Once upon a time, there lived a princess, in a palace, on a hill. She lived not in squalor, nor in filth; knew not of hunger or pain. Yet, she was lonely.
Her kingdom was barren and dry, and did not have a king, for only the queen and her daughter could live on the rocks at the end of the world. Nothing grew; not tree, or grass, or cactus wild; only the dirt and depths of earth remained.
The princess of the barren land gazed at the world beyond in longing,from the top most room of the highest tower, but always, always, turned away. Her mother said, do well in your studies; and, do not misbehave; and the princess was made to listen by the spell of love within her heart.
Sadly, the queen came and went at her own pace, and her daughter was often left to alone.
If I am good, the princess told herself, Mother will stay. For, though she wore the circlet and the dress of her station, the princess believed herself a maid. No one ever became a princess without her prince!
Her mother could not dissuade her of this notion. I am a queen without a king; you are a princess without a prince. No one needs someone else to be who they are. (A princess was only a princess if her mother was a queen; but she of the barren land thought in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’ and did not consider that her daughter could be anything but.)
And the princess could only protest in her heart, and silently cry, I want a prince! A longing her mother learned to ignore, for her daughter never spoke out against her again.
The world spread out far and wide from their simple kingdom; a great basin of opportunity. At the heart of the world stood a golden city where the populous was a prince or a princess, a king or a queen, a knight or a lady in dominion of their own selves. The queen of the barren land journeyed there for the prosperity her own kingdom could not provide. Here she stayed, and time stretched out before her in long, lingering lengths, measured in weeks, not days; such raised a concern in the heart of the queen. The princess could not be left so long on her own.
A solution: there stood a castle by a lake, surrounded by fine, green growing things no matter the season, which bordered the barren lands. Here lived a king and a queen, and their son the prince, and the court of which they kept. Travelers often journeyed there, to visit with the fairies, who were friendly, and cleanse themselves in the springs of the lake. They were a hospitable nation, and entertained many in their court.
Our land is not so prosperous as yours, the queen of the barren land told the queen of the lake. I seek station in the golden city, where my daughter may not go. I cannot leave her in a tower on her own.
The queen of the lake listened well, and said, We will foster your daughter, and teach her our ways.
Contented, the queen of the barren land returned to the golden city and left alone her kingdom; no one need tend the lands where no thing grew.
So the princess of the barren land came to reside in the palace by the lake for a season, and then for two, and soon every season of every year. The princess and the prince grew from close, to closer still, as the wheel of time went round. He confided in her, and she in him, and everything was well.
The princess learned the practices of the lakeside way, and grew to love the prince as a woman loves a man. And lo, the prince, for all his ways, knew nothing of matters of the heart, nor desire beyond his own means.
He, the first born son, did not wish to rule, but coveted the stories of the golden city as truth of truths.
A city of kings! he exclaimed to the princess, his confidant. I would be made a prince among kings! If only there were a way to journey without consequence to such a place.
The princess believed his words as truth, for the prince was as a light in her heart, and she could believe of him no wrong.
The prince longed for more; more than was offered in his meager country by the lake. His kingdom was as poison to his mind, for the work he did was never rewarded to his majestic liking.
As the world turns, so does time, and soon enough they were grown. He to a prince both handsome and lordly; she to a young woman of refinement and grace. And so the queen saw them as she had hoped, for no worthy princess had sought her son’s hand, and raised in her household lived the perfect match.
You will be married, she told her son, as soon as her schooling is done.
This he did not wish, for no choice was given, and in his kingdom he would never stay. Selfishness did guide his thoughts
With kind words and perfect promises, he stole away the princess. She would do for him as he wished; yet still, he lightened her heart and, thus, her way.
The queen of the barren land returned from the golden city to collect her daughter. Ages had come and gone, and with the princess grown, the true lessons could now begin.
But lo, for the princess no longer resided in the palace by the lake. She and the prince had journeyed to the golden city to seek their fortune, as he longed for glory and she would not leave his side.
The queen of the barren land returned to her desolate kingdom, and in a fury to which none bore witness, located up the last of her heart in the deepest cavern in the ends of the earth, to drum away the moments until her daughter’s return.
A dark house provided a dark room, decorated to taste but lacking in the knickknacks and clutter that made a home. Spacious but oh, so very empty.
A woman returned to this place every evening, and went about her routine. She saw nothing but what she expected to see: the hall where she put her shoes after a long day at work, the couch where she sat her bag, and the bed on which she often fell into a fitful doze. Tiring days, and tiring nights, tallied in the number of coffee cups between her and the necessity of a clear mind.
Any ruffian off the street would describe her life as lonely.
What that person did not know was how much purpose she had in her life. Tiring, yes- but productive. Mogami Sanae was nothing if not good at her job. Some said she’d married it at twenty-two and could never get away; others saw her success as a threat to her family- or ‘lack thereof’.
All she did was work. That is the truth; but one liberally open to misconception.
There is only one picture kept in her apartment, and it is of a dark haired girl smiling, innocent and pure, showing off a bouquet of wildflowers bundled together with a bright blue ribbon. It sits, cleaned dusted every week to keep it clear, on the mantle in her room, and greets her every morning.
What no one fails to notice is how much of a morning person Mogami is, and that her work is always best after a night spent with plenty of time at ‘home’. Even if her temper could be, at most of the times, a bit short.
Normal sounds of an office fell like a drone to her ears, dull and toneless. The swishing of paper as workers riffled through files blended into the shrill ringing of a phone and polite murmurings of a business call. Noise permeated through her own silence, including the idle chatter of the eternally bored.
“Did you see Dark Moon last night?”
“Oh, totally! I couldn’t believe it. Mr. Tsuruga is soooooooooo handsome!” This was not high school, yet the woman sounded as if she had his poster on her wall and spent her evening staring in wonder at the plastic of his face.
“Yeah! The way he looks at Mizuki… You can just feel how much he loves her. Do you really think he’s dating the actress?” Hm. A subject worth none of her attention.
“Why wouldn’t he? She’s gorgeous; I would kill for those legs, you know? There is no way you can fake that expression. Clearly he’s in love!”
“Well, I don’t know… That girl who plays Mio…”
A dramatic gasp. “Oh, she is so creepy! Brr, I get chills just thinking about it--”
She paused in her filing; why did that name sound familiar? “I know, right? When she stabbed that pillow right by Mizuki’s head…”
“She looked ready to murder!”
“Yeah! Can you believe this is her first drama?”
“No way! And she can make faces like that?”
“I heard she’s in this special program or something…” A list of the cat of the new Dark Moon: Tsuruga Ren…and Kyoko. A simple, common name, but…
“What, really? Still came out of nowhere! When she can look like that in front of a camera…it makes you wonder what kind of person she is, doesn’t it?”
“Oh, yeah. Mio is…Ah. Where’d Ms. Mogami go? I thought she was waiting for this file.”
“Who cares? She’ll be back; it’s not like anyone’s waiting up for her. So, you know, C** is having a sale on their posters…”
Mogami Sanae did not mind living alone. Her work came first, and always had; she is good at what she does, and sees no purpose in wasting time on useless things. But a mother keeping track of her daughter was not so remedial a task as to be discarded.
When she’d been told the girl had run off with the Fuwa boy, she’d done her research. Shotaro had always fancied himself a star- and now, so did half the country. She had expected her daughter, so taken with romance, to stay with him and live out the newly wedded life as the rescued ‘princess’. The news of her ‘début’ with that talent agency was taken with as much regard as it was worth; next to none. Sanae had known it as a ploy to build up a bit of fame, a way for Kyoko to keep up with her beau.
But it seemed that was not the case. Mio, a rich young woman in the remake of an old drama, played by an actress called simply Kyoko. In the old show, the role was unobtrusive and insufferably played; a simple thing, to glare at someone and remain quiet. What was this nonsense of
A simple check of the Television Guide prove the words of her coworkers true: Mizuki threatened by Mio in a jealous rage…. Sanae put the paper aside. That girl, playing an impressive villain? She admired the good and bright nature of fairy tales too much to be the ‘wicked step sister’.
Her daughter was too honest to act.
Something must have happened.
Anything can be easily, once you know where to begin. LME was a large company, but the sort which she knew how to handle.
Her hands did not tremble when she dialed the number she found, vaguely, in a stack of otherwise useless papers. A card from long ago with the name of an executive; a former client of the company with which she was no longer employed. Sanae’s voice proved steady and professional. There were questions she asked, and questions she answered, and in the end, an appointment was made.
"Miss Shidou~" Mr. Takarada called over the intercom from his position on his office couch, reclining for his comfort. "Cancel all my appointments for the day and call Mr. Johnson. Today feels like an European Renaissance."
He could already hear the orchestra playing a waltz, see the men and women dressed in their best and following along. One two three, one two three... Turn to the right and let the woman twirl...
He was half way across the room, dancing with an invisible partner, when his secretary paged back. Even through the static, he could hear the hesitance in her voice. "I don't think that can be done, sir."
Takarada stumbled, barely sidestepping a low table out to trip him. Finding his balance, he pressed the return button on the closest of the twelve intercoms installed in his office. “Nonsense,” the Director corrected jovially. “I can have lunch with Ueno tomorrow, and the appointment with missus- what’s her name, Shidou?”
“Ms. Mogami,” she provided, politely exasperated.
“Yes! Call Ms. Mogami and reschedule our–” Takarada’s finger let up on the button as he realized the familiarity of that name.
“She said she was,” Shidou provided, pausing to check her notes, “Miss Kyoko’s mother.”
In the Director’s office, it suddenly became very quiet.
His ever present smile fell away to reveal a serious expression, nearly a frown. Kyoko’s mother is coming here. Why is she contacting us…now? Nearly a year after Kyoko was admitted into his Ever Genius Love Me™ program. Recovering from his pause, Takarada began to pace, tinking over the implications of this new development.
There was only one feasible reason she would be coming here, after making no effort to contact her daughter before: she wanted to profit from Kyoko’s growing fame. Her ‘unwanted daughter’ was becoming ‘wanted’ by other people, and this would normally hurt a selfish person’s pride. ‘She is my daughter, and what is hers is mine,’ this person would think, and go through any means to get what they wanted.
Yet Ms. Mogami was not approaching Kyoko directly, the better way to reenter her life.
Despite his open office policy, it was actually very hard to get his office number, let alone schedule an appointment. That is, unless you had connects in the business, or were a part of the company. Kyoko knew nothing of show business; it was safe to assume her mother was the same.
A considerable effort on Ms. Mogami’s part to find him, and there had to be a reason beyond ‘parental concern’.
Takarada remembered, then, Kuu’s words, in the evening after Kyoko’s performance of Kuon had concluded. ‘Kyoko only has her mother, boss. But she said they’ve never gotten along, with a really sad expression. A parent’s job is to love their child! I don’t know what kind of person could let their kid make a face like that.’ At the time, he’d wondered what kind of person her mother was.
Now, he had the chance to find out.
In a dramatic arch of the body that would have sent a normal man his age admitted to the hospital, Takarada threw himself onto the nearest couch. He sat there a moment, contemplating further.
“Director?” Miss Shidou’s voice cut through the thoughtful silence, concerned.
Startled, he glanced at the clock; it told him he’d been silent for nearly fifteen minutes. No wonder she was worried- his secretary usually received a prompt reply. “Never mind me, Miss Shidou~ Call Ueno and tell him we’ll have lunch another time.”
“Yes, sir.” A pause, and then the intercom clicked on again. “Will you be meeting with Ms. Mogami this afternoon, sir?”
“I will, yes, my honey~” he paged back in falsely accented English.
Takarada lounged, planning for what would be an eventful encounter, when the click of the intercom connection startled him a second time. Miss Shidou said, in no uncertain terms, “I will have catering send up a steak for lunch, sir.”
He laughed, loudly, and thanked her with his usual exuberant enthusiasm. His staff was truly the best in the world!
The jingle of a cell phone cut through the murmurings of the crowd. At first Kyoko thought it was someone else’s; the song was several years popular, and heard everywhere. But when something in her pocket started to vibrate, she jumped half out of her seat. With fumbling fingers, she dragged it out, nearly dropping it when it vibrated vigorously again. She juggled the phone, buzzing and tumbling in her hands, and managed to catch it just as the last note of the song played.
“Hello?” she answered, somewhat breathlessly. Who could it be? Not many people knew her number- it was most likely someone from work.
“Kyokoooooo~” Mr. Takarada nearly sang her name over the line. Kyoko relaxed. She hadn’t forgotten anything on set, or something like that. “Are you busy?”
Kyoko glancing around at the groups of teenagers and gathered families. It was a Saturday, and she was free for the afternoon. She’d stopped at a fast food restaurant for lunch; with Dark Moon, her role as Boh, and the other odd jobs from her position in the Love Me™ section, she could excuse the expense and eat out as much as she wanted. “No, sir!”
“Very good, my lovely!” he said enthusiastically in English. Mr. Takarada’s voice turned serious when he continued, “I have a task for you.”
She listened to his instructions determinedly, nodded and affirming with such deference that it drew stares she didn’t even notice. Their conversation ended with her, “I understand. Thank you.” And she was on her feet in a moment, fist tightening and flying up in a salute as she focused on the task at hand.
He’d said, “I’m counting on you, Kyoko.” She couldn’t let him down!
Racing out the doors, she turned left, towards the towering LME building a few blocks away. It was a good thing she kept a pair of Love Me™ overalls in the dressing room, otherwise she’d have had to go all the way back to the restaurant and get them.
Ms. Mogami entered the waiting room just as the clock struck ten til two, and brought with her a cloud of ice. Shidou could have sworn she had ice crystals forming in her wake. Yet, when the secretary blinked, they had dissolved, and there was no water on the floor. A hallucination?
If anything, the woman was ice. She sat stiffly on the edge of her seat, still as a statue. The secretary could imagine her kneeling in the Imperial courts of old, an Empress in presence alone.
All it took was a sideways glance, that icy attention directed her way, to quell any questions she might have had. Ms. Mogami was not at all like her daughter- terrifying at first, but gentle after; harmless. This woman was clearly here to see the Director; the least Shidou, his secretary, could do was her job.
“Ms. Mogami is here to see you, sir,” she paged him, surprised by her own steady voice. With the woman staring at her so intently, she felt as if she’d been tried and judged failing.
“Please send her in,” was the staticy reply, too jumbled to configure a tone.
“The Director will see you now.” It was only a formality to repeat, nothing more, and yet only then did Ms. Mogami respond. There was no creaking of stone or cracking of ice as Shidou had half expected, when the woman rose- in fact, she was graceful. Mogami walked with purpose, a commanding presence still, right past her desk without even a thank you.
Shidou was grateful to have that heavy pressure removed, and nearly sighed, her relief was so profound. But the secretary froze as their guest turned to look at her one last time.
“In the future,” Ms. Mogami said, “do not stare at your clients. It is unprofessional.” And then she continued on.
Shidou was left in an empty room, heart racing in her chest, and staring at a closed door. What a terrify woman!
“Turn up your chin- yes, yes, now look at me. Good! Perfect! Excellent! Hold still…” A click of the camera shutter, and the photographer repositioned himself to take a flurry of shots. Tsuruga Ren held perfectly still, gazing at a broken flood light in the studio beyond.
One, three, five, seven, eleven… All prime numbers; a habit from childhood, a trick to pass the time. Repeat something often enough in your head, and it became a meditative cycle; and before he knew it, the photographer would be calling it a day.
Said man came into Ren’s field of vision again, cradling his camera like a newborn infant. “All right! Let’s take a break.”
A moment later, there was noise replacing the silence, and everyone was in a flurry of movement to get here or there or back again. Ren relaxed, and smiled at the young woman who came to collect his props. She blushed, and grinned shyly back, scurrying off to her coworkers with them clutched to her chest. Soon she was giggling with the group, obviously close friends, and glancing his way.
His manager came to stand beside him, expression unimpressed. “You shouldn’t encourage them.”
“A professional is always polite to the staff,” Ren replied innocently. He couldn’t leave the stage; a break would only last five to ten minutes in a session to near completion as this.
Yashiro snorted, but moved on to more pressing matters. “We were supposed to be done at one-thirty.”
The actor looked down at his manager. “What time is it now?”
Ren was quiet for a moment, considering, and turned to smile politely in the photographer’s direction . “Mr. Kaito is very ambitious with his work.” His manager just looked at him, and he continued, “I don’t have anything scheduled for this afternoon, do I?”
“No,” Yashiro allowed. “But there’s the cast party at six-”
“No doubt we’ll be done by then.” When the man smiled like that, no one could argue with him. Yashiro opened his mouth to protest, no doubt with more arguments (and something about meeting Miss Mogami before the Dark Moon party), but it was too late. Mr. Kaito had called everyone back to order, and Ren was bombarded by makeup artists and the giggling woman returning his props.
His manager backed up behind the hustle and bustle of preparation, arms folded. Ren could still see him over their heads, and gave him an encouraging smile. Even if he didn’t mind, Yashiro clearly did. All he got was an impatient look before the lights were, once again, blinding his eyes.
Mr. Takarada’s first impression of Ms. Mogami Sanae was not what he had expected. A mature business woman in a navy blue suit, walking smoothly despite her heels, entered his office. Her stride was purposeful, but her expression stony, a too-polite mask that never smiled.
Thus far, it went as it had in his head: a formal greeting, and a measured bow from a woman who looked no older than thirty-five. Ms. Mogami was a woman grown, of evident conviction and a pure understanding of the world. She was exactly as he had hoped she would be.
Except for her face. Her face was the problem.
It wasn’t that she did not return his smile- she didn’t seem the type. It was only that… Her dark, bowed head reminded him of another girl who had shown the same respect not too long ago. Though her hair was longer, past her shoulders, and she stood a taller in a way that had nothing to do with posture…
Mogami Sanae looked exactly like Kyoko, albeit older and harder. Or, more likely, Kyoko looked exactly like her mother, and Takarada had the notion that this was a cause for concern.
When she straightened, the similarities were so profound, echoed in the same set of their shoulders and the strength in their eyes, that he was unable to school his expression.
She caught his shocked look and frowned, ruining the illusion of a younger woman standing there, ready to face the world. Ms. Mogami did not ask if he was all right, as Kyoko would have; in fact, she looked at him as if she thought he was simple in the head. A dismal look that would have sent him feeling inches tall if he were a lesser man.
In that moment, he understood what had had a hand in shaping Kyoko to be the contradictory creature he’d met a year before.
Takarada made a decision, then, meeting Ms. Mogami’s eyes and smiling. He would not allow this woman to see his darling Love Me ™ protégée. No matter what the cost.
“Please, have a seat. Make yourself comfortable.” His grin was wide, and Takarada took a seat before she could, occupying the only chair in the room. This left her the love-seat facing him, on which she perched stiffly. He reclined comfortably, as leisurely as a king, and continued, “You must be Ms. Mogami.”
“Yes,” she acknowledged. No doubt he appeared uncouth. That was, of course, the point.
“What brings you here, ma cherie?” If he’d had a glass, he would have raised it, though it was impolite to drink in polite company. Her lips pinched together, but she did not snap. Clearly she wanted to make a good impression.
“My daughter,” she answered, business like, “is in your employ.”
“Oh?” he asked, as if surprised. “What is her name? I am afraid we have many women--”
“She is your new ‘rising star’.” Ms. Mogami’s voice cut through his, as sharp as a siren’s sudden wailing in the silence of an empty street.
Unfazed, Takarada asked, “Do you know her division?”
How much information had this woman been able to find?
“She wears,” the woman said in clear distaste, “a florescent pink jumpsuit.”
He raised an eyebrow, impressed despite himself. So she had seen it, that which you could ever forget. One of his better ideas, he’d always thought.
Preening, just a little, on the inside, Takarada continued his casual routine. “Ah, the Love Me™ division. I see.” He paused, waiting for her answer.
Ms. Mogami did not even twitch, continuing to sit straight backed in her seat. It looked mighty uncomfortable to stay like that. “Yes,” she said, breaking the expectance of that silence. “I have wondered how it is that she is here.”
As a father, and a grandfather, he knew he should not withhold information; every parent had a right to know about the welfare of their child. However, as the director, he knew that telling her too much would cause more problems than it would solve. His stronger feelings and, in the end, curiosity, broke through this conviction.
“She auditioned,” he said. Takarada had her undivided attention. With such a determined expression now facing him, he saw no more use in beating about the bush. “She did very well, at first. Kyoko would have passed, if not for her final test.”
She stared him down, face stony, but behind her eyes was a brewing storm. Show me, she pleaded with her gaze. Takarada wasn’t sure Ms. Mogami would believe a word he said, unless given proof.
“Would you like to see it?” An offering from one parent to another. Her nod was brisk. “Very well. Follow me.” Rising in a sweeping arch of personality, he took the lead in the direction of an adjoining room. It was half a surprise that she followed.
The traffic in LME headquarters wasn’t very busy in the mid-afternoon, especially on the higher floors. Most workers stayed in their offices, content to while away the hours with paperwork and filing, and with the ‘business’ professionals several floors down, no unique personalities ever graced the hallways. This kept the atmosphere relaxed and peaceful, to a point. (The Director didn’t come down here much, either. Most people were under the impression that he had forgotten the accounting department even existed.)
So it was a Complete Surprise to find a florescent pink jump suit walking down the hallway, leaving a trail of bravely staring nine-to-fivers (and a few unlucky office workers clutching their eyes in pain) in its wake.
Only when a man, one of their own on a coffee break, called out did they realize it was a person.
“Miss Mogami!” He waved, grinning. Old friends? Partners? No one knew, but he was walking towards her (it?), and she’d responded to his call.
The girl stopped and looked back, returning his smile in a familiar way. “Mr. Kudo!” When he reached her side, she bowed in greeting. “Good afternoon.”
The man just nodded, brandishing his coffee cup in a questioning gesture. “What are you doing all the way up here, young lady?”
“I’m running an errand for the Director. He needs something from one of the workers.” Kyoko’s smile turned sheepish. “But I can’t find room 1205.”
“Kurara?” he questioned, and she nodded. “You just missed it. He’s back by the elevators, two doors over.”
The girl was kind enough not to block the hallway in despair until after she’d thanked him.
It was not that he had had this planned—the recordings of Kyoko’s work were kept on record, along with her application and portfolio, in the files of the Love Me™ Section. Pure coincidence put those files in his office, the safest place in the building. It was no harm, either, that he happened to have a video room connected to the main office.
There was a flat screen television placed against one wall, with a solitary couch positioned in the middle to face it. He left her there to collected the material; she seated herself as stiffly as before.
He ingested the DVD of Kyoko’s first commercial, and took his place in a chair off to the side. It was not the media he was interested in.
Ms. Mogami watched the them all, one after the other, unmoving, as if entranced by the images flickering across the screen. Clips of Kyoko smiling, laughing, running and playing. The girl dolled up in ways that could barely be recognized as her; changed into an angel, so bright and beautiful she dragged at the eyes to follow.
Takarada watched Ms. Mogami. Her expression grew tighter, lips pulled thin and brows creased into a troubled look that said she did not know what to think.
That is, until he showed her Mio.
She watched the story play out in clips dedicated to Kyoko’s acting; the progression of a lonely, hurting girl releasing her jealous rage on her family. Watched how her daughter depicted a soul full of torment and hate, and smiled.
But it was no simple smile. Her face relaxed to reveal a completely different person, someone young and beautiful, and proud. A heartfelt smile akin to rays of sunshine cutting through the clouds of a thunder storm, and it took Takarada’s breath away.
He’d only seen one other person go through such a drastic change of expression. In fact, he had hired this person because her reactions were so mysterious and her personality so unique. Some things were passed from parent to child, he knew, but he had never considered levels of complexity were among them.
In all of the gifts bequeathed to us at birth, there is a box to hold our troubles and a candle to light our way. Ones parents hold the keys to this box in the early days, for better or for worse. They are those that hear first of our triumphs and our failures, who comfort and who sooth and lock up tight that which we do not wish to know.
But lo: as we grow, so do our troubles, and yet the box to contain them becomes no bigger. Keys stem themselves from the lock when the box can no longer contain that which is put in, to eject that which they can no longer safely keep. Fear not the thieves who steal these keys, for they love and cherish you as much as your parents, though in differing ways.
Broken, lost, or simply thrown away- no matter. A key is a key and always a key, and ever if someone takes one to never give it back, that person will always know the way to open the box.
Head these words, and be warned, for it is not the box that you must keep safe. Guard well the candle, for if its light is extinguished, only another’s may rekindle the flame.
Kyoko was running errands for the Director, dressed up in her Love Me™ overalls and waiting in the lobby. Ren was done with his photo shoot, on his way out the door. Their eyes met from across the room, and they gravitated towards each other, never breaking gaze.
They met up in the middle, a still place in the crowds of ever moving people, smiling into each others eyes. Hearts rained around them, and flowers bloomed in the background.
DESTINY! It must be destiny! Thank you, goddess of fortune~~
A deep voice cut through the bright pink dazzle permeating the room. "Mr. Yashiro, are you feeling all right?" Ren peered at him, face inches away from his manager's; a little ways away, Kyoko was staring at him in outright concern.
Yashiro shot back, and began to wave his hands frantically, as if trying to clear the air between them. Ren barely managed to get out of close proximity unscathed.
"No, no, it's nothing. Just a little day dream." Kyoko continued to stare at him, as if she didn't do the same sort of thing every single day.
Ren’s gaze was doubtfully, but he was polite enough not to press. To redirect the conversation (and to give Ren a little help), he asked, "What are you doing here this late, Miss Kyoko?"
That set her off into an explanation, one which the actor was quite happy to continue, and allowed his manager some breathing room. He watched them together, feeling a little smug with himself. They were getting along so well!
Until the girl glanced across the room, and fell silent. Kyoko paled, mouth agape in horror. Yashiro peered in the same direction, but saw nothing beyond the mass of people.
"Muh-muh-" she stammered.
Yashiro frowned. She wasn't making any sense. Muffler? Monster? Muffin?
Ren carefully coaxed with kind eyes and kinder words for her to reveal what it was, as confused as his manager at the abrupt change. He was trying to calm her, but it didn't seem to be working. Yashiro glanced between the two, and in the direction of Kyoko's stare, still not seeing anything worth that kind of expression.
Drawing closer, Ren placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder, and whispered something too soft for anyone else to hear. With his body wrapped protectively around her, Kyoko seemed to be coming out of it a little. Her voice was very small, more a breath than a clear murmur, and they barely heard her whisper, "-mother..."
A quick glance, again, in the direction that held her gaze so avidly. As if drawn out by the word, Ren and Yashiro were then able to see exactly who their friend was staring at. She was part of the crowd, an unremarkable business woman amidst a swarm of departing staff. And yet- the way she held herself kept her apart, too dignified to be categorized among the simple masses.
"Kyoko's mother?" Mr. Yashiro repeated, confused. "But what would she be doing here?"
Now Ren was staring too, frowning at the woman who was beginning to notice.
"Are you sure?" He said it softly, leaning over the girl, whispering in her ear. The girl still looked like she'd seen a ghost, her horror was so acute, but she managed the barest nod.
Yashiro wailed mentally, aghast. Ren, you don't need to ask that! Look at her; she's distressed! You don't look like that if you aren't suuuuuuure!
Kyoko's mother was staring back at them, and even from this distance Yashiro could see her frown. No one had ever heard Kyoko talk about her mother, and now here she was coming out of the woodwork. What was going on?
Kyoko began to shake under Ren’s gentle hands. What kind of person could reduce their child to this?
Yashiro looked back at the foreboding woman; she stood still, at the top of the stairs, regarding them from on high.
The actor was whispering to the girl in his arms, questioning her or reassuring her, his manager wasn't sure. Whatever he'd said seemed to have no effect, and in the end, he pulled away. Ren spared her one last (meaningful!) look before he set out towards the stranger. Ms. Mogami might as well have turned to stone, for she hadn't moved an inch.
All Yashiro could do was stand and stare, completely thrown out of his depth.
Ren ascended the stairs, stride determined, bringing with him a mighty presence equal to her own. He came to a stop before her, and she stared right back. Even from two steps below, he towered over the woman.
And then he smiled, kindly, nearly sparkling, and offered her his hand. "Ms. Mogami. My name is Tsuruga Ren. I am an acquaintance of your daughter’s. It is a pleasure to meet you." His words echoed across the room, and Kyoko gave a start. Yashiro looked over at her, concerned, and saw a dark cloud brewing around her form.
When he looked back, Ms. Mogami was staring at Ren coldly. She ignored his hand, and instead held his eyes, almost challenging. Neither was intimidated by the other; ice crystals formed around them, warring for right of presence. This could not go on much longer, or they'd bring winter indoors!
Ms. Mogami broke first- not to look away in shame, but to gaze over Ren’s shoulder at the cowering Kyoko. Her mouth pinched in an unpleasant way.
Frantic and confused, Yashiro’s heart skipped a beat when the woman stepped to the side and started down the stairs, completely dismissing Ren’s existence entirely.
Walking in Kyoko’s direction.
Ren stared after her, expression dark and fierce. He’d never worn that face out of a performance, and his manager began to fear for the worst.
As her mother approached, the darkness around Kyoko grew to frightening levels; spirits raged like a storm about her person, and her eyes were hidden by the dark mess of her hair. Mogami, on the other hand, was cool as ice and didn’t even glance in her direction.
She walked right past her daughter, and straight out the doors.
How…anticlimactic. He’d expected fireworks, or, at least, an explosion of some kind. Yashiro let out a sigh of relief; the presence was gone- for now?
Silence reigned under the chattering of the crowd. Ren returned, walking slowly, almost cautiously, to Kyoko’s side. She remained with eyes downcast, shoulders ridig; the darkness had dissipated with her mother’s departure.
Yashiro watched as the actor’s scary expression dissolved. He didn’t smile, but he wasn’t scowling either; in fact, Ren’s face was politely blank.
“Miss Mogami,” he said formally. “Are you busy this afternoon?”
Her head jerked up with a start; eyes wide, Kyoko shook her head slowly. There was no exuberance in her at the moment, as if all of her energy had been sapped in an attempt not to cry. For there was a watery texture to her eyes, and it was pure will keeping them at bay.
Ren held out his hand to her, and met her eyes in a very serious way. Gazing at him in trust, she took it. And Yashiro watched him lead her away, not knowing where he was taking her, but too preoccupied to follow along. He’d better not be taking her home with him! She’s been through enough!
Takarada sipped his wine, leaning back in a couch full of cushions. Mogami Sanae had been rigidly formal upon her departure. He’d laughed a goodbye and jokingly offered her his hand; she’d looked at it in disgust, and bowed politely instead.
When he’d asked for ‘one more thing’ before she left, he hadn’t expected her to stay.
But now a neat pile of documents sat on the table beside him. Kyoko could not, legally, be employed by him as a minor. He’d gotten around it in the past by listing her as a dependent of the company, or something like that (his luck was the best when attempting the impossible).
At the bottom of the top page, a name was signed in looping cursive. Mogami Sanae, it read, with the seal of the Mogami family stamped next to it. Permission for Kyoko to stay under LME’s excellent care.
The mother, it seemed, was just as intriguing as the child.
In the barren land, there stood a castle at the end of the world. No one could enter, nor could one exit, for no one could live in that place. This castle had a queen, and the princess her child, though neither would call it home.
In the window of the tallest tower, a single candle defied the strong winds of a storm. And in the room of this tower a gilded box clicked closed; a gust had knocked it open, but it was a thief who locked it tight.
And in the golden city, a princess among princesses took the hand of a fairy prince, and was led astray from the path of her heart.