Fandom: Viewfinder (Finder no Hyouteki/Finder series) by Yamane Ayano
Warnings: This chapter ends in a cliffie. Which you’re probably expecting by now, because I am a terrible person.
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: Special thanks to one of my betas, lesbia, for providing some much-needed quality control on this chapter at 3am…despite having 35 lines of Old English to translate for her class at 8am the next day ^^; Anyway, thanks as always for your patience between updates. I’m moving back to Taiwan this Monday (which definitely, totally, undoubtedly has nothing to do with being able to do better location research for this fic :P). So no promises about when I’ll be able to post the next chapter, but I’ll do my best! *faints*
“Don’t you think someone should re-write these?” Sakazaki asked over dinner that night, gesturing in the direction of Sudou with his cue cards.
For a moment Takaba was sure Mitarai would say what everyone was thinking — that Sudou’s “fainting spell” during the entree was about as real as his peroxide-blond hair — but their producer only rolled his eyes. “The writers are all off on a bender somewhere. Besides, we can’t keep re-writing your intro every time something unexpected happens.” He cut his eyes to Glasses, seated on Asami’s left and staring at his former boss with an intensity usually reserved for religious visions.
Or ‘current boss’, Takaba should day, seeing as sometime between his fleeing the hotel’s spa and dinner beginning Glasses had convinced Asami to give him his old job back. Which thankfully meant that Glasses was too blissed out to stay mad at Takaba for leading him on a wild goose chase. Fei Long, on the other hand…
Takaba risked a glance at him across the table, and — yep, still using his eyes as death rays. Takaba looked down at his plate, annoyed. How long could someone stay angry at the person who’d accidentally led a drunken, incensed love rival into the middle of their hot rock massage? It wasn’t like one of Fei Long’s eyes looked any less hydrated for being momentarily deprived of its cucumber.
“Ah, I’m feeling dizzy again,” moaned Sudou, clutching his flushed face (which had remained such a consistent shade of pink over the last few hours that Takaba suspected rouge was at work). “Asami-san, please…”
Brow furrowed, Asami reached behind Glasses and patted Sudou on the shoulder. One of the on-call medics rushed over again, offering Sudou an oxygen mask and suggesting he leave dinner early to lie down.
“No!” barked the director. “No more delays! Let’s get this shitshow wrapped up so I can go to bed.”
“It’s all right,” Sudou said in a high, feeble voice, angling his head towards the cameraman hovering nearby to capture every moment of this ‘medical emergency’. “It’s just been a tiring day. But after years of hard work in the entertainment industry, I know better than most: the show must go on.”
Takaba sighed into his milk tea until it was frothing with matcha-tinted bubbles.
“All right, I’ll just use the old intro and you can frankenbite my audio like you always do, anyway,” said Sakazaki, clearing his throat. “Kirishima, get lost while we finish filming.”
Lips pressed together, Glasses rose and left the table. Sudou slipped into his empty seat without delay.
“I never thought I’d feel grateful for your impatience, Sakazaki,” remarked Asami, smiling wryly. “Do continue.”
Sakazaki ignored him, adjusting his ascot and waiting for the director to give him the go-ahead. “Gentlemen and Asami-san! I’d like to use this sumptuous dinner as an opportunity to formally welcome you to Taiwan, this season’s location for our Sensual Exotic Date Week! You’ve all survived numerous trials on your journey here, from extreme hiking to extreme cooking, extreme interior decorating to whatever extremes will await your next, here.”
Well trained by now, Takaba, Fei Long and Sudou all made appropriately excited noises, though Sudou added a hysterical little trilling sound while clutching his head.
“Though you can only spend one week here,” Sakazaki went on, “you now have the opportunity for unparalleled access to our bachelor, Asami-san. At last, each of you will be allowed an entire day to enjoy his company on a solo date! And if all goes well, and both parties clear their health check-up,” he paused to chuckle to himself, “you may spend the night together in the special Ecstasy Suite we’ve prepared for you! That’s right, nights of blistering passion await you — but! While each of you are guaranteed one day to prove your worth as a future spouse, which day your date falls on…will make all the difference.”
Their director called cut as soon as the ominous quality of Sakazaki’s pause started feeling forced instead. Ushered away from the table, Takaba and the others were made to wait as servers came forward to clear away plates and remove the table cloth. Beneath the linen, the table was a solid metal block with stubby legs, like a water trough with a flat lid.
“Okay, get a camera on this, we’re opening it up.”
“Oh,” Takaba breathed, as the top of the table was lifted away to reveal a deep channel of bright blue water inside the table.
“They really don’t have many original ideas, do they,” Fei Long murmured, flicking back a lock of his hair. On the other side of the table-trough, Sudou remained silent, though Takaba couldn’t help but think his eyes were too sharp and calculating for someone who’d supposedly been seconds away from unconsciousness a couple minutes ago.
The assistants came forward again to dump several dozen plastic, floating lotuses in the channel, though it wasn’t until Takaba noticed them dropping in three miniature dragon boats — each sprouting an antenna from its stern — that he began to suspect what was about to happen.
Sakazaki swept forward as soon as filming resumed. “As you can see, this is not a mere table. It is, in fact, a battleground. Each of you will gain control of one of these boats, but only the first to reach the other end shall claim victory! Victory, and the choice of which of the following three days you wish to woo Asami-san on.”
Personally, Takaba didn’t think being given the option to plan out his calendar in advance was much incentive to humiliate himself on national television, much less in a motorised dragon boat race. Then again, judging by Fei Long and Sudou’s fervent expressions, it would probably give him an advantage in terms of strategy. Even if Takaba’s only strategy so far had been to fail epically at every task set before him.
Takaba accepted his remote control, turning slightly to catch a glimpse of Asami out of the corner of his eye. The lawyer looked comfortable, smoking an after-dinner (and blatantly illegal indoor) cigarette outside the range of the cameras. He looked like he was settling in for some entertainment at everybody else’s expense.
Just like on the plane over here, Takaba thought, gritting his teeth. Well, let’s see just how amused he’d be when Takaba refused to be the victim of everybody’s ridicule for once!
“Bring it on,” Takaba muttered, shuffling to the end of the water channel where their dragon boats were bobbing around in a messy line. Fei Long shot him a curious glance as he stepped in beside him, but Takaba ignored him. The red stripe on his blocky remote control matched the red stripe on the little dragon boat penned in by the other two, and a floating lotus was blocking the way immediately in front of it. He’d have to guide the boat around the obstacle if he were to pull ahead early.
“Wish me luck, Asami-san!” called Sudou, having finally slunk over to join them. Behind the cameras, Asami raised an eyebrow and blew a sinuous stream of smoke through his mouth.
Sakazaki positioned himself by the ‘finish line’. “Remember, the first boat to touch the other end of our river here, wins. On my count, now. Three…two…one — !”
Like a duck carving a swathe through the water, Fei Long’s dragon boat shot ahead. Takaba jammed his thumb on the joystick, but he hadn’t anticipated how damn fast the boat would be: it rammed straight into the first lotus.
Sudou chuckled, jostling Takaba’s boat into the side of the trough when he tried again to steer around the flower. “Oops.”
“Liu-san has an early lead!” Sakazaki called out, though Takaba tuned out any further commentary, trying desperately to get his uncooperative boat to stop swimming straight into every damn lotus.
“Stop sideswiping me,” he snapped at Sudou, who had snuck up behind him again to slam his boat into the edge of the channel. His poor antenna was already crooked.
“So sorry, Takaba-kun,” Sudou murmured, clipping Takaba as he steered his boat around a devilish line of four lotuses blocking all but a narrow passageway through the water. “I don’t seem to be very good at this, do I?”
Bullshit. But Takaba didn’t have time to call foul, he had to get his boat through that gap if he was going to stay in the race. He flicked his joystick to the left, wincing as his boat emitted a staticky sound of duress. It finally moved, sluggishly and off-kilter, but close enough that he thought he’d make it, if he could just nudge it forward a little more…
With a crash that echoed against the trough’s steep walls, Sudou crashed into the back of Takaba’s boat. Its antenna snapped clear off.
“Liu Fei Long wins the race! Congratulations!” cried Sakazaki, at the same time Takaba’s boat tipped sideways in the water and finally went straight — to the bottom of the channel. “How are the others faring? Ah.”
Takaba turned on Sudou furiously. But before he could so much as lob his remote control at the prick’s coiffed head, Sakazaki came over to inspect the damage. “Well, seeing as neither has reached the finish line, but Takaba-kun has managed to sink his boat, I think it’s safe to say that Sudou-san is the runner-up by default.”
“Thank you, Sakazaki-san,” replied Sudou, ducking his head. “And my deepest apologies to Takaba-san. I fear my hand-eye coordination has suffered after my dizzy spell earlier.”
“Very understandable. Now, as we get this cleared away, it’s time for the big decisions. Liu-san, on which day would you like to step out with Asami-san?”
Fei Long, sitting primly on a chair by the finish line, looked over to catch Asami’s eye. Having finished his cigarette, the bastard had stepped into the range of the cameras again. Something silent passed between them. “The third day. Just before the day of the Final Tulip.”
“A wise choice, I’m sure.” Sakazaki turned to Sudou, angling himself in front of Takaba as he did so. Which was just as well for Sudou’s continued existence. “And you, Sudou-san?”
“Tomorrow, the first day. If it would please Asami-san, that is.”
Sakazaki barked a laugh. “Oh, I’m sure it would. You seem very confident, Sudou-san. You’re not at all worried that our bachelor will forget you after the two dates following yours?”
Sudou cocked his head, smiling coyly. “I have nothing to be worried about. Not when I’m going to give Asami-san a night that will be impossible to forget.”
“Stop sulking.” Takaba watched Fei Long’s reflection in the hotel’s rain-fogged window as he rose gracefully from the bed. “You should have enough self-respect to stop moping like a spoilt teenager.”
“I’m not moping, I’m watching TV.” Though Takaba couldn’t actually bring himself to turn around in his chair and fake-watch the screen. The rise and fall of voices and cartoonish sound effects on the local talk show had become a comforting kind of background chatter over the past few hours. He’d long since given up on concentrating on anything other than his water-streaked view.
Fei Long was too dignified to snort, even if the noise he made sounded an awful lot like one. “I’m changing the channel back to NHK. My Mandarin’s better than yours, obviously, but this drivel is giving me a headache.”
“I thought you were Chinese,” Takaba said, craning his neck around to watch Fei Long circle the room and flop backwards onto the bed again, kicking off his slippers and stretching luxuriantly. More and more Takaba was starting to believe he was actually sharing accommodations with a finicky cat.
“Once again, I struggle to understand how a well-travelled flight attendant can be such an uneducated moron. Then again, you work for a budget airline.”
Takaba swallowed down his indignation with difficulty. “Once again, Fei Long, I struggle to understand how you can act like you’re my superior when you’re the one who’s been sulking in bed all day, refusing to eat.”
“Oh, like you’re not just as tormented as I am, thinking of what Asami-san at this very moment is doing with him. And now that night has fallen, it brings about thoughts of other things they could be doing together, doesn’t it?” Takaba turned back to the window in lieu of a reply, and Fei Long barked a laugh. “Say what you will about Sudou, at least he’s sincere in his desire to win. You don’t even know what you’re still doing here, do you, Takaba?”
“None of your business,” Takaba muttered, drawing up his legs and wrapping his arms around them. Who cared if he looked defensive, it was cold in the room. And Fei Long was clearly too busy needling Takaba to do anything useful like turning down the air con.
“A lot of people who wanted to be here aren’t because you never stopped being a coward enough to leave of your own accord. And yet it’s clear to anyone who looks at you that you wish you were anywhere else right now.”
“Not true,” Takaba muttered, struggling down from his window seat on legs full of pins and needles. He wasn’t going to just sit there and take all the complaints about him Fei Long had been apparently cataloguing for weeks. Even if that meant hiding in the bathroom for a while. Or better yet, taking a very long, very cold shower until his hands were too wrinkled and shaky to form the fist he was dearly considering planting in Fei Long’s self-righteous face.
But before he could get even halfway across the room, Fei Long slipped off the bed and stood to block him. This close, Takaba realised that the other man wasn’t just trying to get a rise out of him for his own amusement — he was angry. Beneath the pristine, unflustered façade he constantly wore, Takaba caught a glimpse of barely-contained emotion.
Emotion that did not bode well for Takaba.
“What?” he challenged, wincing at how diffident he sounded.
“I don’t understand what Asami-san sees in a little brat like you,” Fei Long mused, the brief hint of raw emotion quickly subsumed by the man’s usual haughtiness. “A boy with no discernible talents, wasting his parents’ dedication and resources on a vapid job as a glorified waiter.”
“You — ” Takaba cut himself off, feeling his blood pressure rise dangerously.
“Oh?” Fei Long raised one scythe-sharp brow. “What has you all fired up?”
Someone knocked on the door.
After a tense pause, Fei Long directed whoever it was to enter. “Uh…excuse me?” One of the junior producers poked his head around the door, a cameraman visible over his shoulder. “Sorry to disturb you, Liu-san, Takaba-san. But Shinotake-sensei asked us to film you two while you were waiting for Sudou-san’s date to finish…er…should I come back?”
Takaba let out the breath he’d been holding in, trying to will his heart to stop pounding. Had he really been about to attack Fei Long? Fei Long, the man who had probably trained Tao in the fifteen most painful ways to throttle someone to death?
“Not at all,” Fei Long replied coolly. “Please, come in.”
They watched as the producer walked around the room, looking for a suitable backdrop to film them against before pulling one of the chairs away from the suite’s desk so they had somewhere to sit during their by-now-routine daily interview.
With the suite’s other occupants safely out of range, Fei Long leaned down to whisper in Takaba’s ear. “You should just leave, Takaba.” He tapped one painted nail against Takaba’s bare arm, digging it in when Takaba didn’t reply. “For everyone’s sake, you should recuse yourself now. No one will miss you.”
He was probably right, Takaba thought gloomily. But the words crystallised something else in Takaba’s mind, and screwing up the last of his courage, he turned to look Fei Long dead in the eye. “I won’t. I won’t, because if I do, Asami will be stuck with one of you.”
Takaba was busy picking cherry tomatoes out of his breakfast salad the next morning when Sudou made his way into the contestants’ private dining room, looking refreshed and tousle-haired. A cameraman followed him in, which made Takaba suspect that Sudou sitting down at the table directly across from him was something set up by the show’s (evil) invisible writers.
Lounging outside on the terrace, Fei Long ignored them entirely.
“Have a good night, Takaba-kun?” Sudou said. “Not too sleepless, I hope?”
“It was just great,” Takaba replied, holding out his glass for the dining room’s waiter to refill it with orange juice. “Can I get another bowl of misoshiru? Thanks.”
“I’ll have some rice and an omelette, please,” Sudou smiled, handing the hotel’s special order menu to the waiter before fixing his attention on Takaba again. “I usually forgo carbohydrates in the morning, but considering how much exercise I got last night…well, it wouldn’t be very decorous of me to go into detail, would it?”
Takaba clenched his teeth and focused his attention on mangling his salad instead. Despite himself, he wished Fei Long would come back inside so he and Sudou could snark at each other and leave Takaba alone. Sudou was obviously trying to throw him, get him in the wrong headspace, before his date with Asami. Well, Takaba wasn’t an idiot, and he’d show Sudou and that prying camera that nothing could rile him up today. Not even thoughts of exactly what kind of ‘exercise’ Sudou and Asami had been participating in last night…ugh.
“Sir? Your miso soup.”
“Oh,” Takaba said, surprised when the waiter plunked down a silver tray with a domed lid beside his salad. His first bowl of miso had been delivered in just that — a bowl. But before Takaba could ask, the waiter swept away and into an adjoining room.
Sudou snorted. “You’re really very gullible, Takaba-kun. It’s obviously your date card under there.”
And while Takaba hated to prove the snake right, when he whipped off the lid, there it was. A handwritten note on pink card stock, signed with a flourish and the English letters ‘R. A.’
“You shouldn’t look so disappointed,” Sudou advised, more than loud enough for their microphones to pick up. “People will think you’re disappointed it wasn’t actually some soup under there, instead of Asami-san’s gracious invitation. That isn’t true, is it?”
“What does it say?” Fei Long interrupted from the threshold of the terrace’s doorway, abandoning his pretence at boredom. “Read it out.”
Takaba picked the card up and frowned at it. Yet more proof that Asami was an ancient fogey way too old for him: his handwriting was all but illegible. “‘Zip up your jacket, you’re in for the ride of your life.’ Jacket? I’m not even wearing one…”
“Better go put one on then,” Sudou sighed, leaning back in his chair and stretching indolently. “Sounds like you’re going somewhere cold. A shark tank, perhaps? Or a meat packing factory?”
It was still a couple hours before Takaba was supposed to rendezvous in the lobby with the crew for the start of his and Asami’s ‘date day’, but then again, he wasn’t about to pass up a chance to escape forced social interaction with Sudou and Fei Long.
“See you later,” Takaba said, standing and folding his cloth napkin distractedly. “Break a leg!” he heard Sudou call on his way out.
Back in the discreetly-lit corridor leading from their private dining room, Takaba was momentarily torn between going back to their suite to change or just finding one of the hotel’s many secluded relaxation nooks and picking up something to read (or taking, given how supernaturally comfortable the chairs and lounges were, a nap). He decided on the latter when he noticed a gaggle of Japanese tourists near the bank of elevators. That was one definite downside to staying in a place popular with cashed-up business people from his home country: some of them actually recognised him from Confirmed Bachelor’s website or the publicity campaign already beginning in the major cities.
He made a u-turn away from the elevators and turned a corner, walking quickly down a corridor he vaguely remembered ending in a cosy library with two tiers of bookshelves and enough couches to sack out on. It was as he was passing a wall of doors that matched the wall (utility closets?) that he heard the click.
Takaba paused, glancing around. There was no-one and nothing on the long stretch of shiny parquet floor behind him that could account for the sound. But then he heard a drawn-out scuffling noise, like shoe soles scraping across wood.
“Hello?” he called, his voice almost drowned out by a sudden upswell of strings from the classical music being piped through the hotel’s speakers. “Uh…Ni hao?”
“Takaba?” whispered a voice, the accent distinctly Japanese. Takaba wheeled around, looking for its source. It was then that he noticed the gap between one of the closet doors and the wall, the narrow seam between them dark. Was someone hiding behind it, waiting for him?
“Please, quickly,” said the voice, and Takaba took a wary step closer. The voice was familiar, but he couldn’t quite place it. Both Sudou and Fei Long were back in the dining room, and the voice definitely didn’t belong to either Suoh or Glasses. Could one of the show’s other former contestants have followed them to Taiwan? “Please,” begged the voice, hitching on a sob.
His emergency training kicking into gear, and suddenly worried that someone had been tied up behind the door — trapped there for who knew how long — Takaba lurched forward and slipped his hand into the gap between the door and wall, pulling it wide.
He had a split second between opening the door and the room beyond flooding with borrowed light to notice the man in goggles, before hands grabbed him and wrenched him inside. Everything went dark.