Fandom: Viewfinder (Finder no Hyouteki/Finder series) by Yamane Ayano
Warnings: crack. so much crack.
N.B. Please see the Chapter Index for additional information about this story, including disclaimers, cover art, and the original prompt.
Summary: Corporate lawyer Asami Ryuichi is the latest “star” of reality TV show, Japan’s No.1 Handsome Confirmed Bachelor. Flight attendant Takaba Akihito is tricked into signing on as one of the twenty-five contestants. But can he survive five gruelling weeks of competitive dating in order to win Asami’s heart?
If this was what women had to deal with whenever they got married, then Takaba was surprised that the country’s spousal murder rate wasn’t higher.
On Friday morning the remaining contestants were driven to a warehouse not far from Tokyo Bay, which convinced Takaba’s sleep-deprived brain that another aerobic competition was in store for them. Except maybe this time they’d be loading cargo full of black market firearms and drugs onto the freight ships moored in the harbour.
Though really, that the idea of weapons trafficking seemed like a plausible Love Challenge scenario was probably a testament to the stress of spending the remainder of the previous night convinced that Asami was going to seek his bloody revenge for the Nose Incident as soon as Takaba closed his eyes.
Instead, Takaba had been left gratefully un-attacked (probably because he hadn’t shut his eyes), and after breakfast they’d all been escorted into this innocuous warehouse. Or at least it had seemed perfectly ordinary, until Takaba discovered the true purpose of the long row of small inner rooms, all of which were open where a fourth wall should have been — like a diorama or an indoor Ikea display room.
“Two of the vital axes of household management,” Sakazaki proclaimed, looking unruffled despite Takaba’s persistent glaring after last night’s activities, “are budgeting and interior decorating. To succeed in your domestic endeavours, one must maintain a delicate balance between taste and frugality. And if you wish to convince Asami-san that you deserve a permanent place in his home, then what better way could there be other than to compete for the coveted title of Best Waifu?”
Takaba glanced around at the others as Sakazaki paused with predictable theatricality, and was glad to see he wasn’t the only one annoyed at the idea of having to prove their credentials as housewives. (Only Shibata, the show’s sole remaining female contestant, seemed unbothered by the challenge’s implications…then again, if she were really Asami’s personal assistant, her ability to endure obnoxious men on a daily basis must have been phenomenal).
“Each one of you will receive one of the ‘rooms’ you see here, and will be free to decorate it however you wish. However, you only have two hours and ¥25,000 to complete this task. Later this afternoon, we will escort Asami-san here to view each of your rooms, and as with our thrilling culinary Love Challenge, our bachelor will be picking his favourite room ‘blind’.” Sakazaki quickly dropped his air quotes to raise his right index finger, wagging it in warning, “so that means no leaving clues behind that might point to your identity! You must adhere to the constraints of both budget and taste in order to have a chance of winning this challenge. Good luck! You philistines will certainly need it.”
Call it a holdover from his past as the quasi-delinquent son of a single working mother, but Takaba felt a pang of disappointment when the ‘yen’ they received turned out to be large, multicoloured plastic notes with cartoonish numbers on them. And to add insult to injury, they could only spend the faux money in a neighbouring room of the warehouse, which had been kitted out like a hundred yen shop: every household item imaginable was stocked, as well as a fair number of things Takaba had never seen before and didn’t know the purpose of.
“We printed this money up just for you, Takaba,” Mitarai said, having cornered him while he was examining a shelf of what were either avant garde vases or impractical drinking glasses. “We knew if we gave you the real deal you’d just spend a few hundred yen on a knock-off tatami mat and call it a day.”
“Don’t pretend to understand my strategy,” Takaba shot back, selecting the ugliest glass/vase thing of the bunch just to be spiteful. (Here was hoping Asami hated neon orange as much as Sakazaki seemed to love it, judging by today’s velvet trousers).
Having filled his shopping cart with precisely the junk he needed and handed over the fake cash to the suspiciously photogenic cashier woman, Takaba returned to his little cut-out room. For the next hour and a half Takaba worked steadily, filling his room and meticulously re-arranging his furniture and ornaments to his own satisfaction.
“What if the paint doesn’t dry in time?” he asked Tao, during one of the breaks he took to stretch out his back. Tao was crouched on the floor of his own room, randomly dabbing the walls with powder blue paint.
Tao shot him a sneaky grin. “Maybe that’s what I hope for.”
“Genius brat,” Takaba muttered.
By the time a siren blared to signal the end of their time limit and all the leftovers and rubbish had been cleared away for the ‘grand unveiling’ of the finished rooms, afternoon sunlight was streaking through the warehouse’s skylights and infusing Takaba with an uncharacteristic desire to get back to the compound. They were all waiting for Asami to arrive, but unlike the time on the cruise ship — when Takaba had been relishing the idea of seeing Asami’s face twisted up in sugar-induced agony — right now he was feeling unaccountably nervous.
And that nervousness turned to outright dread when the lawyer finally turned up with his own retinue of production staff, a flesh-tone-but-still-conspicuous bandage taped across the bridge of his nose.
“Asami-san,” Sudou cried in distress, breaking out of the cluster of contestants to approach him. “What happened to your face? Are you all right?”
“Don’t concern yourself,” Asami replied, angling his head to allow a last minute touch up to his make up. “It was merely a run in with a mentally unbalanced fan. You must know the feeling, Sudou.”
Takaba felt his adrenalin surge, as though he could do anything but stand at the back of the group with downcast eyes and a fervent wish to become invisible. It would be one thing if Asami had brushed off their encounter last night as a joke or a humorous tussle, but the lawyer was holding himself stiffly now, with no hint of his usual wry smirk.
It’s his own fault, Takaba’s mind silently raged. A bitten nose isn’t such bad payback for unauthorised groping, not when I could have punched him in the crotch instead!
But what if he’d done more damage than he realised? What if — what if Asami’s nose cartilage was inflamed or something? Or got infected? He’d tasted blood, after all. And Asami may not have been in front of a camera very often in real life, but who’d hire a lawyer who’d had obvious rhinoplasty?
“You should sue her for assault,” declared Kuroda, adjusting his glasses. “Or battery, perhaps. We should find time to discuss the particulars tonight, Ryuuichi.”
“Enough of that,” barked Mitarai. “We need to get this shit filmed before the light’s all gone. Go to your appointed positions, now!”
It took several minutes for the cameras to pan across the line of rooms, but Takaba thought that it was immediately obvious which contestants had the magic combination of desire to woo Asami via interior decoration and the taste to actually carry it through. Shibata had produced a comfortable-looking room filled with warm colours and cushioned chairs; the only incongruous element was the enormous desk set against the back wall. Well, she probably knew better than anyone what a workaholic Asami was when he wasn’t giving up his important day job to participate in reality TV.
Fei Long had somehow managed to produce what looked very much like a luxurious sitting room— either that or an opium den. A long velvet fainting couch was the centrepiece, with dark wallpaper lending the small space a dim, secretive atmosphere. Sudou must have also had reclining on his mind when he furnished his room, given the double bed he seemed to have spent the bulk of his funds on. (Takaba chose to ignore the handcuffs dangling from the bedstead).
Asami was being walked through each room by Sakazaki, who was clearly having a hearty time pointing out the more unusual features in his commentary. But even he struggled to find words when they reached Tao’s room: apart from the haphazard splotches of paint Takaba had already seen, the only extra item Tao had seen fit to furnish his room with was…a hammer. Sitting alone in the middle of the white plaster floor.
“‘Aim at your ugly face’,” Sakazaki read off a note lying on top of the hammer.
“I think I can guess whose room this is,” Asami remarked drily, already moving on to the next room.
Despite himself, Takaba’s heart lurched, the urge to shout No, no, no that one wasn’t mine! worryingly strong inside his head.
“Oh dear,” Sakazaki drawled when he joined Asami in front of Yoh’s room. “Why do I feel this is plagiarism masquerading as a homage?”
He had a point. Yoh had used the same wallpaper as Fei Long, though the latter seemed to have snapped up the only lounge-type furniture in the shop — Yoh had instead used a narrow, blanket-draped mattress resting atop a row of overturned buckets to form his ‘couch’.
“Why do I have the feeling this room isn’t intended for my approval?” Asami countered, finally allowing a hint of private amusement to touch his lips.
And then they came to Takaba’s room. Asami paused before it for a long moment, seeming to consider it carefully.
“Whoever made this room clearly has a strong affinity for antisocial teenage boys,” said Sakazaki, shaking his head in the manner of a disapproving parent (though the very thought of their host spawning was enough to roll Takaba’s stomach in a way that had nothing to do with nerves over the inspection).
The room was a close replica of the one Takaba had first rented after moving out of his parents’ house in Yokohama. He’d been poor back then, even by the standards of his early childhood when his father’s freelancing meant their income was unpredictable. He’d only been able to afford a tiny room in an apartment block far from the nearest train station, but at least it had been his shitty place.
A single bed was set against one wall, a small rug lying across the narrow corridor of space between that and the TV. Twine was strung from the ceiling and both walls, and pegged on the line were sheets of blank paper representing the photographs he’d used to hang up there and watch getting buffeted by the weak blasts of his shitty aircon. Next to the TV was a shelf holding a variety of cheap, colourful knick-knacks and figurines he’d picked up at secondhand stores. They added personality to the room, he’d thought. And other faces around made things feel less lonely, even when the faces were painted.
“I see,” Asami finally said.
Takaba huffed silently. He knew the room wouldn’t appeal to someone refined and wealthy like Asami, but undermining the man’s high standards wasn’t even the point this time. When it was eventually revealed who had done each room, Takaba wanted Asami to be faced with visible proof of just how incompatible they were. Then the next time Asami approached him, Takaba could point to this moment and say, “See, this is why we’ll never get along.”
They belonged to different worlds, and no amount of lingering looks and heated touches would change that.
It shouldn’t have surprised anyone when Asami declared Kuroda’s minimalist, starkly furnished room his favourite — though judging by his reaction, Sudou had been anticipating a very different outcome.
“He doesn’t want handcuff sex with you,” was Tao’s observation.
“I don’t need to win this,” Sudou said, forcing his lips into a painful-looking smile, “because I’m going to get the fan vote tomorrow.”
Fei Long looked distinctly displeased by the result as well, and as soon as the cameras had finished taking enough reaction shots of the contestants, he returned to his display room and collapsed onto the fainting couch in an elegant sprawl. Yoh followed him to the threshold, then seemed to think better of it and turned back around. Give him a nightstick to match that stiff-backed posture, Takaba thought, and Yoh would have made the perfect bouncer for Fei Long’s makeshift boudoir.
Needless to say, the following morning’s breakfast was tense.
With only seven contestants remaining in the competition, it was hard for Takaba to get lost in a haze of competing conversations and chatter when every clink of cutlery on crockery resounded like the prelude to open warfare. Only Kuroda seemed to be in a relaxed and chipper mood, trading his usual suit and overcoat for a woollen sweater and charcoal slacks. Though as soon as Asami showed up for the morning’s filming, he pulled down his collar to scratch an itch (and not incidentally flash his well-defined pecs at everyone).
“Let’s get it over with it, I need a smoke.” Sakazaki tucked a fresh cigarette behind his ear and moved into position beside the TV. Footage of the previous day’s Love Challenge unfolded on the screen, and then a bar graph popped up below pixellated thumbnails of the contestants’ faces. But Takaba found himself struggling to pay any sort of attention to the proceedings, and not even because the conclusion was foregone.
From the moment he’d entered the room, Asami hadn’t once made eye contact with him. And call Takaba paranoid, but for a man who’d turned ogling while smirking at him into an infuriating art, this was not normal. Especially not when this was the second day in a row that Takaba’d been practically ignored. Asami couldn’t still be furious about the sort-of-accidental nose biting, could he? He wasn’t wearing a plaster on his nose anymore, and make up was covering any lingering marks.
Takaba snapped back to attention when applause broke out around him. “Congratulations, Sudou-san,” Sakazaki said unenthusiastically, “you’ll be joining Kuroda-san on a 3-way date with Asami-san. But who will be joining you, I wonder?” He gestured to Asami, who stepped forward. “Your decision, Ryuuichi?”
A muscle in Asami’s temple twitched, either from Sakazaki’s overly familiar address or the tension of the moment. Takaba found his heart lodged in his throat, aware of the side-eye being sent in his direction by the rest of the table.
“I choose Fei Long.”
Takaba felt his mouth drop open. There was a long, surprised pause at the table before the others remembered to applaud. Tao shot him an incredulous look, his mouth moving quickly. But Takaba couldn’t hear him, not through the sound of all the blood in his body rushing up to pool in his cheeks.
So. It looked as though Takaba had finally succeeded in his ultimate goal of making Asami reject him.
Victory wasn’t sweet in the slightest.
To be continued…