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?
Takaba’s finger trembled above the call button. There was an ache inside him, urging him to answer so he could see Takato’s face again. But he also felt rattled enough by the last few days that he was afraid the sudden intrusion of someone from his old life would be more than he could handle. As ridiculous as it was to make that kind of distinction; it had only been a month. Or a little over. Enough time, anyway, to make it feel like everything had changed. What if Takato noticed?
Stop overthinking everything.
He jammed the button on the phone to answer the call. For a moment the screen turned blue, then green, then a mass of grey pixels resolved into Takato’s face. His blond hair was brushed back from his forehead and the collar of his steward’s uniform peeked from the bottom of the frame. It took Takaba a second to recognise the overpoweringly teal upholstery behind Takato as belonging to the couches in Headline Airlines’ staff lounge.
“Thank fuck,” said Takato’s tinny voice. He brought his own phone close to his face, as if jamming his eye against the lens would grant him a 360º view of Takaba’s room.
Takaba blinked back at him, wondering why the little window with his own face in the corner kept juddering. Oh right, his hands. Still shaking with adrenaline, as if he weren’t just talking to his lifelong best friend, the one who could yell at him whenever he did something impulsive and dangerous — only to stop as soon as Takaba turned on his well-practised lip-wobble, tearfully begging for forgiveness. He wondered if that would still work when they were separated by an ocean.
There was a lag in the video as Takato’s eyebrows steadily climbed up his forehead. “Seriously, Aki? ‘Hey’ is all I get after I spend all day trying to track you down? I called every number I could find online, and let me just say, you’re going to be chipping my emperor’s ransom’s worth of international phone bills.”
Considering Takaba’s bank account was currently on its way down Highway Abyss, destination: Oblivion, Takato clearly hadn’t checked to see if Takaba’s half of the rent had been drawn out of his bank account.
“Yeah, okay, but why’re you even calling?” He shuffled backwards on the bed and pushing his legs up until his backside hit the small mountain of pillows against the headboard. A warm pocket of happiness opened in his chest as a thought struck him. “Missed my face, didn’ cha?”
“Oh yeah, I had to remind myself what you looked like, what with all the humiliating TV screencaps of you everyone keeps printing out at work. Not to mention the gifs. And imagine when the show actually starts airing…” Takato glanced to the side, craning his neck to see something on the other side of the room. “Actually, the bulletin board’s over there, I can show you the Takaba meme wall right now — ”
“Seriously, Aki,” Takato sighed. Takaba suspected that if the phone’s resolution was better he’d see his friend’s face scrunched up into a spiderweb of frustration. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah.” Just a puff of breath. But even as he exhaled, something hard rose up in Takaba’s throat. Don’t fucking cry. It had been too long since anyone had asked him that question and actually cared to hear the answer. “‘Course I am. Why would you think I wasn’t?”
“There were rumours that one of Confirmed Bachelor’s contestants had died or was in critical condition after an accident. There was nothing on the show’s website, so I called the TV station. They denied everything, so I called the production company, but they just stonewalled me. I was ringing around for more than an hour and getting nothing, so I…” he trailed off into an uncomfortable silences. “You know.”
Takaba knew. But an accident? Could information about his anaphylactic shock have already made it online? Not that it wouldn’t eventually, when footage of him laid out in the store room was going to replace the cancelled talent show. But everything was supposed to be kept under wraps — he’d had the wrist strain after signing those volumes of confidentiality agreements and non-disclosures to prove it.
Did Confirmed Bachelor have a mole?
“I was about to do something drastic,” Takato went on, falling back against the lounge, “when suddenly I get a call from a foreign guy called Liu Fei Long. Apparently he’s a contestant on the show with you?”
Takaba felt his eyes widen. “Uh…” Well, that explained why Takato was one of the contacts programmed into this phone. Though it was still anyone’s guess how or why Fei Long had intercepted his friend’s call to the crew. And then decided to ring him back?
“Really nice guy,” Takato went on, as if saying so wasn’t the most implausible thing Takaba had ever heard. “He told me there’d been a minor incident yesterday during one of your challenges or something, and now you were resting back at the hotel. So.”
Takaba swallowed. “So?”
“Now that you can’t weasel out of my questions and pretend nothing is going on, I’m going to repeat: are you okay? For real this time?”
“Takato,” Takaba moaned, wishing he had the nerve to hide under his pillow pile until Takato stopped looking at him like he was ready to reach through the screen and force-hold Takaba’s mouth opened until he spilled his guts. “It’s complicated.”
“Yeah, it’s you, so that’s a given.” Takato rolled his eyes. “Look, if you tell me what happened, no one will hear it from me, all right? My lips are sealed. As sealed as they were when I made the mistake of agreeing to be your guinea pig the first time you made nougat.”
Takaba couldn’t help his snort of laughter at the memory. Damn him and his ability to weaponise nostalgia like that. Never mind the genuine worry in his voice, the kind that dredged up enough guilt that Takaba’s conscience wouldn’t let him lie. Sanitising the truth, though? He could probably get away with that.
“So I may have kind of gone into a bit of anaphylactic shock yesterday — ”
“What? But you’re always so careful — ”
“It was in a drink at a party all the contestants had to go to, but I didn’t realise what was happening until the reaction was, uh, not-good.” Until it was almost too late, he managed not to add.
Unfortunately, Takato’s sour expression made it clear he found Takaba’s explanation less than convincing. “Okay. Now tell me the rest.”
Takaba caved in the end, of course. He told Takato about the talent show, the stolen can of tomato juice, having to swap performances, and Sudou Shuu isolating him in the prop room. Locking him inside, alone, without his EpiPen. The only thing Takaba neglected to mention was that it was Asami who’d rescued him. He knew as soon as he breathed a word of that little detail, his overactive imagination would supply the rest.
…Such as the lawyer throwing off his jacket and rolling up his sleeves to bust the door open, falling to his knees (careless of the filthy floor) beside Takaba’s prone form to check his airway, turning to their unwelcome audience of crew and cameras and demanding to know where his EpiPen was in that deep, arresting voice —
Takato broke into his fantasy with a pointed cough. “What are you going to do now?”
Leave. The word burned on Takaba’s tongue. He was going to, he had to quit Confirmed Bachelor. He couldn’t admit it aloud at the moment, but he was afraid of what would happen if he stayed. Right now, Sudou was somewhere in the hotel, planning his next desperate ploy to cut him from the competition — and life altogether. Surely if Takaba left now, he wouldn’t follow. (Best not to think of how Fei Long would react to his departure. Him and his bottle of Liu Deluxe Bleach.)
He scrubbed a hand across his face. “I don’t think I can keep this up much longer.”
Takato opened his mouth to reply when the image suddenly jerked, like someone had grabbed his phone and yanked it away. There were a few crackling seconds where the screen was nothing but a mass of black and flesh-coloured pixels. It cleared to reveal a middle-aged woman, grey-flecked hair pinned neatly back from her face. Her cherry-coloured lips were set in a thin line.
“Okaasan?” Takaba spluttered. “What are you — why are you in the Headlines staff lounge!”
“Have you forgotten our airlines share a parent company, Akihito?” his mother said, stiffly. Uh-oh. “Or that it’s my job as your mother to watch over your welfare? Even when you choose to compete in overseas reality television programmes and almost get yourself murdered ”
“You promised not to tell, Takato!” he yelled into the phone’s speaker, knowing his friend couldn’t be sitting more than an arm’s length away if his mother had heard, well, everything. Shit on a stick.
“I only promised not to tell anyone,” came Takato’s voice, offscreen. “I can’t help it if you go blabbing within your mum’s earshot, can I?”
“Traitor,” Takaba seethed.
“Don’t blame Takato-kun for your own indiscretion,” his mother said, drawing a veil of prim disapproval around her, the one that had taken most of his childhood to realise was only used when her emotions threatened to overwhelm her. “He was right to bring this to my attention.”
Takaba almost winced at the pang of guilt that instantly bloomed in his chest. No matter the damage sustained to their relationship over the years, it couldn’t be easy for her to hear that her only child had almost died.
“I’m fine, truly.” As you can see, he almost added, then thought better of it when he remembered that he currently looked no better than warmed-over roadkill. In a nightgown that wouldn’t look out of place in Casper the Friendly Ghost’s wardrobe. “Don’t believe everything you read online.”
Half of Takato’s head popped into frame again. “But what are you going to do now?”
“Get even,” his mother said, before Takaba could even open his mouth. “I’m sure there are some stairs that boy, the singer, can trip down. Accidentally.”
The sliver of Takato’s cheek Takaba could see bobbed up and down. “Or an unfortunate hotel room fire?”
“Too easy for the local authorities to find evidence of arson. Perhaps a carbon monoxide leak could be arranged. What’s the ventilation like in this hotel?”
“Okaasan,” Takaba moaned, looking up at the ceiling as if the moulded plaster could send him aid. Aid, against all the people in his life suddenly advocating his participation in homicide. “Murder is not an option, okay?”
Takato laughed, an ugly bark that didn’t suit him at all. “Why not, Aki? Get him before he gets you!”
“The son I know never backs down from a fight,” his mother added quietly.
And right there, Takaba’s mother sealed his fate. He could never quit Confirmed Bachelor now. Not when the last morsels of her respect for him were at stake.
By the time he finally got off the phone, Takato had weaselled out the bare bones story of Asami’s “heroic” rescue, and his mother had all but swooned at every scant detail (before sternly reminding Takaba of his duty to ‘win’ Asami, if only for her sake). Which would have been bad enough, but then Takato had the gall to ask Takaba how far he and the lawyer had “gone” in the Ecstasy Suite. Apparently, Yoshida had a pool going at work. Takaba not-so-accidentally pressed the end call button shortly after that, though not before promising to text them both again soon.
When he knew what the hell he was going to do now.
He felt too keyed up to take another nap, so he shuffled his way over to the desk and picked at the remainder of the food tray. Something inside him balked on a primal level at the idea of offing someone — even someone as richly deserving of a swift downfall as Sudou Shuu. But at this point, not taking action felt just as wrong.
As much as it burned to hear her say it, his mother was right: the Takaba of only a few weeks ago would never have rolled over and just taken whatever shit was handed out to him. He may have grown out of the selfish recklessness of his youth, but he was still the same person at his core. And Takaba’s gut was telling him now that he couldn’t spend another moment drifting around this room, tensing at every sound behind the door, just waiting for the enemy to make his next move. No, it was time to take the fight to Sudou.
He plucked up the card Asami had sent along with the food. Be prepared. That, and the new EpiPen. But that was just a shield, and he was long past the point where it was enough to simply defend himself.
“Why wait to finish things tomorrow, Asami?” Takaba murmured, dropping the card and pushing his chair back. He should toss the room in search of a weapon — Asami seemed like the type to plan for every eventuality. For a crazy second Takaba’s gaze fell on the fruit bowl and he imagined himself grabbing the pineapple, swinging it around by the stem and braining Sudou in a spectacular explosion of blood and fruit juice. See how much of the dirt he’d dug up on Takaba he could remember then.
“Fruit,” Takaba snorted, moving away from the desk and over to Asami’s luggage beside the wardrobe. “He’ll be so intimidated.”
The larger suitcase was padlocked with a five-digit code, and would probably have been too heavy for Takaba to lift single-handedly if he hadn’t spent what felt like half his life helping idiots who’d bought too much duty free junk shove their luggage into overhead compartments. When he shook it though, it sounded like Asami hadn’t packed anything but papers. Really heavy, doubtlessly boring corporate law papers.
He moved on to the wardrobe, rifling through Italian leather shoes and plastic garment bags full of neatly pressed suits. Apparently Asami kept all his loose things in the pockets of his waistcoats: Takaba found change, a lighter and more handkerchiefs than he realised one person could reasonably own. Probably enough to tie together and lower himself out the hotel window, if it came to that.
At first glance the bathroom was a bust as well. Nothing but a manchester department’s worth of fluffy towels and onsen-style bathrobes. Nothing of Asami’s at all, not even the wooden comb, carved as it was with the hotel insignia. This suite was definitely more expensive than the one he’d been sharing with Fei Long, where they’d had to contend with plastic combs and plastic tubes of chemical-smelling shampoo — nothing like the crystalline glass bottles arrayed on the counter here. Takaba uncapped a bottle and took a whiff. Mint and…cucumber? He put it back to try later.
Takaba found a shaving kit in a drawer beneath the vanity unit and that funhouse mirror he resolutely refused to look at. And not a modern one, either. There was a brush, cream, a leather strop — and a straight razor. The last Takaba picked up carefully, holding it up to the light and examining it. He pressed the blade gently against the tip of his index finger and hissed as the skin split.
“Ow.” He stuck the finger in his mouth before the blood could well up to the surface. At least it wasn’t blunt. And most definitely sharp enough to stick in Sudou’s neck.
He closed the razor and found its sleeve, gripping it inside his fist. It was only after he left the bathroom and made his way to the hallway door with its bamboozling electronic lock that Takaba remembered that he might not be alone. Suoh could be out there, guarding Asami’s possessions from thieves or whatever it was he did all day while standing around and looking menacingly blank. And if the twin shadows shooting out from beneath the door and onto the carpet were anything to go by, he’d returned to his post since Fei Long had left.
Well, crap. Between his gaze alighting on the razor and imagining himself slipping cleanly out of the room, at no point had he considered the possibility of a human-shaped roadblock standing quite literally between him and vengeance. There was nothing for it now, though. He jammed the button to disengage the lock, the door swinging open onto solid darkness.
The darkness moved immediately, hectares of black fabric rippling over his back as Suoh turned around and stared at Takaba, hesitating on the threshold. The man’s face didn’t so much as twitch. Takaba swallowed. Asami’s bodyguard didn’t need expressions when his silence was more than enough to remind Takaba of his place on the totem pole (namely: the rung between earwig and cockroach).
“Uh…I don’t feel well.” Takaba coughed into his fist, eyes darting up to see Suoh’s reaction. Of course, there was none. “Maybe I should see a doctor. Can you get someone to come up here?”
In lieu of a reply, Suoh raised one meaty paw and shoved it into the pocket of his suit, extracting a cell phone. Oh no. No no no. Suoh wasn’t supposed to call someone, he was supposed to leave his post and go downstairs to consult whoever he had to consult! Goddamn modern technology.
“Wait!” Suoh froze, his sausage-thumb hovering over the keypad. “Shouldn’t you…I mean, I’m sure they’re more likely to take you seriously if you go down in person, you know?”
Suoh jammed a button on the phone and raised it to his ear. Takaba didn’t think — he just lunged, slapping the cell out of Suoh’s hand. The handset went flying, smacking with a crunch of plastic into the opposite wall before bouncing off again. It skittered across the carpet and came to a stop several metres away.
Takaba darted a look up at Suoh. Those were not the bulging eyeball veins of a calm and collected person, no they were not. He ran.
It was only as he was pounding down the hallway, razor gripped in one hand and the other clenched in the fabric of his nightgown to hold it up, that Takaba realised he had no idea which floor he was on. Or where he was going. Or how in hell he was going to outrun a trained security profession with legs as long as palm tress.