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?
A/N: The bad news — there will be no new chapter of Pray in the Abyss this month. The good news — Yamane Ayano gets a well-deserved rest after a busy year. The self-centred news — I don’t have to somehow find time to write this fic and do a summary of a new VF chapter simultaneously :’D
Back when he’d been a hyperactive kid with no concept of what responsibility was, Takaba had begged his parents for a pet dachshund. Fed up with his nagging, they bought him a parakeet instead. The distraction had worked (for a while), and Takaba had loved nothing better than to let Suzu-chan fly around the kitchen unimpeded whenever his parents went out.
But then there was the Vase Smashing Incident, and the sudden removal of Suzu-chan’s birdcage onto a high shelf in his father’s studio. Takaba had needed permission to enter that sanctum of basins and curling negatives, and the few times his dad indulged him, Takaba had approached Suzu-chan only to find her huddled in a corner of her cage, turned away from him. She didn’t react to his voice, or his tentative touches. It was like he’d become a distrusted, repulsive stranger — or worse, beneath her notice at all.
Now, trailing behind the group following Asami around Kouyama Aquarium, Takaba felt that old rejection afresh. Every glimpse of the man’s stony expression, every time he angled his body away when Takaba drew near, felt like a slap to the face. And it wasn’t like he meant to compare Asami with his childhood parrot, exactly, but this studied days-long silence was starting to get to him. Even Tao was shooting him dark looks, silently mouthing, “Do something!”
“It’s not what they think,” Takaba muttered, glaring into the seahorse enclosure. If there were any seahorses inside, they were doing a sterling impression of yellow seaweed. “I don’t care if he ignores me, because it’s part of my plan.” An unexpected and aggravating part, sure, but right now Takaba had never been so certain that Asami would give him the flick at the next Tulip Ceremony. Obviously their bachelor was much more delicate than his reputation would indicate, if getting rebuffed from sex and bitten just a tiny bit on the nose was enough to send him into an unrelentingly foul mood.
Unless Asami really was like Suzu-chan. When his parakeet had first withdrawn from him, Takaba had blamed himself. But after a few months had passed and his parents had finally taken her to the animal clinic, the vet told them she was probably just depressed because of the change in her environment. Sure enough, as soon as Suzu’s cage was returned to the counter beside the kitchen’s sunny window, she’d returned to her former chirpy self. So maybe Asami’s problem wasn’t with Takaba at all, but was actually a symptom of something bigger. Deeper.
Clearly this required further investigation.
“Oi,” said Mitarai, coming up behind him and jabbing him in the back with a clipboard. “They’ve already moved on to the jellyfish, so get over there and flirt.”
“Uh. I need the bathroom!” And, dodging Mitarai as the producer tried to swat his head, Takaba jogged towards the nearest illuminated toilet sign. Slipping quickly into the men’s restroom, Takaba was bombarded by…the ocean. Manta-ray wallpaper, eel-headed faucets and a row of lobster hand dryers that gusted hot air out of their claws. Mildly terrified, Takaba ducked into a cubicle and slammed the door behind him, only to be confronted by a toilet moulded to resemble an open clam.
“…Really?” It was just as well he didn’t actually have to pee. Takaba wasn’t sure he could bring himself to put his bits in the vicinity of something that looked like it would snap shut without warning.
As soon as Takaba was sure none of the crew were going to follow him into the bathroom in the hopes he was having an exciting breakdown, he crept back out and made for aquarium’s lobby. By the main entrance was a souvenir shop crowded with shelf upon shelf of fish toys, fish cakes and fish posters. It was also all but swarming with elbow-high kids and their grabby hands. Takaba sucked in a breath and waded in, letting himself be jostled around in the search for something suitable. But it wasn’t until a little girl wearing a shark hat bumped into him — its soft felt jaws knocked askew on her glossy head — that Takaba had his brainwave.
In hindsight, he should have tried the aquarium’s cafeteria in the first place. In reality, though, he’d wasted almost an hour creeping through dimly lit room after dimly lit room of tanks containing everything from sea snakes to tortoises, trying in vain to find where the others had disappeared to. He might never have spotted them, if it hadn’t been for Tao almost running in to him in his haste to leave the dining hall.
“Hey!” Takaba hissed, grabbing his shoulder. Tao squawked and swung around, cranking one skinny arm back as if to punch — “Wait, it’s me!”
“Akihito?” Tao dropped his arm and squinted at Takaba’s face, clearly dubious. “What are you wea — ”
“Don’t worry about that, just tell me: are the others in the cafeteria?”
“Yes, but I have to — ”
“Thanks! You saw nothing!” Takaba hurried past him, flattening himself against the wall just inside the cafeteria and scanning the crowded tables and food cabinets for his quarry. Mitarai, Yoh and the two cameramen were easy to spot; along with their equipment, they’d taken over a whole table and seemed oblivious to the pleading looks of parents trying to find seats for their hyperactive children.
Asami was harder to find, which was just like the bastard. The only good thing about his location in a comparatively secluded corner of the cafeteria was that it was shielded on one side by a ceramic planter of ferns. And while Takaba may have been neither a botanist nor a private investigator, he knew for a fact that potted plants were all but an invitation to eavesdrop.
Keeping to the edges of the cafeteria, Takaba did his best to ignore the curious and suspicious looks children kept throwing him as he made his way over to Asami’s table. Shibata was his only lunch companion, sitting to his left and sipping from a tall glass of iced tea. Her expression was soft, and she nodded occasionally as Asami spoke to her.
“How cozy,” Takaba muttered, then zipped his mouth as he came into range of the ferns. They were densely planted, but probably wouldn’t be enough to hide the presence of someone lurking on the other side for long. He dropped to a crouch, crab-walking until his shoulder brushed against the planter. He huddled there, just barely making out the voices on the other side.
“Tell Hayashi to prepare the memoranda for when I return,” Asami was saying, to which Shibata murmured her acquiescence. “I’m sure Kuroda thinks he’s on top of the precedents for this, but I want to be certain before we meet with the company. There is no room for error on this.”
They were talking shop? Takaba was briefly disappointed, before realising this was still proof. Proof that Asami wasn’t the cheerless, reticent slab of marble he’d been impersonating all day. No, apparently that was just an act designed to make everyone around him miserable and confused while he snuck off to do business with his assistant in secret.
“Manipulative prick,” Takaba muttered, then shut up as Asami gave another slew of orders in legal jargon. When he was done, a long silence followed before Shibata dared to break it.
“And the date yesterday, Asami-sama?” she gently pressed. “You haven’t mentioned it.”
Takaba felt his heart begin to thud, but Asami only said, “How trite of you to call it that.”
“I hope you don’t mind my asking. It’s just that I feel a need to know how my competition is faring, if they’ve managed to snare your affections yet. ” Something about her tone of voice, the amused lilt to it, confused Takaba. But he didn’t have time to wonder about it, not when Asami seemed determined to drive a stake through his chest.
“Sudou’s performance was more satisfying than I was expecting. To my surprise, he knows how to be obedient after all.”
“He squeals delightfully.”
Takaba felt his mouth drop open. ‘Squeal’? Sudou? But, but what kind of situation could have made him —
“Fei Long, though, was as good as I remembered. It had been far too long since I’d seen him in action like that. His prowess is second to none. Something of which he is well aware, of course.”
Takaba gritted his teeth, refusing to believe it. No. Sudou, Fei Long, and Kuroda had been tight lipped about what they’d gotten up to on yesterday’s date, but it couldn’t have been. That. With Asami.
“Oi, Takaba!” someone shouted. Takaba startled, knocking his head against the planter as he turned to see who was calling him. Mitarai was marching down the aisle between tables, his clipboard flung out before him like a sword. “Stop skulking there and stand up! And get that thing off your head!”
Takaba’s knees twinged painfully as he forced himself to his feet. But he couldn’t bear to pull off his hat, not when it was the only thing that was disguising his face. Asami and Shibata had both risen at the sound of Mitarai’s voice, and were now peering over the ferns at him.
“Off!” Mitarai said when he reached them, swiping at Takaba’s headgear with his clipboard before Takaba could mount a proper defence. His octopus hat flew to the floor in an ungainly tangle of furry tentacles. “Where the fuck have you been? Sorry,” he added to a shocked father, passing by them at that moment with his daughter.
“I, uh, just needed to ask Asami something,” Takaba mumbled, undercutting his excuse with his total inability to look the lawyer in the face.
“Ask away,” Mitarai drawled, gesturing at Asami and Shibata. “I’m sure they’re dying to hear what you have to say.”
Takaba forced himself to meet Asami’s eye (though it might have possibly slid away just a bit up to his forehead instead). “The pink, um, the pink square thing with the dangly bits you’re holding for a friend of mine. I need it back.”
So much for effective indirection. But Asami seemed to know exactly what Takaba meant. He also didn’t seem surprised to discover that Takaba had been spying on him, though maybe he was just hiding his anger behind that usual stoic mask. Which was firmly back in place, Takaba noted glumly. “I’ve already had it couriered to Momohara-san’s agent’s office.”
“Oh,” Takaba croaked.
“Momohara?” Mitarai looked between them. “Did Ai-chan forget something when she left?” He wheeled on Takaba. “It’s not a sex toy, is it?”
At that moment, Takaba spotted Tao returning to the cafeteria. “Look, Tao!” He waited until Mitarai had turned to see what the fuss was about before ducking down to scoop up his octopus hat.
“So what? Oi!”
Takaba ignored the shouts aimed at his back as he ran the length of the cafeteria, dodging around people and chairs in time to intercept Tao. He skidded to a stop just before they collided, and only then noticed how gingerly the kid was moving. His face was a pale mask of horror.
“Tao?” Takaba grabbed his shoulder. “What’s wrong?”
“I went to the bathroom,” Tao said, his tone worryingly vague.
“So?” Takaba couldn’t help but look back over his shoulder. None of the production team were in pursuit, thank god. Though Yoh was giving him a very unimpressed look from his own table. Judgemental dick.
“The toilet-clam tried to eat me,” Tao murmured dazedly. “When I sat down, it snapped shut.”
“Er,” Takaba said, thrown for a second by the image of Tao almost drowning in a novelty toilet. He held out his octopus instead, letting its tentacles wobble in front of Tao’s shellshocked face. “Want a hat?”
The following night was the Tulip Ceremony that Takaba had been dreading. During the day, all the contestants had been banned from entering the compound’s back garden, and not even some fast talking by Kuroda or the offer of autographed photos from Sudou could convince the small army of workmen coming in and out of the house to let them take a peek.
And now it was clear why. An arched platform of interlocking steel panels had been erected over the garden’s pond, an elbow-high barrier of red lattice rising from the sides to make it resemble a decorative bridge on a nobleman’s estate. Takaba had a bad feeling just looking at it.
“Don’t break an ankle getting up there,” Mitarai smiled, shoving them into a line so the cameras could capture them teetering up the temporary stairs and onto the structure. “We’re already paying through the nose for insurance.”
Tao shot the man a disgusted look and cut to the front of the queue, muttering something to Fei Long in Chinese that Takaba assumed meant “Allow me go up first to test the bridge, Oh Great Lord Fei Long, lest it prove too weak to support your enormous ego.”
And actually, the panels clacked rather alarmingly as Takaba shuffled onto them via the stairs, moving to place his feet over the X marked in scotch tape with a pixellated sticker of his face stuck underneath it. Either the director was being even more pedantic about the contestants’ placement than usual, or this thing had been balanced with their individual weights in mind. At least Suoh wasn’t still in the competition — just one tap of his snow shovel-sized shoes would have been enough to send them all crashing down into the pond.
“Oh, yes,” Sudou murmured, ‘accidentally’ stepping on Takaba’s toes as he moved into position on the next panel over. Takaba would have elbowed him had he not looked up at that moment, catching sight of what had drawn out Sudou’s admiration.
Asami had appeared while they’d all been occupied moving onto the bridge. Even from his distant, elevated vantage point Takaba was struck by how sleek the lawyer looked in his black satin dinner jacket, the way he was casually smoking in the shadowy lee of the compound while the cameras were re-arranged for the rest of the night’s filming.
“All right, Takaba?” asked a low voice. Takaba cut his eyes to his left, surprised to find Yoh looking down at him.
“Fine,” Takaba muttered, unable to muster more than a grimace for the man’s consideration. He wondered how terrible he must look to attract the usually reticent security guard’s concern. But he was fine. Maybe now he felt a pang of regret over last night, standing in the airless basement corridor leading to Asami’s private room but unable to make himself move the last few steps it would have taken to knock on the door.
Though even now he wasn’t sure what he could have said. Something like “What the heck is your problem, old man?” was just too general. (Asami had a lot of problems).
And “So I hear you’re sleeping with Sudou and Fei Long now, huh? Is that why you’re pissed at me, because I didn’t put out that night?” would have probably taken Asami aback for a moment, sure. But Takaba didn’t want to give the lawyer definitive confirmation that he had been eavesdropping on him at the aquarium, either.
Why are you ignoring me?
Well, that was just pathetic. Especially because this is what you wanted all along, Takaba Akihito! Him leaving you alone and knocking you out of the competition for good.
At any rate, it looked like Takaba would be getting his wish tonight. Asami didn’t once look in his direction while the final preparations were made for filming, and Sudou was all but preening beside him now, assured of his safety in the competition after the fan vote. Takaba was feeling physically ill by the time the ceremony finally started.
“Welcome to tonight’s very special Tulip Ceremony!” Sakazaki exclaimed. Apparently having run out of Western-style clothes to butcher, he’d moved onto Chinese robes. “You are all no doubt wondering why this week, this perfectly ordinary week of wooing, has culminated in this.” With a grandiose sweep of his arm, Sakazaki indicated the bridge.
Fei Long made a noise in his throat that managed to convey You are an imbecile and Hurry this farce up already at the same time.
“Well, I’m here to tell you right now that this is no ordinary Tulip Ceremony! Just today we received some very surprising news from Asami-san’s law firm, Scion & Partners. It seems that in their boss’ absence, the firm has taken on a very important, high profile case. This means that we will need to return Asami-san a whole week earlier than was originally planned so he can personally lead his peons through this development.”
The news was greeted by awkward silence. Fei Long made no derisive sounds, Sudou stopped stroking his index finger over his lips, and even Tao stopped rocking from side to side impatiently. Takaba’s mind raced to work out what this meant, because if Confirmed Bachelor was ending a week earlier than it was supposed to, that would mean —
“That’s right!” Sakazaki crowed, “Tonight is a double elimination!”
Takaba gasped. Thankfully he wasn’t the only one who’d been knocked (figuratively) sideways by the news: Yoh was muttering under his breath and Fei Long had his hands balled into fists, staring resolutely ahead as if determined to weather whatever else was coming. Sakazaki obliged.
“Four of you will be leaving the competition tonight, and only two of you along with our fan favourite Sudou-san will continue into next week — our final week! And you all know what happens in the final week of Japan’s No.1 Handsome Confirmed Bachelor…”
It was clearly a rhetorical question, but Tao answered breathlessly anyway. “Vacation destination!”
Sakazaki scowled. “I think what you meant to say was Sensual Exotic Date Week. But yes, three lucky contestants will be joining Asami-san at an exciting overseas location for the final week! Now, we’ve given you some clues. Who can guess where you’ll be headed to?”
“China?” Yoh ventured, clamming up again when Sakazaki said “Wrong!” with relish, adjusting the fabric clasps on his robes.
“Hong Kong!” Tao suddenly screeched (Asami winced). “Yes! Yes yes yes!”
“Wrong!” Sakazaki shouted over him. “And please show some decorum, Li-kun.”
“Korea?” Sudou blurted, an anticipatory light shining in his eyes. “DrakeEnema have a lot of fans in Korea,” he added.
“As much as I’d like to see you all sent to a North Korean gulag,” Sakazaki mused, “that is not the correct answer. Either Korea,” he interjected, when Shibata opened her mouth.
Drawn out silence followed this last quashed guess. Takaba just hoped this bit would be edited out of the show — he had a feeling they were all looking like idiots at this point.
“Oh come on,” Sakazaki growled. “What kind of underfunded public schools did you morons go to?”
Asami adjusted his stance slightly, gazing over all their heads at the night sky in private amusement.
Takaba heard Fei Long take a deep breath. “Taiwan.”
“Finally!” Sakazaki groused, then seemed to realise how that had sounded. “Correct! Well done, Liu-san.”
“Look excited!” barked the director. “Squeal like you mean it.”
“Don’t jump around though,” Sakazaki smirked. Takaba wondered what that meant. He didn’t have to wait long, though, because as soon as the cameras had recorded enough of the contestants cheering half-heartedly, Sakazaki stepped closer to the pond.
The others must have recognised the sudden change in atmosphere, because a hush fell almost immediately over the bridge. Of course, not all them would be going to Taiwan with Asami. But now that he noticed, the usual vase of tulips was missing, and Asami had his hands folded casually into his jacket pockets. As though he were merely content to watch what was unfolding in front of him.
“But who will be going to Taiwan for the romantic holiday of a lifetime, and who will be rejected? I can reveal now that Asami-san has already finished his deliberations. In fact, your fate was decided before you even ascended the bridge tonight. And let me tell you, some of you are about to find yourselves in very deep water.”
The hell? Takaba wondered, a second before the screech of juddering steel sounded below him. One by one, the bridge’s panels dropped away beneath the contestants’ feet, cries and screams splitting the air as they plunged into the pond.
Takaba grabbed onto the bridge’s rail on instinct, bracing himself for when the panel beneath his feet would collapse and send him tumbling into the water after them. But it held fast.
“Congratulations, Sudou-san, Liu-san and Takaba-kun,” Sakazaki called over the noise of splashing and curses below the bridge. Takaba, unwilling to let go of the bannister, glanced to either side. The panels supporting Fei Long and Sudou hadn’t fallen away, either.
“You are the final three contestants on Japan’s No.1 Handsome Confirmed Bachelor!”