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Five Times Kyoko Did Not Expect Fannish Shipping Explosions

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1. Utena: Extravagant Adolescence

“It's another mean schoolgirl role?” Kyoko tried her best, but she couldn't keep her voice from shooting into the upper pitch of dismay. “Again?

“It's true that it's typecasting for you,” admitted Manager Matsushima, “but the project already has enormous buzz – even all these years later the Revolutionary Girl Utena anime is still very popular. Surely you've heard of it?” When Kyoko shook her head, he tried, “Or the manga? The film? The takarazuka revue?”

When Kyoko continued to look blank, Matsushima sighed. “Well, I suppose you were probably too young for it.”

Kyoko's demons shouted, No, it's because I wasted the precious years of my youth waiting hand and foot on the abominable Fuwa Sho! It was like living under a vain, lazy rock! She ducked her head deep in an apologetic bow, the better to hide the furies in her face.

Matsushima brightened a little. “Well, I suppose it's for the best really, from an actor's standpoint. Since you haven't seen the original, your interpretation won't be tainted – if you decide to take the role, of course. Your concerns about typecasting are valid, but I think it would be a worthwhile project for you regardless. As I said, it's very high profile, and many major players in the industry are eager to take part in it – and the director of the project said he wanted you specifically, especially after the reveal of the work you did with Tsuruga Ren on the Cain Heel stunt. Since you two already have the brother-sister rapport worked out –”

“Huh?” Kyoko blinked. “What does Tsuruga-san have to do with it?”

“Oh, didn't I get to that part? He's playing Kiryuu Touga – the most prominent male character in the production, and Kiryuu Nanami's older brother. Look, see?” He pointed to the relevant lines in the casting call. “Nanami acts as a bully towards Utena and Anthy because she's jealous of her brother's attention. She's an immature child who starts to grow up over the course of the drama.”

Kyoko shifted a little in her seat. Setsu had been in many ways an uncomfortable role to play. She had lost track of the number of times she had yelled at Setsu in her head, Don't be such an unnatural sister! What kind of creepy way is that to behave? But of course Kiryuu Nanami – an immature young girl! – wouldn't have any disturbing kinds of feelings like that.

“Playing Nanami would also give you a chance to show the public some of the comedic range you've demonstrated as Bo,” Matsushima went on. “All of us here think that could be good for your career. You don't have to make a decision now – we'll give you a few days to think about it, but please get back to us by the end of the week, or they'll give the role to somebody else.”

“Thank you, Manager Matsushima,” said Kyoko, and delivered a very proper bow before zooming off to grab her cell phone.

“Well? I don't see the problem,” said Kanae five minutes later, her voice an irritable crackle over the phone. “After all that time you wasted playing Tsuruga's sister just for the director's convenience, it would be nice if you could actually get paid for it this time.”

“I don't care about that! The opportunity to act against Tsuruga-san is payment enough, but – but – but –”

“But what?

“But if I keep taking roles like this,” wailed Kyoko, collapsing flat into a half-dead heap of neon pink in the middle of the hallway, “I'm never going to get to play a kind, beautiful princeeeeeeeess!”

A pair of young talents on their way to an audition sighed, rolled their eyes at each other, and prepared to step over her. The agency was getting used to the Love Me Section.

“Hmph!” Kanae's enormous sniff was clearly audible over the phone. “You've got no reason to complain. Nanami is a major role, and probably counts as a second lead. I'd trade parts with you if I could – Juri is an elegant lady, all right, but she only has half of Nanami's lines.”

Kyoko re-inflated so fast she nearly tripped up the talentos, who scampered hastily further down the hall. “Moko's going to be in Extravagant Adolescence?!

“Isn't that what I just said?” demanded Kanae, irate. “Isn't that what I said ten minutes ago at the start of this conversation? Mo! I don't know why you even bother to call me when –”

But Kyoko wasn't listening anymore; she was already racing back to Manager Matsushima's room. Breathlessly, she shouted, “I'll take it! I'll play Kiryuu Nanami!”

From over the cell phone came the audible sound of a palm smacking into a forehead.

**

“Did you see last night's reviews?”

“Amazing! I've always loved the anime, but I never thought such a weird drama would be so popular.”

“I'm not surprised people loved the second episode. Nanami is so funny! The way she bursts into tears when my mongoose eats her snake – it kills me every time.”

“It was scary to film, though. When she does that 'ho-ho-ho' of hers, you'd really think there were cackling demons rushing around the set!”

The leading actresses burst out laughing, only to fall guiltily silent as Kanae stalked past them with her fencing foil poised dangerously in her hand. Kyoko had certainly warmed to the role of Kiryuu Nanami, all right. And who had been the one who had to talk a wild-eyed Kyoko down from implementing her “Operation: Fuwa Sho Is A Talentless Hack Who Keeps A Thousand Totally Dorky Puddings In His Dressing Room!” plan last week? Kanae, of course. Sometimes she wished that she had never suggested that Kyoko take the part; Nanami's idea of logic was a little too close to Kyoko's for comfort.

Fortunately, as the tallest girl, Kanae was often assigned to partner Tsuruga during their fencing training sequences, and she had no qualms about taking her frustrations out on him.

“Mogami-san seems to be settling into her role quite well,” Tsuruga said pleasantly, by way of greeting.

“Wouldn't you know?” retorted Kanae, and lunged at him viciously. “You spend all that time together practicing, with her calling you 'big brother, big brother' –”

“Big brother! Nooooooo!

Kanae and Ren stared at each other, and then went running off in unison to the origin of the blood-curdling shriek.

Kyoko, white with horror, was pointing dramatically at her laptop as if it was a snake about to bite. “Nanami's pure maiden's heart! Her child's worship of an older brother has been turned into this – this!”

Kanae peered at the screen, with interest. “Oh, a doujinshi! They've done your face quite well, Kyoko. But I don't think your bust is that big.”

“Moko . . .?” Kyoko whirled around, belatedly registering their presence – and then flung herself backwards, arms spread wide to block the view of the screen. Her eyebrows were kept artificially high by the pressure of Nanami's tight braided hairstyle, which had the effect of making her look even more horrified. “Don't look!” she wailed. “It's terrible! I know you're a shameless, demonic playboy, but if anyone should get out of our performance that Touga and Nanami were that kind of siblings – Tsuruga-san, I'm so ashamed!”

Ren's face was very carefully bland. He exchanged a glance with Kanae. “Mogami-san,” he said, carefully, “may I take it that you have never seen the original Revolutionary Girl Utena anime?”

“No,” sobbed Kyoko. “I wanted to create my own Nanami! The original voice actress must be so horrified when she sees my failure to convey Nanami's innocent feelings! It's all that perverted Setsu's fault!”

“Kyoko,” said Kanae, exasperated, “it isn't your fault. In the original Utena –”

“-- I think you'll find,” said Ren, at the same time, “that people on the internet are always willing to see what isn't there.” His mouth was a very firm line, which suggested to Kanae that if he were not maintaining it that way it would be twitching. “How would your Nanami react if Touga were to do this?” Before Kanae could interfere, he leaned forward, draping his arm over Kyoko's shoulder, and whispered seductively in her ear, “How about we spend some quality time together tonight . . . baby?” His other arm slipped around her waist; his face bent closer in, breath brushing her eyelashes.

Kyoko shoved Ren backwards, leaped out of his embrace and screamed so loudly that Kanae was afraid the roof was going to fall in.

“You see?” said Ren, cool as a cucumber. “Your Nanami truly is an innocent child.”

“And your Touga,” muttered Kanae, “truly is a shameless, demonic playboy who toys with a maiden's pure feelings, if anyone were to ask me.” Sadly, nobody did.

2. Magical Boy Wizard Harry

Director Ogata smiled. “It was a pleasure to direct you on Dark Moon, Mogami-san. You're an extremely talented actress, and I'd be honored to work with you again.”

Kyoko bowed deeply, her orange hair bobbing around her face. “It will be my privilege, Director!” There was a bubble of happiness floating inside her. Finally, a role that was not a bully! True, Hermione Granger was not a beautiful, elegant princess. But she wasn't mean, and she wasn't dark, and she was even a magical girl, in a way, and that was good enough for Kyoko. “Thank you so much for taking a chance on me! I won't let you down!”

Kyoko's happy bubble stayed inflated most of the way through her bike ride home. She had even read some of the Harry Potter books, years ago, when Sho went through a craze for them. “Haha!” she chortled to herself. “So uncool, Shotaro! You would never admit to that now!” In his secret heart Sho was probably dying to have a role in Magical Boy Wizard Harry, even though the wholesome school drama didn't fit his image at all. He would probably fall over in a frothing fit when he found out Kyoko was playing Hermione from his favorite books. Although it was true that he had never really liked the character – she could hear Sho's voice now, taunting, just like that Kyoko, to be playing a boring know-it-all with bad hair and no sex appeal. She'll never make it big in show business!

“Too bad, Sho!” she shouted, and biked her way furiously through the sneering apparition. “Hermione's a very important character to a lot of people! More important than you'll ever be –”

The bike veered to a halt, nearly falling over, as Kyoko gasped in sudden terror.

When Ren picked up his phone twenty minutes later, he was greeted with a torrent of babble. “-- so so sorry to bother you! So so sorry! But Hermione's so important in so many people's minds, it's not even like Dark Moon because it's a book so everybody has their own Hermione in their heads, and there's so many people who will be disappointed if I get it wrong and what if I can't do it and –”

“Well, I can't tell you that,” said Ren, cutting through the flow, “but I've been offered the role of Snape in Wizard Harry in preparation for taking the lead in a prequel series they're planning for next year, so I suppose we'll both be figuring it out.”

Startled silence from the other end; the revelation had distracted Kyoko out of her panic. “You'll be playing Professor Snape?

“Is there a problem?”

“Well, nothing, it's only I thought in the books Snape was supposed to be . . . um, not very – I mean, he's a lot older, and . . .”

“So should I be the one worried about disappointing fans of the books, Mogami-san?”

“That's not possible!” Kyoko asserted loyally. “Once Tsuruga-san has made the role his own, nobody will even remember that Snape used to be middle-aged and greasy! Everyone will be turned into a Snape fan!”

“Well, then doesn't the same hold true for you?”

“I'm only a novice actress,” protested Kyoko. “It's not the same thing at all. But thank you very much for the advice,” she added, with belated politeness, before hanging up the phone.

**

When Kyoko turned up at the set hollow-eyed and wan for the third day in a row, Ren decided it was time to take matters into his own hands. As soon as the director called a wrap on the scene where he brooded shirtless in the shower over his lost love, he marched over to the corner where Kyoko sat next to a teetering pile of books. “Mogami-san,” he said, sternly.

Kyoko looked blearily up from her copy of Quidditch Through the Ages. “Mmmm?”

She hadn't even registered that he wasn't wearing a shirt. Ren knew his own powers; this really was serious. “Come with me,” he said taking her wrist, and pulled her off into her dressing room.

Kyoko was too exhausted to put up much protest; she stumbled after him, clutching her book, and muttering, “But . . . study . . . studying . . .”

“Mogami-san,” demanded Ren, once they were in the dressing room, “can I ask why you are risking inconvenience to the entire set by refusing to get enough sleep? What do you think the director is going to do when you fall over in the middle of a scene?”

“I'm sorry!” Kyoko teetered on the verge of falling into a dogeza; Ren hastily dragged her back up. “It's not my intention to inconvenience anybody! But I have to do my best!” Her fists gripped, her eyes flared with manic intensity. “Hermione knows everything about Hogwarts, and if I'm going to play her properly then so must I!

Ren regarded her. “And why do you think,” he said, “that Hermione knows so much about Hogwarts?”

“Because she loves to learn,” said Kyoko immediately.

“Is that the only reason?”

“No . . .” Kyoko hesitated, and then went on more slowly, the book clutched tightly in her hands. “I think – because Hermione didn't grow up in that world, she wants to learn everything about it that she can. She wants to make herself feel like she belongs. Even if in her heart she's always going to feel like a plain, ordinary girl compared to everyone who grew up in a world of magic, if she works harder than anybody else, then she can . . .”

She trailed off, and Ren said, gently, “You understand Hermione's feelings, Mogami-san. That's more important than staying up all night memorizing Quidditch rules.”

Kyoko nodded, in hazy exhaustion. Her eyes were huge, but her fingers loosened a little on the book.

“And for the record,” Ren added, “Hermione might sometimes feel like she's plain and ordinary – but I think she's the only one in the story who feels that way about that character. So that's something to keep in mind, too.” He smiled. “She is a very important part to a lot of people, after all.”

**

Kyoko squinted as she came into her dressing room. “What are all these letters?”

“Fan mail!” said Yashiro, and waved cheerfully from behind the pile of paper. “I realized you hadn't been picking yours up when I was taking care of Ren's, so I thought I would deliver it to you. One of these days you really do need to get a manager of your own, Kyoko-chan, now you're starting to become so successful.”

“Fan mail . . .?”

“Well, what did you expect? Hermione is a great role, and you're doing a wonderful job.”

“Yes, but – but I –”

“I'll just leave you to it then,” said Yashiro tactfully, seeing the overwhelmed look on Kyoko's face, and sidled out the dressing room.

He was still congratulating himself on having done a good deed when he bumped into Kyoko the next day. “Well? Anything good in the pile?”

To his surprise, instead of delighted, Kyoko looked deeply uncomfortable. “I'm glad Hermione has been important to so many peope, but – Yukihito-san, I don't mean to be rude, but – are you concerned at all that Tsuruga-san may be being typecast?”

“Typecast? Well, yes, actually, but the role of B.J. was supposed to take care of that problem. Why?”

“Well, it's just –” Kyoko's aura was shifting significantly darker, demons starting to whip around her hair, and Yashiro eyed her nervously. “Since his character in Dark Moon was a teacher who had an inappropriate relationship with a student, now that he's playing a teacher again, maybe certain fans have gotten the wrong idea . . .”

“Oh?” said Yashiro, and then, with a sudden guilty flush, “oh,” as he realized what she was talking about. It wasn't that he had ever frequented doujinshi and fanfiction sites regularly as a hobby, but it was important for a manager to keep up on what the internet was saying about his idol – and yes, all right, he had maybe stumbled over a strange website or two devoted to the seemingly out of nowhere couple of Hermione and Snape, and yes, sometimes, on the days when it seemed as if Ren and Kyoko were both obdurately determined to die sad and alone, it was oddly soothing to read some poorly-characterized alternate version of a romance between them where everything worked out all right. But he had never thought that anyone would write to Kyoko about it!

“. . . but of course,” Kyoko was saying, having worked herself by now up into a righteous fury, “their relationship is simply one of student and teacher and it's incredibly inappropriate even to contemplate anything else! And Hermione would never even conceive of breaking the rules in that way, to begin with, and –”

“Of course, of course,” said Yashiro, soothingly – Kyoko was certainly much more prone to delivering lectures since she'd taken on the role of Hermione – and made a mental note to make extra sure to erase his internet history if there was ever a chance that anybody else might see it. He settled in to let the lecture wash over him, keeping a wary eye out for Ren; the last thing he wanted was to have his idol walk in while Kyoko was holding forth on the absolute impossibility of Hermione ever finding Snape in any way attractive.

3. Portal: Aperture of Blood

“Normally, we would want a professional voice actress for this role, but --” Director Miike clasped his hands together and closed his eyes in rhapsody. “That laugh! That amazing, terrifying laugh she did as Nanami in Extravagant Adolescence! I heard it and I knew that nobody else would do justice to the voice of the maniacal artificial intelligence.”

“She won't take the part,” said Kanae, flatly. “Kyoko only wants to play princesses. She has no interest in killer robots.”

Director Miike pounced. “She will take the part, if you're playing Chell. I've done my research! You two are great friends, aren't you?”

Kanae stared at him. “Am I supposed to be flattered that you only want me to play the lead in your ridiculous action movie because you would like to recruit my friend's evil laugh?”

“No,” said Miike, injured. “That isn't the only reason. I also want you to play the lead in my action movie because it's already been demonstrated that you look sexy in a jumpsuit.”

“You are a swine,” said Kanae, “but the money's good.” Also, she had to admit that the opportunity to convey an entire role and personality without speaking was an extremely interesting technical challenge, and well suited to her skills. “However, I would like it to be understood that if this movie does not do well, and makes my resume look poorly in the future, I will make it a personal goal to destroy your career.”

“Understood,” said Director Miike, beaming. “Now please go tell your friend that you've been cast in Aperture of Blood, won't you?”

“I'll tell her right now,” said Kanae, and glared at him. “If you'll excuse me?”

Director Miike obligingly left the office – it was his own office, but Kotonomi Kanae had a very commanding stare – and stood outside, humming to himself, as Kanae dialed Kyoko's number.

“Moko?!” It was impossible not to picture the breathless excitement on Kyoko's face. “Moko, Moko, I'm here! I'm ready to listen to anything!”

“You would do better actually listening then saying that you'll listen and getting yourself in a tizzy all by yourself,” said Kanae, severely. It never did any good, but she couldn't help but try every time. “Look – I've just taken a role in an action movie. They want to offer you a role, too, but you shouldn't take it. It's a voice acting part, and you aren't interested in that career path. You should spend your time on live action roles where people can get to know your face.”

“They want me to be in a movie with you?” Kyoko's voice rose in both volume and pitch. “That's amazing! I can't believe we'll be acting together again! You should tell them I'll be there right away!”

Kanae pinched the bridge of her nose. “Kyoko,” she tried again, “it's not a role you want. It's the role of a evil artificial intelligence who tries to kill me.”

“Tries – to kill –?” Kyoko gasped over the phone. “Mokooooooo! I could never want to kill you! Never, never, never! Even thinking about it makes me want to dieeeeeeeeeeee!”

“Exactly,” said Kanae, relieved. “So that's why you shouldn't –”

“But I can't let anyone else kill you either!” Kyoko went on, her voice turning resolute. “If you're going to face the frightening specter of death in a role, you should also have a chance to see the face of love! I'll be right there, Moko! Don't be afraid! I'm coming!”

“Kyoko, it's a voice acting part! I'm never even going to get to see your face --” But her words were in vain; Kyoko had already hung up.

“Ugh!” Kanae slammed her phone closed and dropped it down on the table. “Why,” she demanded of the ceiling, “am I even trying to help her career? Why do I even waste my time? We're rivals! And she never listens to me anyway!”

The ceiling provided no response.

**

“Why do they need a male lead?” Kyoko fumed, storming around the set in her own personal thundercloud. “There's no need for a male lead! There's no need for a romance! Can the entertainment industry not create one story that is free of the pernicious evils of love? Moko is more than talented enough, more than beautiful enough, more than enough of a draw to carry the whole film on her own!”

Kanae shrugged. In her heart, she agreed strongly with Kyoko. She did have the talent to carry a movie on her own. She had been looking forward to a role that would provide her the stress-relieving opportunity to shoot portal guns at things, and give LME's director no opportunity to preach at her about feelings of love. Also, fans were likely to be angry about the changes in the plot from the original computer game. Writing in a high-profile actor to play a parallel test subject had been the price that the producers had demanded for taking the risky step of allowing Chell to remain speechless; Kanae was not at all sure that the bargain was worth it. “Still,” she said, scowling down at her feet, “the industry is the industry. It's naïve to think they're going to base a whole movie on one actress who isn't yet a star.”

Kyoko's stormcloud stomping carried her back to Kanae. She flopped down next to her and announced, “I am a professional, and I'll act my all as GLaDOS against this male lead if I have to! But I'm sure he'll be a talentless flop and you'll easily outshine him when –”

“Talentless flop seems like a strong choice of words,” said Tsuruga Ren, mildly, “but I'm sure Kotonomi-san will still get equal billing at least. Chell is the heroine of the story, after all.”

The two girls stared up . . . and up . . .

“Ahhhhh! Tsuruga-san, I'm sooorrry!” Kyoko threw herself flat onto the floor. Over her babbled apologies, Kanae delivered Tsuruga Ren a fiercely competitive glare and edged a little closer to Kyoko. The gossip magazines might sing his praises, but he was only a pretty-faced model, after all, and she was Kyoko's best friend. Her scenes with GLaDOS in this movie would carry more acting skill and intensity than Tsuruga Ren could possibly hope to achieve, and then let anyone try and take top billing away from her!

**

“You read the fan pages on the internet?”

“I do,” admitted Yashiro. He had had a few glasses of champagne at the cast party already, or he might have recognized that this was a dangerous conversational direction to be heading in. “Of course it's a bad idea for an idol to do it themselves, but for a manager, it can be useful to stay on top of things.”

“Hah!” laughed Director Miike, who had had more than a few glasses. “Well, then you'll appreciate this, Yukihito-san, really, this is hilarious. We go to all this trouble to set up a romantic interest for Chell in the film, a really sexy actor, no less, and what do those fans go and do?”

Yashiro, who was very well aware of what those fans often went and did, flushed bright red. “Director Miike, maybe you shouldn't –”

“They completely ignore the relationship between the two leads, and instead they get into fights about which one should be having sex with GLaDOS! An artificial intelligence! I didn't even think that was possible! But I should know by now not to be surprised by anything the internet does. They get surprisingly creative. I think the Chell faction is winning mostly, but either way, you should see some of those things they think up for GLaDOS to do with the portal gun –”

“Director Miike!” yelped Yashiro desperately, but it was too late; poor innocent Kyoko-chan, who had been coming over to say hello, was now a frozen block in the middle of the floor, and it was clearly going to take extraordinary measures to get her functional again.

4. Labyrinth of Shadows

“Did you hear,” Yashiro asked, “the latest good news for our Kyoko-chan?”

“Hmmm?” Ren, apparently deeply absorbed in reading through his first script for Slytherin Prince Wizard Snape, did not look up.

“She's landed a starring role – she's playing Sakura in the supernatural film Labyrinth of Shadows. It's about a dark-souled young girl who has to battle a sinisterly attractive demon lord after accidentally summoning him to take away her baby brother.” The casting director had apparently specified that he wanted a creepy, strange young woman in the Mio mold, a fit summoner for a demon lord, which Yashiro thought rather a pity. A cute young girl like Kyoko-chan should get to play a cute girl every once in a while. Still, at least she was the heroine this time.

“I'm glad to hear Mogami-san's career is progressing apace,” said Ren, politely, “and I'm sure she'll do well in the part.”

“Of course,” mused Yashiro, “they haven't cast the role of the demon lord yet.” He cast Ren a sidelong glance out of the corner of his eye. Ren did not appear to notice. “In the original American film, the demon lord was played by a famous pop idol. Fuwa Sho's agency is rumored to be interested in getting him the part. Though of course that may be just a rumor.”

Ren turned another page of the script, with perhaps slightly unnecessary force. “I think,” he remarked, “I did see that American film once, when I was a child. Doesn't the young girl reject the demon lord utterly at the end?”

“I wouldn't know,” said Yashiro, sweetly. “I've never seen the film. I only hear industry gossip, that's all. But it's certain that the actor who played the demon lord would be spending a great deal of time with Kyoko-chan – they're the only two leads.” And then, feeling that his work here was done, he added, “I almost forgot, there's a variety show appearance we should be considering for next season. Would you like to see the description?”

**

The internet fan forums were blazing with rumors. Who will be cast as Demon Lord Jareth? Most of the people who had seen the original film voted for Fuwa Sho – after all, the demon lord was supposed to sing, and Sho's bad-boy idol image was perfect for the part.

On the other hand, one commenter pointed out, nobody, but nobody, has legs like Tsuruga Ren's, and if the costuming is anything like in the original . . .

This thought was enough to form a solid contingent of Tsuruga Ren supporters. A few optimists started to create some hopeful image manipulations. One particular piece of Photoshop art – featuring Mogami Kyoko in her signature Mio dark-schoolgirl outfit, and Tsuruga Ren, in Jareth's classically tight pants, embracing her in a decidedly suggestive fashion from behind – picked up so much circulation that some people mistook it for a genuine promotional image. Of course, the Fuwa Sho faction easily countered this move by taking the picture and replacing Ren's head with Sho's.

Nobody knew who emailed these to Kyoko's inbox, but the explosion of demons that resulted was enough to shake the foundations of LME.

**

“Just fear me – love me – and I will be your slave!”

“You have no power over me,” Kyoko hissed, and shoved her way forward into the heart of the labyrinth, one stalking step at a time. “You have no power over me!” She blazed with ferocity, she burned with justice. Fuwa Sho, so overwhelming a moment ago, seemed to shrink and diminish to a pathetic piece of nothing in the face of her intensely magnificent rage.

The toddler playing Sakura's baby brother broke into a frightened wail and hid behind his minder's legs.

“Cut!” shouted the exasperated director. “Will somebody get that kid out of there?”

Fuwa Sho took a deep breath, in and out, and then gave her an enormous grin that transformed him back into Kiyo Kaoru, the rising idol who was playing Jareth. “Wow, Sakura! Man!” he gushed. “That was great! I really believe you could beat the demon lord, after all!”

Kyoko felt her mouth curving into a smile, as the image of Fuwa Sho that she had used to fuel her acting fizzled away into a defeated nonentity. Sakura might be an odd, dark-souled girl with a fondness for the gothic, but nonetheless she was most definitely Kyoko's favorite of the roles she had played so far.

(Although a very tiny part of her was maybe a little wistful after all that the rumors about Tsuruga Ren being cast as Jareth hadn't come true. Kiyo Kaoru was a talented singer, but he couldn't hold a candle to Tsuruga when it came to embodying a sinisterly seductive Emperor of the Night. From an actress' standpoint, it would have been an incredible battle. She yearned to pit all her energy against Tsuruga – to match her skills to his, as he bent his efforts to her submission, and triumphantly wrest control of the scene –

– but of course, what was she thinking? She was still only a novice; she couldn't possibly hope to equal Tsuruga Ren in an acting challenge of that nature yet. It was pure hubris of her to even think it would be worth his time to try. And if she were to try and she were to lose, in a scene like this – well, that would be an entirely different kind of dangerous. Too dangerous by far!)

5. Princess Tutu

“What it comes down to is that I'd like for your agency's Mogami Kyoko to play the role of Kraehe.”

Lory considered this, from atop his donkey. The bells dangling down from his wide-brimmed hat chimed as he tilted his head. “It's an excellent part, and I'm sure she'd do well in it, but – has the role of Princess Tutu already been cast?”

“Not yet,” admitted Director Narita. “Your agency is the first we've approached. But Mogami has consistently excelled in 'dark' roles, and after seeing her as Mio in Dark Moon, we knew she could bring the right kind of depth and tragedy to –”

“MokoMokoMokoMokoMokoMoko-- ”

Narita jumped, and stared through the large glass front doors into LME's main lobby. Lory studiously rearranged his poncho. The glass was supposed to be soundproof, but there was very little that could fully protect the ear from Kyoko in full cry.

“--MokoMokoMokoMoooookoooooo!” sang Kyoko, beaming all over her face, and flung herself at headlong speed across the lobby. She landed squarely on top of a vehemently disapproving Kanae, bringing them both down to the floor in a bright pink pile.

Narita watched Kotonomi Kanae's elegant dignity turn to shreds as she futilely struggled to disentangle herself from Kyoko's loving neon embrace, and then turned back to Lory.

Lory grinned back at him.

“You already know what I'm going to say, don't you?” sighed Narita. “All right. Send them both around. We'll have Mogami read as Duck, the Portal girl – Kotonomi, isn't it? – as Kraehe, and we'll offer the part of Mytho to Tsuruga Ren. If I like what I hear, that should be a production to get all the other agencies complaining to me about favoritism.”

“Excellent choices all,” said Lory, serenely, tipped his hat, and rode off on his pony into the sunset created by the five skilled lighting engineers who had been hired to flow him around all that day.

**

“Mokoooooooooo!” Kyoko twirled around and around, holding the shooting schedule up to the light, with stars visibly emanating from her eyes. “I'm so happy! So happy! I don't know if I can even tell you how happy I am!”

“You're certainly trying,” said Kanae, doing her best to sound sour. “You act as if we've never been in a drama together before.”

“Yes, but now we're finally playing frieeeeeeeeeeends!” Kyoko drew out the beautiful, beautiful word. “A true, powerful friendship that survives against all the odds set against it! And not only that --” She closed her eyes, and hugged the shooting schedule to her chest. She could hardly believe it was possible for so many dreams to come true at once! Her voice dropped to a whisper. “-- not only that, but Moko, we're both playing magical princesses!

“Kraehe is an evil princess,” Kanae pointed out.

Kyoko rose at once loyally to her defense. “Misunderstood! It's not her fault!”

“And Princess Tutu spends most of her time as a schoolgirl even more foolish and clumsy than you are, when she's not a bird –”

“Transformed by the gentle purity of her heart into a kind, magical creature of beauty and grace!” agreed Kyoko, her face shining. “It's the essence of a fairy story!”

“Hmph.” Kanae stretched her legs out, and tried to reach her toes. “Well, I for one am not looking forward to all the hours of ballet training to get us looking halfway decent on film. Do you know what that will do to our feet? I hope they're using stunt doubles for most of the dance scenes.”

“I'm going to work harder than I ever have before,” Kyoko swore. “I'll spend every hour of every day practicing! I'll dance until my feet bleed! I'll learn to move like a fairy and make sure I can perform a dance that's worthy of Princess Tutu!”

“You certainly have the role down already,” said Kanae, sardonically. “Please don't dance yourself into vanishing before shooting begins, as that would be an inconvenience to all of us.” She leaned back, scanning her own information packet, with the attached cast list and shooting schedule. “But I wonder,” she mused aloud, “why Tsuruga Ren turned down the part of the prince?”

**

The question lodged in Kyoko's mind. She didn't intend to ask it, but somehow, a week later, when they turned up for the first day of shooting, it slipped out. “Tsuruga-san . . .”

Ren looked mildly over at her. “Hmm? Mogami-san, did you want something?”

“No,” muttered Kyoko, and prepared to slink away – and then found herself bursting out instead, “Tsuruga-san, forgive my impertinence, but – it seems you've chosen to play the second lead in the production instead of Prince Mytho, and I was just wondering . . .”

“Why I would take a role that seems below my status as an idol?” concluded Ren, smiling a little.

Also a role that's a jerk and a bully, thought Kyoko, instead of the kind and noble prince that Duck and everybody else loves, but this much she managed not to say. Certainly the question of who Kyoko's character loved could have no impact on Tsuruga Ren's career decisions! And it wasn't as if she could have any complaints; the demons inside her whispered in her ears that if she had to act out feelings of love for a princely Tsuruga Ren every day on set – even if it was a doomed love that could never be – that all-important locked box at the center of her heart would surely be placed in a position of terrible risk.

“Mogami-san,” said Ren, interrupting her thoughts, “do you know what happens in the second half of the story of Princess Tutu?”

“Rue starts to get taken over by her dark side,” Kyoko began to explain, eagerly, “but Duck stays her true friend throughout, no matter what, and –”

“Let me rephrase. Do you know anything besides what happens to Princess Kraehe?”

Kyoko flushed and shook her head – she had only been given the shooting scripts to prepare up to the third episode thus far, and she'd only bothered to ask Moko (who had seen at least pieces of nearly every anime to come out in the past ten years, due to the varying tastes of her hordes of siblings and nieces and nephews) about Rue. Ren went on,“It's probably best you find out now, then, that the Prince turns into a monster.”

Kyoko started to gasp aloud in Duck's naïve horror – and then stilled, as she remembered who she was. Her face shuttered down into something hard and stony with a speed that would have astonished anyone who didn't know her.

She didn't know why she would be surprised. All handsome princes did turn into monsters in the end, didn't they?

“It would have been an interesting part to play,” Ren said, regarding her thoughtfully. “The prince's shadow self at odds with his good, kind exterior, as he descends further into darkness – there's certainly something intriguing about that. I thought very seriously about it. But in the end, I decided that I would rather not play out the story of the prince who is transformed into a dark monster. I thought instead it would be more of a challenge for me to play the man who escapes from his demons, and changes his fate to become a helpful partner for the princess as she makes her own story. And so I chose the role of Fakir.”

“Oh,” said Kyoko, rather blankly, as she assimilated this. Their eyes locked for a moment, and then she ducked her head. “I apologize for making assumptions! I should have known that Tsuruga Ren would never take less than the most challenging part available.” She bowed again, more deeply, to indicate a kohai's gratitude to her senpai for the words of wisdom.

Ren nodded back gravely and started to walk away. Kyoko turned as well, and then startled, because Yashiro was suddenly in front of her, looking mysteriously gleeful.

“Kyoko-chan,” he said, and coughed. “Since you were asking about the parts, I thought you might be interested in reading this article I found about the casting of Princess Tutu.” He handed her a printout, and waited expectantly. Kyoko scanned down the lines.

. . . fans of last year's Extravagant Adolescence will be excited to see Tsuruga Ren and Mogami Kyoko reunited – and they're definitely not playing siblings this time! Without spoiling things for our readers who haven't seen the anime, we'll just say we're certainly hoping for a reprise of a particular pas de deux between Fakir and Duck –

Kyoko's eyes bored into the paper.

“Yukihito-san,” she asked, her voice heavy with dread, “what do they mean about a pas de deux?”

“Oh,” said Yashiro, very casually, “I think they're talking about the fact that in the second half of the anime, Fakir and Duck become very close while they're both trying to save the prince. It's a very touching story. I'm not ashamed to say that I cried when he promised to stay by her side forever.”

Kyoko stared at him in terror.

“Stay by her side . . . as friends?” she offered, eventually, with a wisp of hope in her voice.

“You would have to ask the director for her interpretation, of course,” said Yashiro, “but I think from Fakir's side, at least, feelings of –”

“FRIENDSHIP!” shouted Kyoko, and half the heads in the room turned to stare. “It's such a wonderful thing! I'm so fortunate I'll be able to use this role to show my powerful feelings of friendship towards Moko and towards Tsuruga-san as well! I don't know what more I could possibly ask for from a role!” And she zoomed away to hyperventilate in a corner before Yashiro – who was such a nice man, and who surely couldn't know what dangerous demons were being stirred up by his words – could say anything else.

**
“No,” said Princess Tutu. She looked into Kraehe's eyes, with infinite gentleness and infinite hope, and then shook her head. “No,” she said again, and took a breath. “I refuse to vanish.”

Kraehe took a half-step back, shaken by something she couldn't define in Princess Tutu's steadfast gaze. The two princesses stared at each other until the director yelled, “Cut! All right, let's get the dance doubles in here. Tsuruga, you can get out of the water now. Mogami, Kotonomi – what can I say except stellar work? If you keep up with this one-take magic, it'll shave a week off the shooting time.” She waved them off the set, laughing.

Tsuruga Ren fished himself obligingly out of the pond into which Fakir had fallen. He accepted a towel from an aide, and came over to the two girls, rubbing his head. “That was amazing,” he said, from under the terrycloth. "Mogami-san -- I'm really impressed." For once, something Tsuruga said sounded genuine to Kanae. Bet you thought she would have to come running to you for advice, she thought, rather snidely. Are you disappointed she did it for herself?

If she had to admit it, though, she was a little surprised, too. She thought she knew Kyoko's process by now: read the part, get overwhelmed, panic and try too hard in the wrong direction for just long enough to make everyone extremely nervous, and then get scarily into her character with some ridiculously intense form of method acting and pull out an astounding performance. Of course the character of Duck came naturally to Kyoko; flailing was her normal state. But nailing a powerful scene like this on the first take, channeling a completely heartfelt Princess Tutu that made even Kanae's heart feel a twinge -- that was something new and unexpected.

"It's isn't me. It's because of you and Moko that I'm able to give a performance like this," Kyoko explained, earnestly. Not for the first time, Kanae was abruptly reminded that no matter how ridiculous Kyoko might seem most of the time, she was serious -- almost unbelievably serious -- about her acting. "If it wasn't for that, I would probably just get angry and think about that Shotaro when I read that line. I would say it in a defiant way, and it would be wrong -- it wouldn't be Princess Tutu. But because it's Moko there, I can't ever hate Kraehe, no matter what. I can't think about her as my enemy. I just think, we might be rivals in some things, but it's more important that we're friends who love dancing together. I can't make her understand that if I disappear. And I think about how Fakir really believes in me, and is counting on me to be there, and to do my best -- and because Tsuruga-san is such a good actor, I can feel how much that's true. And I think: because I have these things that are important to me, it's impossible for me to vanish now. I absolutely, totally refuse to vanish.

"And it isn't to spite anybody else that I won't vanish. It's not out of revenge, or anger, or even stubbornness. It's for me. It's because I have things I care about. That's how I can play Princess Tutu."

"Idiot," said Kanae, and both Kyoko and Ren turned to look at her, startled. "Then that's not because of us at all! It's because of you."

She leaned forward, stabbing her finger towards the other girl. “You think if you tell us your abilities are all due to us, we won't take you seriously as a rival, and you can slip ahead while we're not looking. Hah! Think again, Kyoko. You're a serious contender, and I for one intend to do all I can to keep up with you. If Tsuruga isn't a fool, he'll do the same.”

“I hope I'm not a fool,” said Ren, smiling, “and I certainly intend to do so.”

“That's not what I – Moko,” protested Kyoko, “that's not what I meant! And – but –” She kept on stammering out her protests, but Kanae and Ren were both laughing, and what could she do but laugh with them?

**

“And now,” said the talk show host, “with only a few episodes left of Princess Tutu, on to the question we're all dying to find out – as the actor and actress in the role, what would you say really is the relationship between Fakir and Duck at this point in the story? In a show that's so much about feelings, would you call their dynamic a feeling of love?”

Ren shot a glance at Kyoko, whose eyes had gone into the thousand-yard stare that said that her inner self was currently busy with super-speed panicked flailing, please call again later. Taking pity on her, he coughed and said, “Well, that's a complex question. I think Fakir certainly has developed romantic feelings for Duck, and that's a good thing for his character, it shows his growth – though he's not very mature, I'm afraid, so I don't know if he would think of it quite that way!” Charismatic smile, perfectly timed pause for laughter, and then he went on. “She's the person who got through his barriers and saved him from a life completely cut off from others, so it's natural that he would start to feel love for her. Duck, on the other hand, is in an unusual situation. After all, she started out as a bird, and has only recently been able to develop human feelings. So I don't think Fakir really expects that she loves him that way –”

“She does!” Kyoko blurted out, suddenly, at the top of her lungs.

Ren and the talk show host both turned inquiringly towards Kyoko. Off-camera, the lighting technician was surprised and disturbed to hear Tsuruga Ren's manager emit a delighted squeak.

“She definitely loves Fakir,” Kyoko repeated stoutly, and then, before anyone (except Yashiro) could get too excited, added, “and she loves Rue, and of course she loves Mytho! And she loves Pique and Lilie, and everybody she's met. Tsuruga-san is right of course that she's still developing human feelings, so she can't really separate out friendship and ro-ro-” She choked out the painful word. “--romance. She's a little bit like Mytho – because there hasn't been anybody who cared for her in her life up to now, she doesn't know all the different words for the different ways those people make her feel. But Fakir is absolutely a very important person to her.”

The host grinned. “And since you've been playing opposite each other, would you say that Tsuruga-san has become an important person to you, Kyoko?”

“Absolutely,” said Kyoko, without hesitation. “An incredibly important person to me!” The host leaned forward eagerly, and then backward again, hiding a look of disappointment, as Kyoko went blithely on, “and so is Mo—Kotonomi Kanae, who plays Rue. I've been very, very lucky to have the chance to act with both of them. Ohtori Akira, who plays the part of Mytho, is a pleasure to work with as well. ”

“Well, while we're on the topic of Fakir and Duck,” said the talk show host, acknowledging graceful defeat, “let's talk about those dance scenes. How hard was it for the two of you to learn enough ballet to film them?”

“Oh . . .” Ren watched as Kyoko lifted her foot to show off her callouses, hiding his smile behind his mask of bland professionalism.

Feelings of love, was it? Even if it put him in the same category as Kotonomi or Maria, you'd have to call that admission something of an step forward – both for the reasons he freely admitted to himself were selfish, and for Kyoko's recovery of human emotions.

An image suddenly popped up in his head of the earnest figure of Princess Tutu, holding out her hand to Kyoko in the gesture that said 'dance with me,' and asking 'but is that how you really feel?' And for a moment, he thought, well, she might be only fictional, but even so, that Princess Tutu does do impressive work

And then he shook his head slightly and banished the thought, laughing at himself inside. That was the kind of fantastical thing that Kyoko would think, but certainly those kinds of ideas had no place inside the mature, sensible head of Tsuruga Ren!