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Pretend with me

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Takahiro ended the call feeling void and unsettled. The lawyer on the other side had been concise and direct, explaining to him in clear words what had to been explained.

He was still hurting and it wasn’t the lawyer’s fault.
Takahiro knew this, but he couldn’t help the anger mounting inside at the idea of what will happen if he wouldn’t comply.

The conversation kept playing in his mind as he paced back and forth in his office.

“Is this Hanamaki Takahiro?”

“Yes, it’s me.”

“Nice to meet you Hanamaki-san. I’m Matsumoto Hatsui, Hanamaki Ryoutaro’s lawyer.”


“I know it’s still fresh, but Ryoutaro-san’s last will was opened and read today. I suppose you didn’t know anything about this since you weren’t here today, do you?”

“... You are correct, Matsumoto-san.”

“Ah... as expected from Ryoutaro-san. Anyway, I won’t bother you too much with this and go straight to the point, if that’s okay with you.”

“Yes, of course. I’d very much appreciate that.”

“I was the one helping your uncle with the sealing and writing of his will... I also was the executor of said document. He was an old friend of mine, so if you have any further question about this feel free to ask me.
Anyway, in short, Ryoutaro-san left all of his possession to you, his beloved younger sister’s nephew.”

“...I ... I honestly wasn’t expecting this.”

“At one condition, though. I’m afraid that from what Ryoutaro-san told me about you, this won’t be a welcomed information.
“Ryoutaro-san has expressly underlined that it is essential for his heir to be married to claim any of those possessions, otherwise it will go in its integrity to the next person listed in Ryoutaro-san’s will, who happens to be his elder sister’s son, Maruichi Takanobu.”

Hanamaki tightened his grip on the phone.

“There’s no way I’ll leave Uncle Ryoutaro’s home to that jerk.”

“Well, Maruichi-san was there today, and he already knows about the condition for such event to happen. Since you are so… adamant about this, I suppose I will wait for you and your spouse to show up here in my Kyoto office anytime soon?”

“Yes. We’ll be there this weekend.”

“Oh, that’s really nice to hear Hanamaki-san! I really hoped to make your acquaintance as soon as possible. I’ll be waiting for the both of you then! See you on Saturday morning then!”

The cheerful voice of the old lawyer kept resonating in his ears and yet his expression was as grim and angry as before.

It wasn’t that he needed anything more than what he had already. He was a well-known designer working for a good company.
He had a good job, a nice home, anything he could have wished for.

But he couldn’t let Uncle Ryoutaro’s home be raided and canceled by that asshole who had never worried about him once in his life.

He still remembered the greedy look he had cast around on the nice traditional Japanese home uncle had built for himself in Kyoto.

It was the house he had cared for a life. He had built it to reflect his soul, piece by piece, expressing himself through it as he never could with the rest of the world. Takahiro loved that house and Uncle Ryoutaro.

If he was the adult he was today, a great part of it was because of Uncle Ryoutaro and the days spent with him in that house.
In Maruichi’s eyes, after the funeral ceremony had ended, Takahiro had already seen the demolition company coming to take it down, so he could build a horrible skyscraper on that.

That parasite, that vermin...! That horrible human being. They shared part of their genetic makeup but Takahiro couldn’t bear to be likened to him. Not even from afar.

Uncle had loved art and life. Takahiro remembered endless summer afternoons spent on the porch of that house with barley tea and Uncle’s voice quietly explaining him the happiness that his calligraphy works gave him, how every single form of traditional art he engaged with made his life a little bit better.
Those memories were all the legacy he needed. His uncle had already given him the best inheritance he could, passing onto him the tools to become who he was today.

He couldn’t let all of Uncle’s life, the house that contained it all, the very essence of what Uncle had tried to accomplish, be discarded like an old shoe, put in a bin and thrown away just because fashion had changed.

He wanted to preserve it. All in all, if he was where he was now, it was because of the seed of beauty, that longing for it, that those endless summer conversations with Uncle had planted in his heart.

It gave him the same feeling as uprooting himself. He couldn’t just stay put and let it happen.

But then, the problem still stood. He wasn’t married.

He wasn’t in a relationship nor did he intend to be in one. Especially considering how badly have his past ones ended. He didn’t need a relationship.

He was more than happy with his friends and the occasional flings he happened to come across.

Nothing serious, nor permanent. He was happy with things going that way, despite the worried looks Tooru sometimes sent in his direction. He was happy, really.

Right now, he desperately hoped for a way to get out of that impasse. He wasn’t seeing anyone at the moment, and the idea of calling back that guy from H&R he had a date with two weeks ago wasn’t appealing at all. The guy didn't know sarcasm if it danced naked in front of him and let's not start on his bedroom manners. How could someone like that be hired in fucking H&R was beyond his comprehension.

As he was still pacing back and forth in his office, someone opened the door and he stayed frozen mid-step, eyes wide and wary as if he had been caught doing something nasty.

To be fair, Matsukawa-san expression was as surprised as his.

The man had a few folders neatly tucked under his left arm, his dark blue tie was pinned to his violet shirt’s pocket so it wouldn’t be in the way and he had a pen perched right between the tip of his right ear and his dark curls. To complete the look, black-rimmed glasses circled his eyes but did nothing to disguise the dark circles that everyone in the Sales department seemed to just grow by the end of the term.
Despite all of this, he still seemed more put together than what Takahiro must have looked like at that moment, walking all alone and muttering to himself in his office.

Matsukawa-san closed the door behind himself, composing his expression into a neutral one as if he hadn't witnessed anything out of the ordinary.

“If it’s a bad moment, I can come back in a few minutes.” he said, even if he was already placing his folders on Takahiro's desk and taking charts and other sheets out of them.
To Takahiro, it had sounded as if Matsukawa had just received the confirmation on how insane the guy from Design was once again.

Takahiro put his foot down and straightened, walking slowly to his chair and showing Matsukawa to the one in front of his desk where he was already sitting.

“No, please...! I was just… thinking.” he tried to say in the more casual tone he could muster, deciding it was okay to ignore Matsukawa raised eyebrow as he waited for Takahiro to sit in the chair on the other side of the desk.

There was a moment of silence and a look passed between them when they found themselves both sitting on opposite sides of the desk, and right then Takahiro knew that they were both silently trying to agree on having a civil conversation for the sake of office relationship and harmony.
Or that was the bullshit H&R had told them to think about the last time they had to sedate an argument between them.

It was exactly on that occasion that he had met Akira from H&R, if he remembered correctly. He should have known by then that the guy was dull as a dead fish.

“Well, if that’s the case, then I won’t take too much of your time.” Matsukawa-san started, picking a few papers full of charts and numbers and turning them toward Takahiro so he could look at them.

Takahiro grimaced at the sight of those. It was, without doubt, the budget plan for the last project his department was working upon, every little expense and deadline noted precisely on the pages in front of him.
It was never nice when he and Matsukawa from Sales discussed budget and deadlines.

It wasn’t that he didn’t want to work with him, but... he didn’t really want to work with him at all.
Matsukawa-san was probably a good person outside of the office - or that was what everyone told him when the topic arose-, but he wasn’t interested in knowing him outside when he couldn’t bear to work with him in the office. He’d probably be as insufferable as at work.

And yet, they were so similar…!
Takahiro fussed and hovered over his colleagues like an old mother hen, or that was what most of them liked to call him.
He reminded them about deadlines, checked meticulously their work, poured endless hours of extra work any time he could so that their department could be perfect. He worried a lot, to be honest, but since he was the head of the Design department, it was only natural he did so. His work was an important part of his life, and he liked to treat it that way. The same went for his colleagues. They were important to him, and he liked to treat them that way. Simple as that.

Matsukawa-san always worried about his department too, remembering everyone about deadlines and costs, reminding them how important it was to be finished days before the deadlines kicked in and how they had to stay in budget guidelines, no matter what.
To be honest, they tried really hard in regards to deadlines.
But being the head of Sales affected everyone in the company, not only his close colleagues, as Takahiro had more than once complained about when confronted with impossible deadlines.

He didn’t like that. Not even a little.

Of course, they tried to actually comply with all the requests Sales made, but most of the times it was impossible. They worked as a team, everyone with their part of the project to work upon. If the project needed more time than the established one to be done, was it their fault?

Hanamaki liked to think that no, it wasn’t. Matsukawa, of course, didn’t agree with him.

Hence, the arguments, hence the fights, hence the ongoing frenemy vibes that developed whenever someone from Sales and someone from Design happened to be in the same room.

There were exceptions, of course, but the general environment was this one.

That wasn’t but the tip of the iceberg of his and Matsukawa’s long suffered work relationship, but they tried to make it work when it was needed. At least, they recognized each other merits - begrudgingly - since they had been working so long for the same company. They couldn't just ignore how good they were at their respective jobs.

Meanwhile, Matsukawa-san was still going through deadlines for a new product, shipments and how it was vital that this time they stayed in the fixated budget...
It was then that the idea struck him.

Matsukawa-san was good at his job. A hardworking man.
He stuck by his rules and never strayed from them. He gave off that vibe of stability and dependability that made everyone trust him naturally. Most of the times he talked in a calm tone, voice clear and words straight to the point. As if that wasn't enough, he was used to working toward a goal and obtain it, no matter what.

They had known each other for a long time. They knew their flaws and good points. They were already forced to work for the same goal most of the times, despite them doing it begrudgingly.

It was so insane that it could actually work.

“- the next wood shipment for the first tests has been arranged for the 15th of the next month, so you should have all the preliminary designs sent to us in time for the 3rd. This way we will have enough time to send them to the carpenter and have them already prepare the material for you. This will buy everyone around four days on the production schedule further along-”

“Marry me.”

“-and you’ll have more time to do the usual tests and adjustments if there’re probl- What the fuck?” Matsukawa-san looked at him as if he had just been slapped.

Takahiro could feel his cheeks growing hot with every second that passed, but his gut told him this was a good idea.
It was the only good, desperately good, idea he'd had in the last 15 minutes. He needed to try to make it work. At least, he needed to try. Plus, he always trusted his gut.

Even if this time the probability of getting punched right on the nose was a bit too high.

“I said, marry me.” his voice was shaky, but Matsukawa couldn't see anything but determination in his eyes.

“Hanamaki-san…” Matsukawa's eyes looked ready to murder him, but Takahiro appreciated the fact that he hadn’t acted on the intent yet, “If this is your idea of a joke, I assure you it sucks.” he spat out with no hint of humor, already starting to stand up.

Blunt as ever.

Takahiro bit his lip and the “fuck you” ready to come out from his mouth as quickly as he could. He'd have to choose his next words carefully.

“I’m serious, Matsukawa-san, I need you to marry me.”

The other man stilled in the chair and sat back again, “That’s quite a weird wording for asking something like that from me." Matsukawa studied him for a moment, inscrutable as ever, "We are not even interested in each other, if you aren’t aware of it.”

“This is so complicated…” Takahiro sighed.

He stood up, starting to pace again, and Matsukawa-san rotated on his chair, eyes following his movements with a light that could be considered curiosity, at least.
Takahiro prayed that the ‘sudden madness’ possibility had been ruled out from his list, for the moment.

If he was going to listen to him, despite how ridiculous he probably looked, Takahiro only had to make this work his way.

“So, as you may be aware of, a few weeks ago I had to take a few days of leave.” he started looking at him, “I went in Kyoto to attend my uncle’s funeral.”

“Oh… I’m sorry for your loss”, it came out soft, more than what he had expected.

Hanamaki acknowledged his condolences with a nod of his head and a quick wave of his hand, eager to continue.

“Today, his lawyer called to tell me he had read my uncle’s last will and that I was listed as the sole person in the family to inherit his properties.”

“I still can’t see where the marriage thing comes in though…”

“Well, it was…”

“Or when my assistance comes in because this is already starting to look as if it's not needed - I mean, you could just marry someone else and get done with it, it would be simpler than having to actually involve me– ”

“That’s if you will fucking let me finish! This is already complicated without you interrupting me!”

“Well, it’s not like you have been clear from the start, Hanamaki-san.”

An irritated sound made the way out of his lips, but Matsukawa had probably seen something else because the next thing he was going to say never came past his lips and instead signaled him to just keep going.

“So, as I was saying, today he called me to tell me about the inheritance - which to be honest I didn’t even know there was one, I’m not that kind of person” he felt the need to remark this.
Judging from the pointed look he was giving Matsukawa, he had expected some sort of comment about this part of the story and it seemed even odder to Issei the tentative smile that appeared on Hanamaki-san lips when he didn’t react at all.

“Anyway, apparently there seems to be a problem with it. I can’t claim it without a particular condition fulfilled and I cannot just let this slide."
Hanamaki stopped in the middle of the room as if there was something else, but when he spoke, Issei had a feeling that wasn't exactly what he wanted to say.
"I’ll be honest, I don’t need the money nor other things, but I can’t just let my uncle’s house be destroyed by my cousin, who will happen to inherit the whole thing if I can’t comply with the condition.”
He took in a shaky breath and for a moment, it seemed to Issei as if Hanamaki-san was on the verge of breaking down at whatever he went unsaid. Instead, he composed himself and continued, steeling himself once again.

“The condition is that I’ve to be married, and since I can’t let this going to waste, I’m asking you to marry me, Matsukawa-san.” Hanamaki concluded, stopping in his pacing, a hopeful glint in his eyes

Issei stared at him, hoping that he wasn’t giving away any of the confusion he felt inside.

This was crazy. Simply crazy. He couldn’t just get married like that. What would his family say? Or his friends? And let’s not think about their co-workers.
They weren’t in a relationship. For God’s sake, they couldn’t even stand each other. It wouldn’t work. Not even in the eyes of someone who had never seen them. They’d be called out for their bullshit right away. It was plain crazy. It couldn’t work. Case and point.

And yet, one look at Hanamaki’s eyes and he found himself asking “What’s in it for me? Why asking me and not someone else?”

Issei hated himself a bit for his own curiosity. Really, his mum was right when she said it would put him in a big mess one day, but he couldn’t help himself, not when the look in Hanamaki-san’s eyes almost compelled him to blurt it out against his own will.

Takahiro was asking himself the same thing, but the only answer he had was really stupid, in retrospect. Anyway, he was already making a fool of himself so it couldn’t really go any worse than this.

“You were here…?” he tried, but Matsukawa-san unimpressed stare fixed him right on the spot. He needed to add something quickly if he didn’t want to lose that slim hope of possibility at making his dumbass plan work.

The words tumbled out of his mouth before he could stop himself.

“...And...! I knew that despite all our differences and past animosity” he decided to ignore Matsukawa-san amused smirk now, “you are someone I can trust completely. I can disagree with some of your decisions, but I respect your work ethic and the trust you’ve built with your colleagues. I know that if you’d agree to help me with this, you wouldn’t let me down halfway.”

“I know I already said you were here” he added with a quiet nod of his head, fixing his eyes into Issei’s, “but I honestly can’t think of someone else I could trust with this kind of thing. You are the one that I’ll ask this favor from, no matter the circumstances”, voice soft at the end, too unguarded and genuine, devoid from any kind of hidden trap.

Issei was stunned. Hanamaki was many things, but surely not a liar. He was known to speak his mind, even when it was uncalled for. Listening to his impromptu confession, watching him while he said something so earnest about Issei… it was almost too intimate, too real. He hadn’t expected something like that.

“I’ve never heard you say anything like that about me, Hanamaki-san, should I be worried you really wanna marry me?”

There wasn’t anything but sincerity in Hanamaki’s eyes when he answered him bluntly.
“Yes, I do.”

Silence fell over them while Issei seemed to realize it wasn’t a joke. Hanamaki really mean it.
The words rolled over in his mind with an air of seriousness that had him taking a deep breath.
If it had been anyone else he would have already walked out the door with no further words exchanged between them, but Hanamaki wasn’t joking, he wasn’t playing around.

Despite the lack of romantic feelings toward each other he couldn’t do anything but give him the same attention he’d pay if there had been.

Hanamaki was clearly going out of his way with this request, it was only fair for Issei to treat him seriously, even if all that conversation was a complete absurdity.

"...It wouldn't be a fake thing then? It won't be a Las Vegas wedding?" Issei already knew the answer, but he needed it to be spelled out. It felt unreal until it was said openly.

Hanamaki smile was crooked at the edges, almost shy, but that determination was still there.
"Honestly, I was thinking about something a little bit more traditional, but if you'd like a Las Vegas themed one..."

Issei gagged at the words, snorting loudly. He shook his head, "I'd like something a bit more traditional too, honestly."

Silence fell once again and Takahiro watched Matsukawa. He was caressing his chin, pulling the skin between his knuckles lightly. Takahiro was convinced that Matsukawa wasn't aware of this habit, even if he had seen him doing it countless time. He always looked so pensive when he did that.

“So… I’m not yet sold on the idea, Hanamaki-san." He began, choosing his words carefully, "It seems like this could blow up in our faces too easily. I can’t just accept your proposal like this. I believe you can understand my perplexities.”

Takahiro felt his shoulder fall imperceptibly with that sentence. His brilliant plan for saving Uncle Ryoutaro’s beloved home seemed to be sinking with every passing second.

Matsukawa drew a heavy breath in, passing a hand through his hair, as if that could conquer those unruly curl of his.

“But, since you are putting so much faith in me, I’ll at least give you a chance to clear all my doubts and let's see, maybe we’ll be able to strike a fair deal over this. How does it sound to you?”
Matsukawa wasn’t exactly smiling while he stood up offering him his hand, but Takahiro felt confident enough to actually consider that small upward turn of lips as his ship not having sunk yet.

He took his hand, shaking it vigorously.

“I’ll make sure to convince you as soon as possible, Matsukawa-san.” he beamed, confident once more.
“What about dinner at my place tonight? We will be able to talk freely and I know just the right people to ask for a more in-depth counsel over this matter. I’m certain they’ll be able to clear whatever doubts could arise.” Takahiro quickly added, hoping it didn’t seem too pushy of him, but he really did have no time to waste.

“It sounds about right to me. Send me your address and the time and I’ll show up.” Matsukawa nodded, picking up his folder full of charts and plans. He still looked perplexed, as if he couldn't really believe that was happening, but for the moment it seemed like he wouldn't run away from Hanamaki.
He was confident his plan could work out. He could despise having to work with Matsukawa all he wanted, but he was reliable and a man of his word. If he agreed, he'd do it.
This could work. Takahiro could feel it.

“I’ll make sure to let you know as soon possible, Matsukawa-san!” Takahiro exclaimed cheerily, closing the door behind him as he exited from his office.

As soon as the door closed, he let himself fall to the ground. He felt emptied and relieved at the same time.
Shit. There was no way he could waste an opportunity like that.

He scrambled a bit with the pocket of his pants and finally managed to get his phone out.

He was already looking for a certain number in his contact list when his phone started ringing, Killer Queen blasting at the highest volume before he could do anything but press the button.

“Now, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Matsukawa coming out of your office with a look like that, Makki -”

“Shut it Tooru, I need a favour…”