mogami? Ms. Kotonami is also up for an award, for her role in the drama. If you're concerned about competing with a friend--"
"No," Kyoko said, "no!"
She didn't want to be known at "the actress from Sho Fuwa's promo clip"--the very thought made her tremble in rage! But. . . but. . . any exposure was good, wasn't it? Hadn't she vowed to use Sho as a stepping stone to greatness? Kyoko sighed deeply. How very complicated! How very frustrating!
"Well," Supervisor Sawara said. His smile was slightly wary, and his movements jerky as he shuffled a stack of papers on his desk. "I hope that you're pleased, Ms. Mogami?"
Yes! She had promised to destroy Sho, and that hadn't changed. The route she was taking was. . . rocky, but victory beckoned from just beyond the horizon. She would take this award, and some day--some glorious day, when she was famous beyond even Sho's wildest dreams!--she would easily and haughtily dismiss Sho's video: "oh, yes," future Kyoko murmured, "the Fuwa video! I had almost forgotten about that; it's been so long since I've heard anything about Fuwa. He left showbiz in shame years ago, didn't he?"
Kyoko's lips curved into a dangerous smile. "I am pleased, Supervisor Sawara," she said. Her eyes glinted madly as Kyoko turned on her heel, marching towards the door and her brilliant, Sho-destroying future. She laughed, demons slowly unfolding behind her.
Supervisor Sawara slumped in relief when Kyoko left his office. It would be an interesting night, he thought, glad that he would not be there.
Kyoko's great and shining future was only steps away; she had only to magnificently sweep through the door to the banquet hall and claim her prize--after navigating her way around Sho. Selfish, interfering, stupid Sho, who was standing in front of Kyoko's doorway to fame, his face set in a scowl.
"You!" Kyoko's furious cry escaped her, loud and shocking in the otherwise quiet hallway. Everyone else was already seated in the banquet hall--where Kyoko should be, with Moko and President Takarada, and people who were not Sho!
"You!" Sho snapped, surprised and irritated at the sight of Kyoko. He crossed his arms, and stared down at Kyoko from his greater height. He looked haughty, and Kyoko longed to kick his knees and bring Sho crashing to the floor. "What are you doing here?"
She was a promising and skilled young actress! She had every right to be here! Kyoko drew herself up to her full height, titled her chin, and spoke with every ounce of arrogance she possessed: "I," she said, "have been nominated for a very important award. I am a best newcomer in acting."
Take that, stupid Sho! Kyoko's demons sneered, waving their fists at Sho over the top of Kyoko's head.
Sho snorted. "Best newcomer? You? Not in a million years!" Sho's eyes swept Kyoko from head to foot, dismissive. "You might have tricked me with your acting once, but it was nothing more than a fluke! It was dumb luck! There's no way a boring girl like you--!"
Kyoko quivered with rage. "I've worked hard to polish my skills, and my talent is real," she snarled. "You are the one holding me back now."
"Someone must have made a mistake," Sho said, ignoring Kyoko's darkening expression. "There's no way you belong in there," he said, pointing at the closed door behind him, "with the real talents. No, no--I would be doing everyone a service by having you thrown out."
Kyoko's demons roared in her ears, and blurred her vision until she could see nothing but Sho's hateful, hated face. She would defeat him and humiliate him in the world of show business, of course she would, but would it not also be satisfying to tear the smirk from his face with her own hands? Yes, Kyoko's demons hissed: yes, it would be most satisfying!
Kyoko lunged for Sho, her carefully painted nails reaching for his face. Common sense made one last, desperate attempt to stay Kyoko's blow: you'll get us banned from the ceremony, and disgraced before everyone! Kyoko twisted mid-leap, reaching past Sho for the door. Sho was already a star, and didn't need to fear being thrown out. He caught the back of Kyoko's dress, yanking her backwards and into his chest.
They spun around, vicious and graceless.
Kyoko batted at Sho's chest and arms, wishing for greater height--just enough added inches so that she might be able to claw his eyes out! He started this fight, Kyoko's demons snarled, show him no mercy! Strands of hair slipped free from Kyoko's painstakingly arranged clips, clung to her glossy lips, and helped to fuel her rage. Her beautiful hair, in disarray! Her gorgeous dress, pulled out of shape! Her lovely nails, chipped!
Sho swore, and made a desperate grab for Kyoko's swinging fists. "You crazy bitch," he said, under his breath--nearly as impressed as he was furious.
Kyoko's rage was vast, but Sho's height and weight gave him the advantage he needed to win their fight. Kyoko's back collided against the wall, driven backwards by the full weight of Sho's body. His hands curled around Kyoko's wrists, and pinned them to the wall above her head. Sho's breath came short and fast against the top of her head, but he didn't release her even when Kyoko squirmed and snarled.
Sho smelt like hair gel, and leather--and like the soap Kyoko had bought for him in years past; like the cologne he'd always favoured. Stupid memories, Kyoko thought, and stupid Shotaro!
She stomped on Sho's foot with her modestly sized heels.
Sho grunted, and tightened his grip on Kyoko's wrists. His voice was strained when he spoke, but still smug, still arrogant. How Kyoko hated him! "You act like a common fishwife. Do you think this is respectable behaviour for an actress?" he said. "You're not suited to this life--forget your revenge, and leave the business before you humiliate yourself even worse than you already have."
Kyoko titled her head back, her eyes raising to meet Sho's. "I won't!" she cried, "I'll never forget, and I won't give up until you're destroyed!"
Sho's eyes narrowed. His lips twisted moments later at some secret amusement, and he leaned in closer to Kyoko. She tensed, even her demons momentarily stunned into silence.
What he--? Kyoko thought. No! No, of course he wouldn't!
The flash of a camera shocked them both into stillness. There was someone in the hall with them! Someone in the hall with them, taking pictures! Pictures of Kyoko, and Sho! Of Kyoko and Sho, together! Kyoko peered around Sho, her eyes lighting on the photographer even as he took another shot of them.
Sho released Kyoko's hands, and turned to face the photographer. "Don't be stupid," he muttered to Kyoko when she began to step out from behind him, ready to cut the photographer to pieces with her angry words.
"Hey," Sho said, angry.
The photographer smiled at Sho, indolent. "Always a pleasure, Mr. Fuwa," he said. He took one last photo before walking past them into the banquet hall, utterly unfazed by Sho's anger.
Sho swore, and swung around to punch the wall above Kyoko's head.
"A picture, of you and me!" Kyoko groaned.
Sho huffed. "Oh, grow up," he said, and very deliberately looked at Kyoko's shoulder, where the strap of her dress had slipped out of place.
Kyoko slapped a hand to her exposed shoulder. Her eyes went wide. "Oh," she said, voice suddenly very small. "You idiot," Kyoko said, and pushed her way past Sho.
Her perfect night was ruined, and her bright and shining future was in jeopardy--again. Damn Sho, Kyoko thought, damn him!
Kyoko slunk through the halls of LME, miserably reflecting over her meeting with Supervisor Sawada and the President. That they should suspect her of harbouring romantic feelings for Sho--! Kyoko's face flamed with humiliation.
They had not been cruel, and that made their suspicions sting all the deeper.
Supervisor Sawada had frowned. "Ms. Mogami, even if the photos appeared in a disreputable magazine, like Boost--"
While Sawada looked disappointed, President Takarada had been visibly heartbroken. "Such a romantic indiscretion can have serious consequences, for a young actress such as yourself," he had told Kyoko, who was too stunned to do more than gape at the two men. "Naturally, I want you to experience the wonder and joy of love! For it is love that gives an actress her true beauty! There are proper times and places to indulge in a romantic interlude, however. . ."
A romantic interlude! Ridiculous! How could anyone look at those photos and not realize that Kyoko had been engaged in a battle to the death? As ridiculous as it was, the whispers following her strongly suggested that most people were shockingly blind to the difference between bloodlust and romantic longing.
Kyoko hadn't wanted to be known as "the actress from Sho Fuwa's promotional video." Being thought of as Sho's conquest was far, far worse.
Kyoko passed by a cluster of woman, still seething. They giggled and cast long looks in Kyoko's direction. It wasn't until they spoke that most dreadful of names that Kyoko's patience snapped.
She wheeled around to face them, her face twisted into a horrifying grimace. The very air grew dark and heavy as dozens of demons rose, shrieking in fury, from Kyoko's rigid body. The women had stopped giggling, and had nearly stopped breathing. Kyoko's lips twisted into a terrible smile.
"Do you think that it's amusing to gossip about things that aren't true?" she said, her voice low and sinister. "Do you enjoy laughing at my misfortune? Is linking my name to that idiot's funny?!" Kyoko took a step forward, fists clenched, and teeth grinding together audibly. "I'll show you what I think about your rumours!"
A firm hand on Kyoko's shoulder stopped her slow forward march.
"Ah, hah hah," Moko said lightly, "Kyoko is such a joker!" She smiled at the women cowering before them. "Unfortunately, she's been up far too long, and I really must get her home!" Moko added another light, trilling laugh to the mix before yanking Kyoko away from her petrified victims.
Moko shoved Kyoko into the nearest unoccupied room. Alone with Moko, Kyoko's face crumpled. "Mokooooo!" Kyoko wailed, and flung herself at the other girl. She clung to Moko's arms, looking up at her with huge, wet eyes. "Moko, people think that I--I!--like Sho Fuwa! I could die, Moko! No! No! I could kill him! Yes, that's right--!"
Moko huffed, and shrugged her way out of Kyoko's clinging hands. "It's your own fault," she said. "You provoked something, didn't you?"
Kyoko rocked back on her heels. "Moko!" she cried.
"No," Moko said, shaking her head. "I know you. You did something crazy when you saw Fuwa."
"He started it!" Kyoko said. "He called me boring, and said I had no talent!"
"I don't care if he started it, a true professional is above such petty insults," Moko said.
Moko, Kyoko thought with deep longing, was so cool! So professional! Moko wouldn't have fought with Sho--Moko wouldn't even have given Sho a second look. Moko, Kyoko was sure, wouldn't have been tricked by Sho to begin with.
Moko was right. Kyoko was a failure as an actress. She was a failure as a woman. She was hopeless! Absolutely hopeless! Destroying Sho was an impossible dream, if he was the one threatening her career, without even trying. Kyoko sobbed.
"Stop that," Moko snapped. She picked up the magazine someone had left behind; it was yet another copy of Boost. The magazine, obviously well-used, fell open to the pages that screamed to the world: "Sho Fuwa's mystery lover!"
"Don't look!" Kyoko wailed.
Moko ignored her. "They're very good pictures," she said, "very crisp, very clear." She looked at Kyoko's crumpled form over the top of the magazine. "If you weren't. . . you, I'd call this irrefutable proof of a relationship between you and Sho Fuwa."
The darkness of deepest despair was threatening to swallow Kyoko. She was doomed. Her career, in ruins! Her revenge, torn from her grasp! Her pride as a woman, crushed!
"But I do know you, Kyoko," Moko continued. "You're strange, yes--there's no doubt that you're the strangest girl I've ever met--but you're tough." Moko towered over Kyoko's huddled body, and smacked the top of her head with her rolled up copy of Boost.
Hope was a faint, beckoning light at the edges of Kyoko's despair. She looked up at Moko with beseeching eyes.
"What's with those eyes?" Moko snapped. "You're the girl who bullied her way into LME! You're the girl who fought for Mr. Tsuruga's respect! You're the girl who forced me into friendship! Would the girl who did all of that really give up on her dreams because of a few pictures?"
"No," Kyoko said meekly.
"No!" Moko said. "Stop crying! Get up! So what if people think that you and Fuwa are an item? They're wrong, and they'll have no choice but to stop gossiping once you overwhelm them with your true talent."
"Yes," Kyoko said, her voice gaining in strength. "Yes!" She surged to her feet, and pumped her fist in the air. "My star will make Sho's pale in comparison, and the world will have no choice but to recognize him as a selfish bully!"
"Just try not to do anything stupid in the meantime," Moko said.
Kyoko was in high spirits when she and Moko parted ways.
If the road to success was long and difficult, her eventual annihilation of Sho would be all the sweeter. Yes! Kyoko would become a famous actress, and Sho Fuwa would be cast into the darkest pit of Hell reserved for no-talent former celebrities. Kyoko pictured Sho on his knees, head bowed, as a large demon with a very sharp pitchfork read from the long list of Sho's sins. Yes! And Kyoko would laugh and laugh and laugh at Sho's look of anguished defeat.
Kyoko hugged herself in delight. Her smile faltered when she looked up. Mr. Tsuruga was striding towards Kyoko. His smile was very bright, and very kind. Kyoko recoiled in horror. Mr. Tsuruga was angry! Horribly angry!
"Ms. Mogami," Mr. Tsuruga said. "I hear that you've been very busy recently." His eyes sparkled. His smile glowed. He was terrifying.
Did Mr. Tsuruga know what she had been thinking? Had he guessed that Kyoko was imagining Sho's complete and utter destruction? He had guessed. He knew! What other reason would Mr. Tsuruga have for looking at Kyoko so warmly, with such a gentlemanly air?
"I'm sorry!" Kyoko wailed, tumbling to her knees before Mr. Tsuruga. "It's true that I--and Sho--but, I didn't mean--"
Kyoko watched in horror as Mr. Tsuruga's smile grew even brighter. "Whatever do you have to be sorry for, Ms. Mogami?"
"I've said something to make you angry," Kyoko groaned.
"No, no," Mr. Tsuruga said. "You misunderstand me. Nothing is wrong. I'm not angry with you, Ms. Mogami."
"I did something terribly, terribly wrong," Kyoko moaned.
Mr. Tsuruga's smile was blinding. He was! He was unbearably angry! Mr. Tsuruga was the kind of man who would let go of his anger once Kyoko apologized sincerely. Hadn't she apologized? Wasn't she groveling before him at that very moment?
Kyoko had to look away from Mr. Tsuruga's smile or risk being blinded. "How will I be able to apologize, if you refuse to tell me why you're so angry?" Kyoko said miserably.
"Did you join the entertainment industry for revenge," Mr. Tsuruga said, "or so that you could gain Sho Fuwa's affections?"
Kyoko jerked back as if struck. She stared up at Mr. Tsuruga, eyes wide. "You don't believe that I want to be Sho's girlfriend? You were angry at me because I joined LME to punish that miserable idiot! You of all people should understand that I hate him! I hate him with all of my heart!"
Kyoko was panting and shaking with the force of her emotions.
"You and Fuwa appear to be quite friendly in the photos currently circulating the office," Mr. Tsuruga said. "Yashiro felt it necessary to give me a copy of Boost."
Kyoko was beginning to hate that magazine with a passion previously reserved only for Sho. "It was a death match!" she said. "A fight to the bitter, bloody end! Sho Fuwa and I are enemies! The greatest of rivals! I would gladly see him vanish from this world! Why does no one believe that?"
Mr. Tsuruga had stopped smiling. "You're surprisingly innocent, Ms. Mogami," he said, suddenly tired. "Stop cowering. I'm not angry with you anymore."
"Ah!" Kyoko said triumphantly. "You were angry!"
"This business is not kind," Mr. Tsuruga said. "Rumours quickly grow out of control. They can--and have--ruined many promising careers. I would be. . . unhappy if your career were to be cut short in such a manner."
Mr. Tsuruga was worried about her? Kyoko blushed and ducked her head. "Mr. Tsuruga needn't worry. I have Moko, and Supervisor Sawara, and President Takarada supporting me. I won't disappoint them. I won't ever give up."
"Am I not included among your supporters?"
Was Mr. Tsuruga toying with her? Imagine! Mr. Tsuruga, Japan's number one celebrity, supporting her! The thought was preposterous! Unbelievable!
"Oh, you can't!" Kyoko said. "Mr. Tsuruga has more important things to worry about. You shouldn't spend any of your valuable time worrying about my career."
"If that's so, I'll leave you with one more piece of advice: don't act in such a way as to encourage rumours. You're in the public eye now, Ms. Mogami. Don't forget that."
Kyoko bowed her head in acknowledgment. Mr. Tsuruga was so generous to offer his advice.
She still didn't understand him at all, though. Why did she have the feeling that Mr. Tsuruga had been more upset to think that she was in love with Sho than he had been when he first learned she wanted revenge?
In any case, Mr. Tsuruga had accepted the truth. And if the rest of the world thought the worse of her, Kyoko still had friends to stand by her side. For the first time in a very long while, Kyoko had people who cared about her enough to stand by her side in the darkest of times.
It was more than Sho had ever done for her.
Shoko was pacing. It was irritating, Sho thought. So what if his picture was in a stupid gossip magazine like Boost? He was untouchable.
"I know you've cultivated a cool, bad-boy image," Shoko said, "but that doesn't give you free reign to act like a boor in public!" She threw down her copy of the magazine on her desk, and collapsed into her chair. "I've been fielding phone calls all day!"
Sho shrugged. He looked away from the magazine. He'd seen more than enough of those pictures. People were incredibly stupid. As if he, Sho Fuwa, would have so little taste in women! As if he couldn't do better than Kyoko! It was a joke.
No, no, it was an insult.
Shoko sighed. "I've been in contact with LME's president. We agreed it's in your best interest to come out as a couple. You and Kyoko have kept your relationship a secret up until this point--"
"No!" Sho snapped.
"Enough games!" Shoko said. "The two of you have to stop acting so childish, and think of your careers."
He could still remember the look in Kyoko's eyes as he pinned her to the wall. She had been furious. She'd hated him. Ditching Kyoko had been the right thing to do, and he didn't regret in the least. Still, her glowing adoration had been far easier to handle than her murderous contempt.
Pretending to be boyfriend and girlfriend would kill her. And quite possibly him, as well.
"Whatever," Sho muttered. "Dating a nobody like Kyoko would be a black mark on my reputation. I'd rather put up with the rumours."
"I'm serious, Shoko. I refuse to have my name linked with hers."
"Fine," Shoko said. "I think you're making a mistake, but since you insist on being so stubborn, I have no choice but to agree. I hope you don't end up regretting this, Sho."
Sho snorted. He had no need for regrets, or second thoughts.
Sho Fuwa was a star, and nothing was going to bring him down.