Fandom: Viewfinder (Finder no Hyouteki/Finder series) by Yamane Ayano
Warnings: N/A for this chapter.
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: I’m looking for some reader input on something that comes up in a future chapter (I’d mention it here, but that would be a tad spoiler-y for this chapter). So I’ve put it in a note at the end of this post instead :) Have a read and see if any inspiration hits!
In Takaba’s (admittedly limited) life experience, a sudden demand to talk was usually a sign that no good, very bad, terrible things were about to happen. Specifically, to him. Never mind that this was Fei Long, a man who’d never made any secret of the fact he thought Takaba had about as much business competing on Confirmed Bachelor as a sea sponge. Still, if this was happening — and he didn’t see how it wouldn’t be, not when Fei Long had him cornered, a mysterious, probably weaponised package tucked under his arm — Takaba wouldn’t spend another second cowering. This was his room. Well, Asami’s room, but it was his at the moment, and damned if he let wouldn’t let Fei Long or anyone else trample over him again.
So when Fei Long sauntered over to the desk and pulled its chair up to the coffee table, looking meaningfully at the vacant armchair, Takaba peeled himself off the window and lowered himself into it with as much dignity as a billowy white nightgown would allow him.
“What do you want?”
In lieu of a reply, Fei Long extracted the package from under his arm and placed it on the coffee table between them. And then proceeded to stare, silently and unnervingly, at Takaba’s face. Not long ago, that trail of eyes across his features, that obvious cataloguing of imperfections and inadequacies, would have made Takaba want to flee the room and curl up like a hedgehog.
Now, it just pissed him off.
“I guess you’ve come to tell me what a coward I am, that I should have died yesterday thanks to natural selection. Or are you here to demand I add you to the list of people I’m supposed to be grateful to?”
Fei Long snorted. The sound was so at odds with his usual demeanour that Takaba broke off, his rant losing steam before he could really get going. “Don’t treat me like one of those clueless idiots.” He tucked a silky strand of jet-black hair behind his ear, fixing Takaba with a stare. Not for the first time, Takaba was alarmed by how pretty the man’s eyes were. His whole face, its lines as smooth and regular as a classical portrait. Sometimes it was too easy to forget that beneath Fei Long’s beauty lurked a burning will.
“Sudou Shuu has been trying to remove you from this competition from the very beginning. Though even I never imagined he’d grow so brazen. Believe me, Takaba, if I were trying to bump you off, I’d be much more subtle about it.”
And that’s supposed to be reassuring? Takaba’s brain squawked. But that didn’t matter, not when — “You believe me?” Before he could stop himself, Takaba was surging forward in his seat, desperately searching Fei Long’s face for any sign of mockery. “Then you know it was Sudou who spiked my drink?”
“As I said, unlike most of the people I’m forced to interact with on this accursed television show, I’m not an oblivious fool. And if I were you, Takaba, I’d change into something actually resembling clothing and seek my revenge immediately. You’re running out of time if you want to finish Sudou off before the final tulip ceremony. If you don’t do it, surely he will, and soon. Do you have another auto-injector for your allergy?”
“No,” Takaba said warily. “Why?”
“Aim for his jugular, and everything will be over quickly. Perhaps he won’t even die. For someone like him, some sort of disfiguration would surely be just as effective a punishment as anything more…” Fei Long smirked. “…Permanent.”
“I’m not going to — I’m not a murderer!” Takaba spluttered. “How could you think that I’d…like maiming him is some sort of option.”
Fei Long sighed, the expensive fabric of his cream trousers drawing briefly taut over his toned thighs as he crossed his legs and leant back in his chair. Takaba swallowed and looked away, but that only made his eyes land on the V of bare skin left exposed by the man’s scandalously low-cut, lavender shirt. Seriously, for all that Fei Long was advising Takaba to go haring off and start stabbing people with his freaking EpiPen, the man himself looked completely relaxed. Sinfully relaxed. Almost…vacation-y.
“A tender heart never got anyone what they wanted, Takaba.”
“Yeah, well I’d have to have a tender brain to think attacking someone like Sudou Shuu would turn out well for me. The guy has a reserve army of millions of fangirls at his beck and call. He could just tweet my home address and I’d be dead within a day!”
“And you like to imagine yourself friendless and alone, don’t you?” Fei Long’s voice took on a bitter edge. “The better to feel sorry for yourself. Pitiful Takaba, everyone’s so cruel to him.”
What the hell do you know? Takaba wanted to snipe back. Liu Fei Long was rich, powerful, and had — well, he had that face. And hair so shiny it could probably reflect more light than the surface of the sun. But most importantly, he had people like Tao on his side, people who’d defend him to the death. And, as Takaba sadly knew from more than one close shave, people who’d willingly cause other people’s deaths if so much as the man’s name was defamed. And Fei Long seriously thought he was the underdog in this competition?
“What are you doing here?” Fei Long raised one pencil-thin brow, but Takaba wasn’t putting up with it. “Don’t look at me like that. You didn’t just come here to tell me I should kill Sudou.” Takaba’s eyes fell on the gift box, still lying between them on the table and looking, if it were possible, even more ominous for its twee wrapping. Please don’t tell me there’s a grenade in there. “Did you?”
Fei Long clasped his hands together in his lap, the whites of his knuckles belying his casual tone when he said, “I’ve come to inform you that I’m planning to withdraw from this competition. Effective immediately.”
“You’re — ” Takaba choked. Surely he’d misheard? Surely — “What?”
“The truth is,” Fei Long continued, still in that eerily light tone, “I have too much self-respect to continue pursuing someone who — does not return my interest. And while my participation in this program hasn’t been an entire waste of time given the publicity for my brand, recent events have made this decision unavoidable. So you see: I will reject Confirmed Bachelor, before he can reject me.”
The words…they sounded rehearsed, like Fei Long had put them together carefully in his head and then siphoned all the emotion out before they left his lips. But he had to be covering. From the very beginning, Fei Long had fought harder than almost any other contestant for Asami’s attention, and more honourably than Sudou ever had. Definitely more earnestly than Takaba had. It was obvious Fei Long and Asami had some sort of connection, so to just up and leave like this out of nowhere? Even if it was to save his pride…it didn’t make any sense!
“Recent events? I don’t understand.”
Fei Long’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t play dumb with me, Takaba. I’m doing you a favour. One that you’re making me regret with every passing moment.”
“Hey!” Takaba broke off when he caught the tightening of the other man’s mouth, the barely-concealed taint of pain in his eyes. He suddenly looked as though one poke would shatter the desperate armour he’d pulled around himself. “I’m not making fun of you,” he said quietly. “I just…you’re the best, the most worthy contestant on this show, Liu-san. Everyone knows that. I’m just shocked. Why are you quitting now, right before the end?”
“Because I will lose.”
“You can’t know that,” Takaba insisted, too caught off guard by Fei Long’s announcement to question how wise it was, trying to talk one of his rivals out of quitting the show of his own free will. “Who the heck knows what’s going through Asami’s head? Seriously, he’s more likely to give the final tulip to himself than he is to reject you.”
Actually, now that the possibility had dawned on Takaba, it made a scary kind of sense: Asami clearly idolised himself, so why not decide all the contestants were ultimately unworthy of him? He could just picture it now, Asami plucking the flower from its bowl and pinning it to his lapel, announcing, I choose me! Fufufu.
“Yes, well, not all of us had the luxury of being unconscious,” Fei Long snapped. Something Takaba had said must have mollified him, though, because he unclenched his hands and adopted a more relaxed pose — one that didn’t seem to indicate he was dangerously close to launching himself across the table and strangling Takaba.
“I was dy — ”
“And I was there. Had just finished performing for that passel of ingrate schoolchildren, in fact, only to descend the stage and find Asami storming out of the change room, slamming open every door in the hall until he found the one that was locked. I don’t know what possessed him, what made him so certain it was you behind it…Or even how he knew you were in peril, when the conclusion I would have drawn was that you were simply hiding from your responsibilities. In any case, he kicked the door down, until the wood cracked open and let him through.”
“H-he did?” Takaba squeaked.
A muscle ticked in Fei Long’s jaw, but he went on, as blandly as if he were relating the plot of a movie he’d seen years ago — one hadn’t cared for. “He was already kneeling over you when I arrived. It was soon obvious that no one could revive you by conventional means. Asami then asked after the whereabouts of your auto-injector. I suppose the obvious absence of life-saving medication is one advantage of being all but naked at your moment of death.”
Takaba couldn’t help but rankle at Fei Long’s tone, painfully banal even when he was describing Takaba’s near-demise to his face. “I had to leave it in the change room, all right? Producers’ orders.”
“Well, lucky for you then that Sudou happened to come in at that very moment with your missing auto-injector. He has a preternatural sense of timing, doesn’t he?”
Takaba couldn’t even dredge up a snort at that. He stared at his lap, all too easily imagining the act Sudou had put on as he swept in to ‘save’ Takaba. No wonder everyone thought the sun shone out of his arse. “How much of that did they get on camera?”
“Oh, all of it,” Fei Long said, raising a hand to examine his manicure — an affectation, because Takaba was pretty sure people like him had innately perfect (if not quite so pointy) nails. “Even so, they were planning to continue with the talent show. How, I don’t know. Propping you up with a hand-cart and finding a ventriloquist, perhaps. In any case, Asami managed to convince them that the footage they had of you gasping your last breaths was more than enough to fill an episode.”
His Though not soon enough to save me from having to perform for those snotty brats went unspoken. “Okay, but.” Takaba bit his lip. “Why are you telling me this? Isn’t it more your style to…” don’t say flounce, don’t say flounce “…leave secretly, without anyone knowing until it was too late to stop you?” Well, either that or make a dramatic exit in front of the cameras, metaphorical middle finger at full mast.
Fei Long leant forward and tapped the box sharply with his index claw. “I came to give you this.” Takaba mustn’t have done a very good job of hiding his shudder, because the other man huffed, and said, “It’s not for you, Takaba, it’s for the stylist tomorrow. Exclusive products from my self-titled collection of beauty essentials.” Takaba resisted the impulse to snap a hand over the proximate location of the Zit that Wouldn’t Quit the moment Fei Long’s eyes dropped to his chin. “She’s going to need it.”
“Since when do you have your own makeup line?”
“Since I decided I have suffered under the oppression of White Snake and the unreasonable demands of my family long enough. In that regard, this television show was a worthwhile endeavour. My face will now be recognisable to a broader audience in time for the premiere of my own show in the new year. The ink’s fresh on the contract, but it’s never too early to start recruitment. In fact,” he tapped his chin, “I can invite you on as my first guest, Takaba-kun. It will, after all, have a focus on the miraculous makeovers of everyday Japanese citizens — especially those with all the allure of a wizened kappa.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“Your hair, for example,” Fei Long said, reaching across the coffee table in a flash of movement that had a strand of Takaba’s bangs caught between his fingers before Takaba could even react. “Coarse, no lustre. Poorly cut. Have you ever considered dyeing it? I can picture you as a red-head. Come on my show and I’ll do it pro bono. Consider it a public service.”
“I have a strict dress code at work, you know.” He slapped Fei Long’s hand away. “And anyway, since when have you had time to sign a contract for a new TV show? Unless — unless that man with the beauty spot? The one you beat up on your date with Asami?” Fei Long’s eyes narrowed into slits. “Uh, I mean, that’s just the rumour I heard. Is he your agent or something?”
“No. He was…an envoy, from my family. Suffice it to say they were displeased when they heard that I was on the cusp of striking out on my own.” He smiled, but it was such a bitter, complicated twist of his features that Takaba decided, for once, to resist his curiosity and keep his trap shut.
The silence stretched between them. Takaba shifted in the chair, wondering how long Fei Long was planning to stay. Had he already booked a flight back to Tokyo? Or would he have to go to Hong Kong first, smooth things over with his no doubt equally terrifying family? If that’s why he was camped out in Asami’s room, frowning out the window, then Takaba could empathise.
“Uh…” Takaba said, ten minutes later when he couldn’t take the awkward quiet a second longer. “So. Good luck with your new show, I guess. I don’t watch much TV, but I’ll try to catch it when it comes on.” He managed a half-hearted grin. “I’m sure it’ll be great.”
Takaba’s voice seemed to finally snap Fei Long out of his reverie. Without replying, he stood and brushed his clothes down, smoothing out imaginary creases. And with it, the flashes of vulnerability Takaba had glimpsed, until the man that stood before him looked as aloof and unapproachable as an ice berg. “I’ll be going then.”
Takaba hurried to stand as well. “Thanks for the present.”
“I already said it wasn’t for you,” Fei Long glared. Things were back to usual, then. “It’s for the stylist — heavens help her. Don’t you dare open the box before tomorrow. I’ll know if you do.”
“But — ”
“And I’ll tell you right now that I expect you to get through the final tulip ceremony alive, Takaba. If I discover that Sudou has polished you off and my sacrifice has been in vain, mark my words: there will be a reckoning between us.”
Takaba gulped, momentarily too distracted trying to figure out how Fei Long was planning to take revenge on Takaba if Sudou had already bumped him off to realise the other man was already crossing the room.
Fei Long turned at the door and raised an eyebrow.
Shit. “Uh. Goodbye, Liu-san. Thanks, for…” Sharing information? Not trying to decapitate me with a roundhouse kick? “You know.”
The sharp pinch of the man’s lips said that the only thing he knew for certain was that Takaba was an idiot. “Farewell.” He pressed a button to disengage the lock and pulled the door open, slipping out into the hallway.
Takaba released a long breath, staring down at the carpet. He almost jumped a foot in the air when Fei Long suddenly stuck his head back into the room, delivering the parting volley that he really should have seen coming. “Oh, I didn’t mention: a man from Tokyo has been calling the producers all day, trying to get through to you, Takaba-kun. You should ring him back.”
A man? “Do you know who — ”
The door slammed shut. Fei Long was gone. “Goddamnit.” Takaba kicked the coffee table. “I don’t even have a phone!”
The only reply was the beep of the lock re-engaging.
In the end, the armchair was right behind him, and it was too easy to simply fall back into it. Takaba couldn’t even pretend to himself that it was because of relief, or the exhausted kind of gratitude everyone seemed to think he should be feeling. Sure, Fei Long had forfeited the competition and left the road to the finish line a little less crowded. But even coming from an enemy, Takaba couldn’t accept the man’s unshakeable belief that Asami was going to choose him over Sudou.
The result, everything, was out of his control. The only thing left that was in Takaba’s control was the decision to leave the competition as well. After all, Confirmed Bachelor was in the business of pleasing its audience and advertisers, and there was never any question which contestant was the favourite to win. Had always been the favourite. Especially now, when Takaba supposedly owed the cheating little prick his life.
Him and Asami.
“Asami,” Takaba murmured, then clamped his lower lip between his teeth when he realised he’d done more than just think the bastard’s name. He staunchly ignored the temptation to visualise Fei Long’s description of the lawyer’s rescue, no matter how vividly he could imagine him kicking down that door, crouching over him, cradling his face and stabbing the EpiPen into his thigh…
Takaba was glad when the doorbell rang. Well, when it had rung three times and was finally accompanied by a banging fist. “Hold your horses,” Takaba muttered. Seriously, how was he supposed to have known his room had a freaking doorbell when all his other ‘guests’ had either knocked first or straight up let themselves in?
It was Suoh. “Oh,” Takaba said, gripping the doorframe. “You’re still in Taiwan.”
“Compliments of Asami-sama,” the giant husked, trying to shove a covered, silver tray through the narrow gap. His tone said that the message he really wanted to deliver was How I wish I could squash you under my toboggan-sized loafers. But what else was new?
“Thanks,” Takaba said, wincing as he took the tray and it burned his hands. Still, he wasn’t going to turn down a piping hot meal, especially when he didn’t have to pay for it. He wouldn’t have to pay for room service, right? Not when it was sent to his — Asami’s — room by someone else? “Uh, do you know who’s paying for — hey!”
Asami’s bodyguard had slammed the door. In his face. This was not a pattern he was growing to like.
“Arsehole,” Takaba said, gripping the tray more firmly and taking it over to the desk. He returned the chair Fei Long had been using to its proper place and sat down. He lifted off the domed cover, all but salivating as an unfamiliar but divine combination of scents rose up to envelope his face. Takaba’s stomach, shy since its run-in with the spiked punch, gave a gurgle of interest. “I know,” Takaba smiled, patting it. “Looks like you’re not broken after all.”
He’d demolished the ramekin of baked eggs and was already making impressive inroads into the spinach and cheese filo when he suddenly noticed that the tray contained more than just food. On its own little platter, tucked under the lip of the salad bowl, was a new EpiPen. Takaba grabbed it up, hands beginning to shake for some reason, and felt — blank. Then he saw the note that had been under it.
Be prepared, the little handwritten card said. That was it. It was signed at the bottom with the English letters R.A., and it took Takaba longer than he’d like to admit before he realised that those were Asami’s English initials.
He huffed, dropping the card and injector onto the desk beside the tray. The remainder of the food was still steaming away, but Takaba’s appetite had fled as stealthily as it had come. Still, he forced himself to pick at the meal, not knowing whether anything would be sent up for dinner. What time was it, anyway?
There was a silver laptop on the desk in front of him, plugged in with its lid closed. Takaba lifted its screen one-handed, on a whim, and almost laughed when it came on and prompted for a password. The bastard had left his personal laptop turned on in a room that so many people had access to? Given how many clandestine lawyerly documents were probably on it, it seemed like an uncharacteristic risk.
“Probably thinks his password is uncrackable,” Takaba snorted, shoving the dinner tray to the side and pulling the laptop towards him. Painstakingly, he typed in ilovewaistcoats, and pressed enter. The window jiggled at him, flashing red in warning.
“Fine.” Thinking for a moment, he tried lawb4whores. No luck.
For the next fifteen minutes, Takaba tried every password that occurred to him, surprised when the computer never made any attempt to lock him out. By the time he’d taken to repeatedly typing 69696969 in, he had to admit defeat. He slid the chair back and looked over at the bed, its downy duvet rumpled invitingly. It had to be late afternoon by now. Surely it wasn’t too early for another nap? He could decide what he was going to do when he woke up.
On his way to the bed he passed by the coffee table, catching sight of the box Fei Long had left behind. The one for his ‘stylist’. And yet the man had left it in Takaba’s possession overnight, forbidding him from opening it and claiming that he’d know if Takaba tried. What was it, rigged with a localised security system? Would an alarm go off somewhere if he so much as fingered its sparkly bow?
Or maybe it’s a bomb, Takaba’s inner paranoia whispered. That’s why he left it in here and said I couldn’t look. There’s no proof he’s even left the competition! It could all be a ruse to make me lower my guard. There could be a timer inside, ticking down right now…
Before he’d even thought about it, Takaba lurched forward and tore the lid off the box, sending the ribbon and bow flying off into a corner. The breath caught in his throat when he saw a slim, buttonless black rectangle. The bomb. And below that — a matching collection of coloured bottles and squares wrapped in floral paper.
The scent of vanilla entered his nostrils.
“It’s a phone, you moron.” Takaba released a shaky breath and picking up the tablet-style cell phone. He found the power button on its side and watched the screen flash on. 3.24pm. 97% charged, with three bars of reception for a carrier called Chunghwa Telecom. And a notification for an SMS…from Fei Long.
“Son of a…” Takaba swiped the lockscreen away, grateful that this, at least, didn’t require a passcode. He opened the phone’s messaging app, saw a couple texts in a dense block of Chinese characters. Nothing that made sense to him. He opened the most recent one, the one from Fei Long. I knew you’d open the box, the message read. Pity you never learned to channel that rebellious streak into something more useful. Takaba gritted his teeth, not sure whether to be more annoyed at its self-satisfied tone or the fact that Fei Long had called his bluff.
He could reply later. Right now, predictably obnoxious behaviour aside, Fei Long had left a functioning phone in his hand, and Takaba wasn’t going to waste time when one of the crew could come in at any second and claim it as contraband.
Back on the phone’s home screen, Takaba searched through the apps, almost disappointed when he didn’t find anything but the default ones. Except — that was the icon for Skype, wasn’t it? He tapped on the client, curious to see if Fei Long had forgotten to scrub out some of his contacts before he’s passed the phone along. Though the text message seemed to indicate the man had another working cell, anyway.
Rich jerk, Takaba sulked, watching as Skype automatically logged in to an account with the username Taka_chan. Taka…was that supposed to be him!? The account’s icon was a blurry shot of his face that someone must have taken in the hotel’s dining room: he was bent over a bowl of something, looking morose even despite the picture’s blurriness. So Fei Long, possibly brain damaged after his throw down with Mr Beauty Spot, had decided to open a brand new Skype account for him.
“Gee, thanks.” He thumbed over the contacts tab, finding only two. The first one was called Tao1995, and Takaba’s heart leapt, almost blindsided by the wave of happy surprise he felt at the idea of talking to Fei Long’s devil of a protégé again. Maybe they could catch up when he got back to Tokyo…
The only other contact had the screen name Skyprince_Takato, and an icon of a model aeroplane.
“Oh my god,” Takaba breathed, hardly believing his eyes. “How…”
Before Takaba could even begin to figure out how Fei Long had gotten hold of his best friend and flatmate’s Skype ID, the app’s screen changed and the phone began vibrating and ringing in his hand. Too late, Takaba realised his status was listed as ‘online’ — there for anyone to see.
Takato was trying to call him.
Additional Note: I haven’t yet decided how much of a role Fei Long’s new miracle makeover TV show will play in this story’s future, but it will at least be mentioned again. Which means I’m looking to you, my lovely readers, for ideas about what it should be called :D Its title doesn’t have to be as long or ridiculous as Japan’s No.1 Handsome Confirmed Bachelor, but something in a similar (trashy) vein would be wonderful. If anything comes to mind just drop a comment below, and rest assured, if I wind up using or adapting your suggestion, you will receive full credit for it. Have fun!