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: Sorry about this fic’s unexpected hiatus >< If things go well I’ll be able to post more frequently again for the foreseeable future.
Four hours after the Tulip Ceremony ended, the remaining contestants were bundled onto a chartered flight to Taipei.
“We could have at least waited until the morning,” Sudou complained, swiping concealer on the bags under his eyes from a private make up arsenal.
Mitarai, looking more like a grizzled neolithic hunter-gatherer by the hour, ducked around his headrest to glare at Sudou through the cabin’s murky light. “Yeah? You offering to underwrite another night in that fucking fortress, Sudou? Or do you want to go on holiday and buy the shit out of some souvenir fridge magnets? Huh?”
“I’ve been to Taiwan before.” Sudou closed his compact with a snap. “I much prefer South Korea — they understand the value of beauty there.”
Even though he was supposedly fast asleep across a row of seats at the back of the plane, Takaba could have sworn he heard Fei Long mutter something that sounded like “plastic surgery”.
Sighing, Takaba wriggled in his seat and tried to find a comfortable position for sleep. To be honest, even though he’d been going stir crazy in there for weeks, Takaba wouldn’t have minded a final night in the compound. For one thing, it was shame that his last memory of the other contestants was of them splashing around in the pond while the cameramen zoomed in on Shibata’s soaked shirt and Kuroda vented his rejection by punching a koi. At least he’d spent a few last moments with Tao while they packed up their room (even if most of that had been Tao hissing threats of bodily harm and/or a campaign of hateful voicemail messages if Takaba dared to lose the competition and not send ‘Fei-sama’ back to him safe and sound).
“I’ll have the chicken and rice please, steward.”
The voice startled Takaba out of the light doze he’d fallen into. When he looked up blearily, it was to find Sudou looming over him with a smile, his lips shiny beneath a fresh layer of lip gloss. “Wha-?”
“And some red wine, I think. What’s for dessert?”
When Takaba finally realised what Sudou was insinuating, he felt himself flush. What made it worse was that ever since they’d boarded the flight he had felt an intermittent compulsion to get off his lazy arse and serve the passengers their dinner. Or at least some complimentary peanuts. Ugh.
“You’re not a very good flight attendant, Takaba-kun,” Sudou went on, when it was clear Takaba wasn’t going to reply. “What would your supervisor say if he knew?”
“Go serve yourself,” Takaba muttered, flinching when Mitarai suddenly popped up like a whack-a-mole from behind his headrest again.
“If you two don’t shut up and let me…Takaba! What the hell is that on your chin?”
Takaba swiped at his face in confusion, freezing when he felt something —
“Oh dear,” murmured Sudou. “I think that’s the most protuberant zit I’ve ever seen. It’s like a little Mt Fuji has sprouted out of your face!”
“Shinotake-sensei!” Mitarai called to the director. “Come look at Takaba’s face. Looks like we’re gonna need to hire some extra make up artists once we land…”
At the sight of their director and one of the cameramen lurching out of their seats to come ogle him, Takaba took action. He reached into the seat pocket in front of him, ripping the plastic wrapping off the air sickness bag and cramming it over his head. It tore open at the sides, but at least it covered the front of his face. Sort of. Though Takaba soon realised that not even the patches of darkness in front of his eyes could erase the mental image of Asami, two rows ahead, neatly folding his newspaper and sitting back to enjoy the spectacle.
Their hotel, when they arrived in Taipei, was tucked into a neighbourhood side street between a McDonald’s and a Family Mart convenience store. The building itself was worn and water-damaged and looked like nothing more than an abandoned warehouse — albeit one that was ten storeys high. Takaba felt his hopes wither as they waited for the taxi drivers to unload their luggage, and could only partly blame his low spirits on exhaustion. If he, Takaba —barely reformed Yokohama delinquent of old — was less than impressed with their new digs, how on earth would fancy-pantses like Sudou and Fei Long react? Let alone Asami, whose tie clips probably cost more than the down payment on Takaba’s apartment.
Just as well, then, that the hotel’s interior turned out to be nothing like its façade.
“Shut your mouth, Takaba,” Mitarai groaned, dragging his pre-wheel era bag into the hotel’s expansive, glittering lobby. It screeched along the marble. “You look like a brainless catfish. With a giant zit instead of whiskers.”
Takaba closed his mouth. For a second. “But I thought, when we were outside — ”
“Yeah, yeah, we’re taking exterior shots of the Grand Hotel, but this is where we’re sleeping.”
And Takaba was grateful that they were all being put up in a classy hotel (even if it was a classy hotel with an outside like a deserted chemical manufacturer) — but did they really have to share a room?
“Queen size,” Sudou complained, shoving past the attendant as soon as she opened the door at the very end of a purple-carpeted hallway on the fifth floor. He pointed the porter to the bed closest to the suite’s window, which showed nothing but grey skies and a vertiginous drop onto the roof of the neighbouring building.
“Hold up, Sudou.” Sakazaki stuck his head through a door in the room’s intervening wall. “This is a suite, so you’re in here. With me.”
“Fabulous,” Sudou muttered, while Takaba recovered from the near heart attack he’d had at the sudden thought of having to share a room with Sakazaki. At least their host had been avoiding him ever since That Night back at the compound. Initially, Takaba had wondered if the reprieve had something to do with Asami. Though now, of course, the idea that Asami would stick his neck out for Takaba’s sake seemed ludicrous.
As soon as Sudou left the room, Fei Long wasted no time in staking a claim to the window-side bed.
“So,” Takaba sighed, then struggled not to start gaping again as a retinue of three porters arrived to haul in two pieces of Fei Long’s luggage — each. What, was the guy planning to set up a subsidiary beauty salon in between location filming?
But Fei Long shot him a sharp look before he could make any comment. He went into the en suite bathroom, and five minutes later came back out dressed in a pair of loose pants and a turquoise silk shirt. He left the room without another word, rolled up yoga mat slung over his shoulder like a pastel pool noodle.
“So,” Takaba said.
As they weren’t filming the new Confirmed Bachelor episode until later in the evening, Takaba decided to go outside and explore until he felt tired enough for an afternoon nap.
Each of the contestants had only been given the equivalent of about three thousand yen in spending money, but as it turned out, a thousand Taiwanese dollars was more than enough to buy milk tea and some Pocky from the Family Mart next to the hotel. Takaba spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the neighbourhood, getting used to the milder weather and the constant roar of scooter traffic zooming past on the road and, on one death-defying occasion, the sidewalk.
It was as he was buying some local pastry-type thing from a guy with a portable deep fryer (and wondering if he was about to contract food poisoning) that Takaba spotted it. A conspicuous tuft of bleached blond hair peeking over the top an outdoor display shelf belonging the bookstore on the corner. It was an extremely familiar tuft of hair.
Quickly paying for his food, Takaba made his way over to the bookstore with narrowed eyes, ignoring the grease that was soon soaking his fingers through the pastry’s paper sleeve. He reached the bookstore and made way for a group of chatting teenagers, before approaching the shelf and peering around it to see —
“Ah-ha!” he blurted, too distracted by the adrenaline of being right to care about drawing attention to himself.
Because there he was: Suoh, the suit-clad giant, hunched awkwardly behind one of the bookshelves cluttering up the shopfront. For someone who seemed to live and breathe professional security, he was pretty crappy at stealth.
“I knew it was you! What are you even doing in Taiwan?” Suoh didn’t reply. “Don’t tell me you decided to follow Mikhail’s lead and start stalking Fei Long on your own time. Or, uh, Asami?” Come to think, Suoh had never seemed very smitten with their bachelor. If pressed, Takaba would have pegged the man’s attraction to those around him at about the same level as Takaba’s sexual interest in houseplants.
But Suoh remained silent. He stared stonily over Takaba’s shoulder and slowly relaxed out of his crouch, as if Takaba hadn’t just caught him trying and failing to shield his enormous, woollen-clad bulk behind a shelf of cooking magazines.
“Pretending you don’t know me? Fine, then. Have fun staring into space all day.” But as Takaba turned to leave, he heard a deep rumbling, grating sound. Apparently that was what passed for the man’s voice. “What?”
“I’m on holiday,” Suoh repeated.
Stuffing the by-now mushy pastry into his mouth, Takaba treated that excuse with the respect it deserved. He walked away.
Seeing that he still had several hours to kill before he was due to meet the others for dinner, Takaba made his way to the hotel’s bar to cash in his complimentary drink coupon. The place wasn’t that busy in the early afternoon, but the bartender spoke good Japanese and Takaba was privately relieved to have found somewhere to recharge before that night’s filming. He couldn’t bring himself to go back to the suite yet, not when Fei Long or Sudou might be there, ready and willing to flay him with their contempt. Or worse, have Sakazaki suddenly waltzing in to demand he compliment the man’s latest revolting dinner jacket…
Takaba jumped, immediately wishing he’d given the bar’s other occupants more than a cursory glance when he came in. Already dreading what he’d see, Takaba swivelled around to face the man sitting two barstools away. Well, shit.
“I shoulda known,” Glasses slurred, half-slumped over the bar. The glass tumbler squeaked in his white-knuckled grip.
“Should’ve known what?” Takaba asked warily, discarding his real question, which was Why the hell aren’t you in Japan? Maybe he and Suoh had gotten some kind of two-for-one deal on flights?
“I shoulda known,” Glasses said again, sliding off his stool and staggering towards Takaba, “that you’d come to stop me.”
Takaba shuffled back to the edge of his own stool. “Er — ”
“But you can’t, see,” Glasses rasped, spectacles fogging up as he exhaled deeply. “It’s too late, ‘m already here. No more students, never talking! Not never helping. Just dis-disappearing after they get the, uh, essay topic. Little…big bastards. Big. No more As for them now! Haha!”
Before Takaba could even try to figure out what the hell that meant, Glasses lurched forward. Takaba leapt back off his stool, throwing up his hands in case the man made a grab for him. But Glasses only braced himself on the bar, panting as a hazy expression overtook his face. Using the man’s distraction, Takaba quickly fished around in pocket for money to pay his tab.
“Oi. Oi, Tata-takaba.”
Takaba ignored him, slapping the notes down on the bar and calling to the barman, “Here, keep the change!”
Channelling all his self-control into overcoming his instinct to run, Takaba marched to the bar’s exit without a backward glance. But just as he the doors, the sound of heavy footsteps rushed up behind him and arms snuck around his sides. “Argh!” Cinching his waist, Glasses collapsed against his back. “Get off me, you crazy drunk!”
“Where’s he?” Glasses slurred, clinging to him until Takaba’s legs started to shake with the effort of holding up their combined weight. “Where’s the boss?”
“I don’t know, we don’t share a room!”
“The desk,” Glasses groaned, reacting to Takaba’s frantic attempt to disentangle them by tightening his grip. “Wouldn’ tell me his room number.”
“You’re making a scene,” Takaba hissed as his knees threatened to buckle. “Please, get off! I’ll tell you, I’ll tell you, just let me go, please.”
Much too slowly for Takaba’s liking, Glasses withdrew his arms by jerky increments and staggered backwards. “Where?” This close, the crazed glint through Glasses’ fogged-up spectacles was almost enough to send Takaba fleeing again. Maybe he’d be lucky and on their way through the lobby, Glasses would go careening into a potted ficus.
“Why do you want to know?” he asked instead. Glasses’ eyes narrowed, hand twitching up in warning. “I mean! Okay, it’s just, the director doesn’t know you’re here, right? I could get in trouble for leading you straight to Asami. Given that he’s such a precious commodity and all.”
“Listen to me, you bratty little upstart!” Takaba blinked, wondering where Glasses’ slur had disappeared to. “If you don’t do this for me right now, as soon as you win this piece of shit competition and we get back to Tokyo, I’m going to make your life a seething hell. When I set my sights on your plain little face and your fake ratty hair, not even the boss’ protection can save you!”
“Right, er,” Takaba pointed vaguely. “Right this way.”
One good thing about leading around a half-drunk, half-mental person: he wasn’t likely to notice that you had no idea where you were going. They had the elevator to themselves, small mercy, and Glasses didn’t seem at all suspicious when Takaba hesitated before pressing the button for a floor at complete random.
The elevator opened onto an unfamiliar, cream-carpeted hallway, and Takaba noticed that the ornate doors were spaced much farther apart here than on their suite’s floor.
“This way,” Takaba said, aiming for a breezy confidence. “We’re all staying in the room at the end.”
“Wait,” Glasses grabbed his arm when Takaba tried to turn back to the elevator. “What’s that sign outside the door?”
“Er.” Because there was one, he now noticed, along with one of those red ropes they used to corral throngs of excited spectators at celebrity events. “It’s just telling people not to go inside. In case we’re filming. Or something.”
“Show me,” Glasses demanded, shaking Takaba’s arm. “Take me there yourself.”
Crap crap crap, went Takaba’s private mantra, helpless to do anything but let himself be dragged along behind Glasses as he staggered down the hallway. At the far end, the man didn’t pause to read the sign; he simply swept away the red rope like he was brushing away a cobweb. Takaba winced as it crashed to the floor, but Glasses already had his free hand on the doorknob, jiggling it until the door swung open on well-oiled hinges.
Soft rainforest music wafted out into the hallway, followed by a cloud of jasmine perfume and artificial humidity.
“This is…a salon,” Glasses murmured, incredulous. With terrifying slowness, he swivelled his head around to stare down at Takaba. The fingers wrapped around his arm clenched with bruising strength. “This. is. a salon!”
Disrupted by the noise, the figure covered in hot rocks on the massage table closest to the door raised his head, a cucumber slice falling off his right eye.
“Oh no,” Takaba moaned.
“Fei Long!” Glasses called to the man on the table. “Where is Asami-sama!”
Takaba elbowed Glasses in the stomach and ran for his life.