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Hardworking Photographer Takaba Akihito's Debut

Chapter Text

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. . . . .

Takaba had been hearing about the event for a few months now; a fancy party for the grand opening of the new art museum. The growing guest list was in the news almost everyday whenever they got word of yet another big celebrity that was supposed to be in attendance. Besides famous artists, there were going to be actors, directors, authors, and musicians coming from all around the world.

All the publicity caused a fever among the people in the city. Takaba was out drinking with his friends as they listened in on the conversations around them.

"Wow did you hear that actress from 'The Merry Café Maid' is supposed to be there?"

"Yeah, and the guy that owns the special effects company that worked on all those science fiction movies!"

"And the lead singer from that rock band, 'Disquietous'!"

Takato turned to Takaba. "Akihito... is it possible that you can get in with your journalist credentials?"

"Unless you're celebrity reporter from a major news outlet, journalists aren't getting in." Takaba took a drink from his mug of beer. "However, I'm getting a pass to stand in an area alongside the red carpet."

"Wow! You lucky dog!" Kou exclaimed with envy.

The truth was that Takaba didn't have the pass just yet. Mitarai also wanted to cover the event, but only one pass had been allotted to the newspaper. Luckily, Takaba had been regularly scooping his own colleague, so he was certain he'd be the one to get it.

Unfortunately his editor, Shinotake, made the decision to give the pass to Mitarai.

"But I've been getting all those great stories for you lately! Why wouldn't you give this to me!?" Takaba protested vehemently to the editor.

Mitarai put his arm around Takaba's shoulders and smirked, "Well, it could be because I have such good connections. I know that famous TV newsperson from the 9:00 Morning Show. He says once I clear security, he can get me into the actual press box."

And just like that, Takaba's dreams of rubbing elbows with celebrities (or rather, close enough- should they trip on the carpet and stumble into the crowd barriers) dissipated into "what could have been".

. . . . .

Asami had been missing dinner more nights than not in the past month. Not only did this seem to be the season for fancy grand openings, but there had also been quite a few high-profile business related functions around Tokyo lately. Takaba felt dejected watching Asami dress up and go out for the evening, leaving him home alone.

What am I thinking... that I'd WANT to go with him? All those old businessmen discussing investments and profits or something like that. It would be boring as hell. I'd rather slit my own throat than attend something like that!

Still, with Asami going out all the time and Mitarai stealing his dream assignment away from him, Takaba had been feeling depressed. Although he tried to hide it, Asami-- with his keen sense of observation-- picked up on it immediately. They were having breakfast one morning when Asami casually brought the subject up.

"Something bothering you lately? You don't seem your usual perky self."

"Nothing's bothering me!" Takaba snapped at him. "You're imagining things."

Asami gave him such a sharp look that it caused Takaba to cringe. "I lost out on a job I really wanted... to a co-worker. It's actually... really nothing."

"Nothing, eh? From the way you've been acting, it seems as if it was something big. I could help eliminate your troublesome problem for you if it bothers you that much."

"What do you mean eliminate... OH NO! DO NOT get involved in my working life! Eliminate... geez! I can handle this all by myself, got it!?"

"If that's what you wish."

"Eliminate...!" Takaba shuddered. "I hope that didn't mean what I thought meant. PROMISE ME you won't do ANYTHING!"

"Calm down. It was merely a suggestion." Asami picked up the newspaper and began to read. "I have no intentions of interfering if it bothers you that much."

. . . . .

Asami called to let him know he was going to be coming home earlier than normal for dinner. As he had been working late during the past few weeks, Takaba was actually looking forward to spending time with Asami.

Then it occurred to him that Asami was probably coming home early just because he was horny.

Takaba felt unusually resentful. Yeah, he only spends time with me when it suits HIM.

Then Takaba realized he was acting just like an old bitter housewife.

Why am I thinking like that? It's been a while, since we did... that.

Takaba's body began to feel warm and tingly just thinking about it. I'm making too big of a deal out of this. He has been working long hours lately... maybe he just feels like taking some time off. I should do something nice for him then... maybe fix him his favorite dishes.

Takaba labored in the kitchen all afternoon preparing dinner, and then he thought since he was serving such a nice meal he should make the table look special as well. After he finished setting the table, he showered and then started a hot bath for Asami for when he got home. When he looked again at the table, he was mortified at the way it appeared.

He had set it up with flowers, candles, and dimmed lights as if for a romantic evening. He suddenly panicked.

Too obvious!

Just as he was about to get rid of the candles and turn the lights back up, Asami walked through the door.

"W-welcome home," Takaba stammered, embarrassed.

Asami put his briefcase down and glanced quickly over at Takaba who was standing next to the table. "That looks nice."

Asami walked straight over to the sideboard. He poured some bourbon into a glass and then drank deeply. He put the empty glass down and walked over to the couch. Takaba watched as Asami removed his coat, draping it neatly over the couch, and then removed his tie and unbuttoned the collar of his shirt. He collapsed on the couch, leaned his head back and closed his eyes.

He didn't even bat an eye at the romantic setting, Takaba thought. Takaba felt a slight twinge of disappointment that Asami didn't come in and attack him at once. He looked totally exhausted.

"You look beat. Busy day?"

"Very. I've had to attend far too many business functions lately. It's getting tiresome." Asami opened his eyes and looked at him. "By the way, there's another I have to attend on Saturday evening." He reached for the suit coat that was draped next to him and pulled out an envelope from the inner pocket. He leaned forward and tossed it on the table. "I can bring along a guest, if you're interested. It will probably be boring for you, but the dinner is likely to be good. Supposedly it's being prepared by a well-known European-trained chef."

Takaba was pleasantly surprised by Asami's rare invitation, but then he remembered how he'd rather slit his throat than spend the evening in the company of a bunch of dull old businessmen. "Yeah, I'd be bored. Thanks, but no thanks."

"I don't blame you." Asami leaned his head back again. "Let me know if you change your mind before tomorrow afternoon. I have to send them an RSVP."

"Sure..." Takaba answered, frowning worriedly. It was highly unusual to see Asami showing such obvious signs of fatigue. "You look like you're going to fall asleep before dinner. There's a hot bath waiting for you. Why don't you go relax while I finish cooking dinner?"

Without saying a word, Asami got up and walked slowly toward the bathroom.

Now Takaba was really depressed. It wasn't looking good at all for sex tonight, AND Asami was going to be gone again this weekend. Takaba returned to the kitchen and finished fixing dinner. He plated it artfully, and set everything on the table. He sat down to wait for Asami. He seemed to be taking a long time in the bath.

He looked so tired... I wonder if he fell asleep in there? Maybe I should check on him... ah, this definitely means no sex tonight! And he's going to be gone again this weekend to some stupid function. The same night as the damned art museum grand opening.

The same night...?

Takaba got up and walked over to the table where Asami had left the envelope. He picked it up, opened it and pulled out a beautifully decorated red and gold invitation card.

Mai Art Museum Grand Opening, 26 July.

He felt a strong pair of arms snake around his waist from behind, and then Asami's heated breath and lips up brushed up against the back of his neck. "Change your mind, yet?"

Takaba felt a strange thrill of excitement. He couldn't tell whether it was from discovery of the museum invitation, or the fact that he knew this sexy man who was embracing him from behind was wearing nothing but a towel.

"How... how did you know?"

"I have my ways."

He felt Asami nip him lightly on back of his neck and then Asami's warm hands slid under his shirt to caress his chest. His fingers located and lightly pinched his nipple. Takaba gasped. "Dinner... "

His other hand slid down to the waistband of Takaba's pants and then slipped inside them. "Later," Asami replied, in a low husky voice.

Takaba felt the warm hand grasp his growing erection and then slowly begin to stroke it.

Takaba moaned softly and then sighed. "I though you were tired."

Takaba relaxed his body so he was leaning into Asami. He felt a delicious hardness press up against him.

"No, not at all..."

. . . . .

. .

 

All characters from the Viewfinder Series are the property of Yamane Ayano or that of her publishers/subsidiaries. No profit is made from this fanfiction.

Chapter Text

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The Mai Museum grand opening was a formal affair, which meant Takaba was going to have to be fitted for a tux. Asami instructed Kirishima to take Takaba to his tailor. At the present moment, Takaba was standing next to the limo. Kirishima had opened the door and was waiting patiently for him to get in. Takaba had never before ridden in it without Asami, and the thought of doing so seemed too pretentious.

"Umm... " Takaba eyed the limo uncomfortably. "I'll just walk and you can meet me there... "

Kirishima calmly pushed his glasses up on his face. "No, I'll be taking you there. Get in."

"No, you're not," Takaba argued, crossing his arms. "I'm not riding in a limo like some pampered prince! I'll be walking there myself... GOT IT!?"

Kirishima opened his mouth as if to scold him, but then his eyes suddenly shifted to looked past Takaba. He frowned. Then he turned his head slightly to the left and his eyes widened. "Takaba... " He spoke calmly in a low voice, but he also appeared alarmed.

Takaba felt a sharp pang of fear. "W-what is it?"

We're being ambushed! Takaba whipped around to look in the direction that Kirishima was staring. As soon as he turned, he was grabbed forcefully from behind.

Shit!

"Kiri-- !"

He felt himself being picked up and then he was thrown into the limo. The door closed and the locks were activated. He looked up and saw Kirishima smirking at him through the window. "I'll be taking you there," he heard the muffled voice say from the other side of the car door. He walked over to the driver's side, got in, and started the car.

Takaba tried to unlock the door but the locks wouldn't budge. What kind of car locks people INSIDE it? Helpless, Takaba watched as the car pulled into traffic. The privacy window between the driver and the back seat was closed. Takaba banged on it with his fist.

Vweeeeen. The privacy window rolled down.

"Yes?" He heard Kirishima's deep voice reply.

"YOU ASSHOLE!" Takaba yelled at the back of Kirishima's head. "That was a stupid thing to do! Now how am I going to trust you when there REALLY is danger!?"

"I promise I won't ever do that again. And to make it up to you, I'm going to let you in on a little secret- there's a lock override switch back there. Find it, and you can lock or unlock the door at will."

"Where-- ?"

Vweeeeen. The privacy window rolled back up.

Yes, of course there would be an override switch somewhere back here. Takaba searched all around in the back of the limo until he finally found a hidden panel that opened to reveal an assortment of switches. He pushed the switch with the lock icon to the up position and heard the satisfying sound of the locks popping back up.

"HA!" Takaba crowed triumphantly.

The car came to a stop and Kirishima got out. They had arrived at the tailor's.

. . . . .

When he first walked into the tailor's, he casually looked through the racks of tuxes. I'm going to look absolutely ridiculous in one of these. However, the tailor came over and took him back to another area with styles that seemed to cater to a younger crowd. It wasn't long before the man put together an outfit for him and had him try it on. He placed pins in it everywhere to shorten the slacks and the length of the shirt sleeves and coat. Then the man turned him around so he was facing a full-length mirror.

Takaba couldn't stop looking at himself in the mirror. I really look good in this!

"I'll take it. How much?"

Kirishima cleared his throat to catch the tailor's attention and then whispered something at him.

"Yes sir. I'll have it ready by tomorrow." The man wrote something down on a pad and walked off.

"But... I need to know how much... " Takaba protested.

Kirishima attempted to guide him toward the dressing room. "Don't be rude. You know Asami is paying for it."

"I don't want him buying my clothes!"

"Fine," Kirishima pushed him into the dressing room. "You can pay for the tie then."

. . . . .

Vweeeeen. The privacy window in the limo rolled down.

Vweeeeen. The privacy window rolled up.

The locks popped up. The locks popped down. The locks popped back up.

Vweeeeen. The privacy window rolled back down.

The air conditioner was turned on at full blast.

The radio came on and was switched back and forth between several stations before settling on music with a pounding beat.

The volume was turned up.

The volume was turned up even higher.

"Wow! This is all right!" Takaba yelled at Kirishima over the loud music, "I COULD GET USED TO THIS!"

Kirishima struggled to keep his composure.

The locks popped down. The locks popped up. The locks popped back down.

. . . . .

Takaba stood in front of a mirror in his room, staring at the way he looked with uncertainty. The tie itself had been shockingly pricey. I can't imagine how much the rest of this cost. I thought this looked great in the store but now that I'm dressed for tonight, I don't know if this is appropriate for a Museum opening...

Asami walked into his room, dressed in a stylish but classic tux. Takaba took one good look at him and then panicked.

"THAT'S what you're wearing?! I'm not dressed right! Compared to you, I look... I don't know... too radical!"

"It's fine, don't worry." Asami took a closer look at him. "Actually, you look... " He took a deep breath and looked at his watch. "Are you ready?"

"I look... I LOOK, WHAT?!"

"Akihito. It's time to go."

"O-okay." Takaba started to walk out of his room but stopped when he spotted his camera. "I guess bringing that along would definitely be inappropriate." Takaba stared wistfully at his camera.

"Yes, it would. But if I were you, I might slip my cell phone in my pocket."

. . . . .

Takaba rode nervously in the limo with Asami. Asami looked calm... bored even.

The drop off area for the museum grand opening had two areas. The first one was for the big celebrities so they could be photographed and filmed as they walked to the entrance, and the second was for other guests.

Kirishima pulled up to the second drop off area. There was a man standing there waiting to open the car door. Since Asami was on that side, he got out first and then Takaba followed. There was one photographer off to the side who was snapping pictures of guests at this drop off. Takaba ducked behind Asami to avoid being photographed. The photographer only took a couple of pictures and then moved on to the next car that was pulling up.

Looking over to the first drop off area, Takaba could see the photographer's area where he would have been standing. Walking right past them was a well-known pop singer. Takaba felt a little envious at first but then realized he would be going inside the museum with the singer.

I might even get to speak with her.

Asami and Takaba walked up the red-carpeted steps to the entrance. The press box was located near the entrance. Preening and posing in front of them was a famous Hollywood actress with her equally famous actor husband standing off to the side.

Wow! Them too?

He spotted Mitarai in the very back of the press box. From his position, Mitarai looked like he was having a difficult time getting shots without the cameramen in front of him getting in his way. Despite that, Takaba ducked to the opposite side of Asami so Mitarai wouldn't spot him.

There was a bit of a crowd going through the entrance. Takaba hesitated, but then he felt a hand on the middle of his back gently guiding him to the entrance. They stopped moving forward briefly as they waited for the ushers to check the guest invitations, but Asami's hand remained pressed against his back.

It seemed like too intimate of a gesture. A man would not do this to another man, would he? Especially out in public? Takaba wondered anxiously. Finally, Asami removed his hand once they reached the usher, and pulled out his invitation. Takaba looked around at the guests and noticed right away they were all paired up male/female. Am I the only male guest of a male invitee? Takaba began to feel self-conscious.

They walked into a reception area and Takaba looked around nervously. Male, female. Male, female.

Male... male?

He finally spotted two men entering together and then noticed that there were other groups of men standing together and chatting. Not only that, but he also recognized the British rock star, from the band called "Disquietous", who stuck out because he was dressed so flamboyantly. Other younger men were dressed in a style not much different from what Takaba was wearing.

"Ah! Asami-sama!" an older man in a classic tux called out as he approached them.

"Well?" Asami cocked an eyebrow at Takaba expectantly.

Takaba was confused. "What?"

"You don't want to be stuck listening to a couple of boring old businessmen talk. Go mingle with the younger crowd." Asami turned and walked toward the man who had been calling out to him.

"Mingle. Yes." Takaba said to nobody in particular. He walked over to get a closer look at the flashy rock star.

The rock star was speaking rather animately to a small group of people, but then took notice of Takaba. "Oh and who might you be, my Japanese friend?'

Takaba introduced himself. "I am Takaba Akihito. I am just a lowly guest."

"Aren't we all just lowly guests in the midst of all this brilliant talent? This is Anaïs. She's the real star here with her famous photography collection gracing this museum." He pointed toward a corridor. "Have you seen it?"

Takaba looked at the young woman with interest. "You're a photographer? No, I haven't seen it yet."

"Then I shall ask her to personally show you her piccies. Naturally, she wouldn't think of offering herself because she's a snobby Frenchwoman." The rock star turned to Anaïs and grinned mischievously.

"How rude!" Anaïs smiled playfully back at him. "You say I am a snob and yet you did not introduce yourself to this young man. This is Leo. He is an obnoxious Englishman and occasionally, a musician. Come, I will show you that I have better manners than that man."

Anaïs took his arm and led him down one of the hallways. Takaba glanced quickly in Asami's direction and saw Asami look up and meet his gaze momentarily, then return his attention to the person who was talking to him. Well, he did say to go mingle.

Anaïs led him to a display of photographs. They were landscape pictures of vineyards. "Did you take these in France?" Takaba asked.

"These... I take in Italy. I like to take pictures of old buildings, but this vineyard has charm so I tried something different and everyone seems to like it. I think maybe I should try more landscape photos, no?"

"Yes! These are beautiful. I like how you caught sunbeams lighting up different areas on the hill. My father likes to take pictures of landscapes too. He's traveled to a lot of different countries. It's my dream to do that as well, but I prefer taking pictures of people."

"Oh, you are photographer as well? Is your work here also?"

"NO!" Takaba blushed embarrassed. "No, I'm not at the same level yet. I uh... work for a local newspaper. I'm really just a party-crasher."

"Do you know the work of... oh, he is a Canadian photographer... McLaurin. Sorry, I cannot recall his first name. He also likes to take pictures of people. I will show you..."

Anaïs led him further down and they looked at a series of black and white photos of natives in the Amazon forest. Takaba was mesmerized. "Yes! This is exactly what I want to do! These are really good."

"Yes, he is good." Anaïs took his arm again and they began to walk back to the reception area. "He is a favorite of my husband, but sadly my husband is not here tonight to see these."

"Your husband? Oh, I thought Leo... "

"You think Leo is my husband?" Anaïs laughed. "No, I am not Leo's type. He has a boyfriend."

"Oh... " Takaba looked uncomfortable.

"This is bad in Japan for two men to be lovers, is it not?"

"It's... not spoken about." Takaba took notice of Asami who now had several people surrounding him. Again Asami looked up at Takaba- this time with a piercing gaze. Takaba looked away quickly.

Anaïs released Takaba's arm as a waiter approached them with a tray. "Would you like some Champagne?"

Both Takaba and Anaïs took a glass. Takaba gulped down his glass rather quickly.

. . . . .

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Chapter Text

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Takaba noticed the crowd was beginning to move toward an entrance that led into another area. Asami stood off to the side, obviously waiting for him.

"Oh," Anaïs said, "I think they are serving dinner now. Perhaps I will see you after?"

"Um... yeah." Takaba replied. Asami's gaze intensified. It was as though he was calling him to his side with that look.

Takaba felt momentarily annoyed. What if I don't run to your side like an obedient pet?

Asami's intense look turned into a smirk.

Takaba realized he had been glaring at Asami and his face reddened with embarrassment. I've got to stop allowing my emotions to show on my face! I should be grateful to him for bringing me here tonight. Takaba sighed and walked over to Asami.

"Are you enjoying yourself so far?" Asami asked.

"Yeah. That girl I was with... she's a photographer. Her name is Anaïs and her pictures are on display here. We went back to one of the galleries... so she could show them to me."

"A photographer... " Asami raised an eyebrow. "What a fortunate discovery for you." They both turned to follow the crowd.

"She's... " Takaba was about to blurt out "married" but then realized how obvious that would sound. I have no reason to feel guilty for just talking to someone.  "She's from France."

"A pretty young female photographer from France... who appears to enjoy your company." Asami did not seem to be unconcerned.

Again Takaba felt the gentle pressure of Asami's hand on the middle of his back, guiding him through the crowd. At first, Takaba had the urge to squirm away from his hand, but then he felt a pleasant warmth spread through his body from Asami's touch.

I guess I kind of like him doing that.

Takaba suddenly stiffened. Why am I having such strange thoughts?!

At dinner, Takaba sat next to Asami, who was on his right. Their table seated eight. Takaba noticed the other couples at the table were all married; mostly foreigners accompanied by their wives.

We are the only male couple at this table, Takaba observed nervously.

MALE COUPLE?! No, no, no! We just happen to be here at the same time... together.

They all introduced themselves to each other. On his left, was an older man who could best be described as a thin Santa Claus. He introduced himself as William McLaurin.

"McLaurin? You're the one that took those black and white photos in the Amazon jungle?!"

McLaurin was pleased by the recognition. "Yes! Oh, that was a fantastic trip! It rained constantly. I don't think there was a moment that I was ever dry. I had a difficult time keeping my camera gear protected."

For most of the dinner, Takaba listened with rapt attention to the older man as he described meeting and befriending the natives, and the challenges of camping in the rainforest.

"I was amazed at the spiders we came across! Some were as big as these dinner plates. I even saw pink tarantulas."

"Pink tarantulas!" Takaba laughed. "Those ALMOST sound cute. I'm not a big fan of spiders though."

"They eat them over there. I did try one... not the pink one, but some other kind."

Takaba shuddered at the thought of eating spiders. "What did it taste like?"

McLaurin chuckled, "Crab."

Before Takaba knew it, the four-course dinner was almost over. They brought out the desserts and Takaba noticed that each person at their table had something different. Takaba tried his and guessed it was espresso ice cream with a foamy cream that tasted like hazelnuts and something vaguely alcoholic. He promptly finished it. As soon as he was done, Asami switched his dish with Takaba's. Takaba grinned and put his fork into the small decorative cake that was now in front of him. When he took a bite, he was surprised to find the cake had a thin crispy layer on the outside and a delicious custard inside. Takaba closed his eyes and moaned softly, prompting an amused look from Asami.

"You have no IDEA what you're missing... you should try this!"

Asami leaned toward Takaba's ear and spoke in a low voice. "My dessert is watching you lewdly devour that cake."

Takaba nearly choked on the cake. "I really wish you wouldn't say weird stuff like that," he growled at Asami.

. . . . .

The area where they were having dinner had a bar set off to one side, and a small stage with a grand piano on it in the front of the room. During their meal, a 4-string quartet played on the stage. As people finished their meal and wandered off to explore the rest of the museum, servers cleared and began removing the tables that were next to the stage. They left a few in the back so guests could sit and socialize while sipping their drinks. Most of the attendees that remained in the room, however, gathered near the stage. Takaba spotted Anaïs, Leo, and a younger man talking together. Takaba wanted to go to them but he also felt obligated to spend time with Asami, since he was attending as Asami's guest.

Asami followed the direction of Takaba's gaze and then looked at him with a slight smile. "This is your night... so why don't you go play?" Asami turned and walked toward the bar. Once he got there he ordered a drink, and then turned around to watch Takaba.

Takaba muttered, "What do you think I am... a little kid?"

Takaba wandered over to Anaïs and Leo. They appeared to be having a lively conversation. Leo turned to Takaba, "Ah! Takaba Akihito, right? Now, which name am I supposed to use? Takaba or Akihito?"

"Akihito is fine."

Anaïs elbowed him in the side. "You are being rude again... " She indicated toward the younger man.

"Oh! Akihito, this is David... my date for this evening."

"Hello, " David said, shyly shaking Takaba's hand.

Takaba looked at Leo's companion. In contrast to Leo's bushy blond hair, David had dark wavy hair that fell just to his shoulders, and large brown eyes. So this is the boyfriend. He looks younger than me.

David looked around. "I can't believe how many famous people are here! I wish I could meet some of them."

"Me too. And I wish I could take their pictures. That would put me in good with my editor but everyone would probably be annoyed if I did that."

"You work for a newspaper?" Leo asked. "Which one would that be?"

"The Weekly Headline but I doubt you've heard of it. It's just a local newspaper."

Leo looked at both Takaba and David. "They're just people, you know. They may be a bit weird but still... do you have a phone that can take photos?" Leo asked Takaba. Takaba nodded. "Come on you two... I'll introduce you to some 'famous' people."

Leo took them to one celebrity couple he knew and introduced them. David was completely star-struck and couldn't say more than "hello". Takaba took the initiative and explained that he worked for a local paper in Tokyo and that they wanted pictures of the guests who attended their city's new museum. The couple agreed to allowed Takaba to take some shots.

They repeated this a few more times before Leo winked at him. "I think these people might have enough alcohol in them that it shouldn't be a problem now."

"Yes... thank you for your help!"

Leo took off with David following him. Takaba approached another group of people on his own, apologizing for the interruption but would they mind if he just took a few pictures...?

After a while, Takaba had gotten most of the pictures he wanted from the people in the room.

You are watching hardworking photographer Takaba Akihito at his professional best, Asami!

Takaba turned to look at Asami but Asami's attention wasn't focused on him. Instead, a young sexy starlet was at the bar talking to him. Asami had an easy, relaxed smile on his face as he listened to her.

You missed watching me work! And that girl shouldn't be wearing such a revealing dress at a museum!

Annoyed, Takaba left the room in search of other celebrities he might have missed. He found a few more and got their pictures, and then he saw McLaurin speaking to Anaïs near his exhibit. McLaurin happily posed next to one of his pictures for Takaba. Takaba asked Anaïs if he could take a picture of her next to her photos as well.

Takaba and Anaïs both walked back together to the dining area. Takaba looked over at the bar and saw Asami was still with the starlet. Asami had his head inclined toward her as he spoke. The starlet had moved closer to him as if to hear him better.

You didn't even notice I left the room. And she's standing way too close!

Takaba and Anaïs walked past a table that had some filled champagne glasses. Takaba grabbed one as they walked by and finished drinking it before they reached Leo and David.

"Did you get all the pictures you wanted?" Anaïs asked him.

"He couldn't have... he didn't get one of ME yet!" Leo grinned mischievously.

Anaïs rolled her eyes as Leo did his signature pose for Takaba. It was the same pose he did for all his publicity photos. Takaba snapped a few pictures.

"Let me see your phone... " Leo asked, holding out his hand.

Takaba handed his phone over. Leo tapped on it a few times and then moved next to Takaba, putting his arm around him. He angled the phone toward the two of them, took a picture and then lowered the phone so they could both look at the photo. It was an unusual candid shot of Leo. Takaba thought the picture looked like two good friends casually posing together.

"That came out quite nice, didn't it?" Leo handed the phone back to Takaba. "Don't publish that one, all right? It's special just for you," Leo smiled warmly at Takaba. Takaba agreed.

Takaba looked over at Asami again and saw he was still speaking with the starlet.

Well, I suppose there's nothing wrong with him wanting to talk to other people too... just stop putting off that sexy aura!

"I could use another drink," Takaba grumbled.

Leo stopped a server that was walking by. "Hold on... " He downed his own glass quickly, and then put his empty glass on the tray and grabbed two more. He handed one to Takaba. Takaba took the glass and thanked him, and placed his empty glass on the server's tray.

David looked at Leo, "You should be careful, shouldn't you? You have to play soon."

"That's why I'm drinking!" Leo turned to Takaba and looked at him apologetically. "I'm always nervous before a performance."

The lead singer of a popular rock band... who does concerts all around the world... gets nervous about performing here?!

"You're going to play tonight?" Anaïs said surprised. "I had not heard this!"

"I was here for the rehearsal this afternoon. Just wait... you're going to be in for a real treat!" David looked toward the stage. "I think they want you up there now, Leo."

Takaba looked up at the stage, and sure enough they were trying to get Leo's attention.

"Bollocks," Leo swore softly. He downed his drink and handed the empty glass to David, and then walked toward the stage.

Anaïs turned to David. "But... the rest of his band is not here, and he doesn't have his guitar."

"Oh, he's going to play the piano. You don't know his history? He's a classically trained pianist. He rebelled against his parents and his upbringing, and formed a rock band instead."

Someone on the stage introduced Leo, then said Leo would be playing a piece by Beethoven. Leo sat at the piano and took a deep breath before he began to play. The music at first was slow, soft and moody, but then it suddenly turned fast, loud and lively. So fast that Takaba couldn't believe how fast Leo's fingers flew over the piano keys. Realizing how unusual it was to see the rock star sitting at a grand piano, Takaba took out his phone and snapped some photos, mentally reminding himself that he should ask Leo for permission for them to be published. Ten minutes later, Leo finished the piece and the crowd broke out in loud applause.

"You were right, that was a treat!" Anaïs said to David.

"No... that wasn't what I was talking about."

The string quartet came back on the stage and took their seats. Leo began playing another song that Takaba recognized as one of Leo's band's hit songs. It was a love song. Originally, it had been recorded as a guitar solo. The stringed instruments played along with Leo. Somehow, the song done with piano and strings made it sound more intense than usual.

Anais tapped Takaba on the shoulder and pointed to David. David was staring at Leo, his infatuation obvious on his face. Takaba looked back at Anaïs. She smiled and put her hand to her chest to show it was affecting her too. Takaba imagined Asami walking up to him, putting his arms around him and lowering his head to kiss him.

This song is getting to me, too.

He glanced over to where Asami was standing. The starlet was now gone but instead of paying attention to the performance, Asami was closely watching him. Asami's piercing gaze felt as if it was violating his innermost thoughts. Asami smirked back at him and Takaba quickly looked away.

This is bad. What kind of face did I just show Asami?

Takaba tried to move deeper into the crowd so that he was no longer within Asami's sight. He found himself next to an exit. The champagne is going straight to my head. I think I've had too much.

Overwhelmed, Takaba turned and quickly made his way through the exit into the corridor.

. . . . .

At that moment, he needed to be alone to calm his rapidly beating heart, but there were other guests wandering around looking at displays. Takaba finally found an area that was empty and he rushed in. He closed his eyes and took several deep breaths to clear his head.

He opened his eyes again and found himself standing in front of a painting, but the top of the frame was broken into pieces, looking as if it had exploded. At the broken point, the two-dimensional painting suddenly turned into a three-dimensional image of a bird flying free. Another painting was of a sushi chef. He was offering a piece to someone outside the picture. Out of the front of the painting popped a giant piece of sushi. It was as if you could just walk up and take it.

Takaba was delighted with the art in this room. "These are GREAT!" He took out his cell phone and began taking pictures of the paintings. He suddenly sensed that someone was at his side. He turned and saw an older Japanese man, who was also staring at the painting.

"Whimsical, isn't it... this art?" The man said. "Well, at least these are done by Japanese artists. This museum should only be filled with Japanese works."

"This is an international museum," Takaba told him. "Don't you think it's great that you can see art from all over the world just by coming here? It's a great way to get new ideas by seeing different perspectives."

"I think there is too much Western influence in our country. The art in this room reflects that." The man pointed to another painting of an ocean shore. Near the corner, the paint left the canvas, appearing as if it was flowing down the wall and pooling onto the floor. In a swirl of blue on the floor were painted dying fish.

"Our culture has become quite messy," he continued. "It is slowly dying. A painting is a painting; it should not try to break out of its frame and seek to become something different than what it was meant to be.

"There are those who would not hesitate to tear down our traditions and morals. It is the responsibility of those of us who are in power to be the protectors of our culture. However, there is an occasional rogue who likes to make trouble." The man turned to face Takaba. "Rogues like... Asami Ryuichi."

Takaba froze at the mention of Asami's name.

"He is a very powerful man. At first glance, he seems to be the perfect example of a Japanese gentleman, but there are whispers that he has certain... how should I put it? Predilections." The man stepped in front of Takaba so that he was looking at him directly in the eyes. "You know what I speak of, don't you?"

The man smiled, "To be fair, we all have our dark secrets and unusual desires. As long as it is kept quiet and behind closed doors, what does it matter? But power can go to a man's head. He begins to believe he can do anything he wants... like showing up to this event with a young, golden Adonis at his side, flaunting his homosexual plaything in public."

"You have the wrong idea," Takaba protested. "I'm just... "

"I have been observing both of you since you arrived this evening. Asami never takes his eyes off you." The man scowled, "Do you enjoy being the object of a powerful man's lust?"

Takaba started to dodge quickly out of the gallery. "Excuse me, I need to get back to... "

The man roughly grabbed Takaba's arm and jerked him back. "To HIM? He cannot protect you as well as you think."

Takaba wrenched his arm from the man's grip and glared at him. "I don't need his protection! I don't want to make a scene in this nice place, but if you continue to block me from leaving, I'll give you an example of just how capable I am!"

"Then let me leave you with this thought before you go running back to your master. Long have I wanted to bring that man down, but it seems he is untouchable. This arrogant behavior of his tonight will not go unpunished! I may not be able to take him down, but perhaps I can unsettle him... by hurting YOU."

"You can't hurt me. Trust me... I've dealt with FAR worse people than you!" Takaba roughly pushed him aside and walked past him.

"TAKABA AKIHITO... photojournalist employed by The Weekly Headline." The man's voice rang out, stopping Takaba in his tracks. "Your editor's name is Shinotake. You have a close colleague whose name is Mitarai. Your father, mother, and grandmother all live together in Yokohama. I also have the names and addresses of several of your friends. Not ONE of these people know of the sexual relationship you are having with the CEO of the Sion Group."

Takaba whipped back around with a feeling of fear growing in the pit of his stomach.

"Soon, ALL these people will know your secret. By the time I'm done with you, you will have neither a job nor friends. How will your parents and grandmother react, I wonder?" He made a tsking sound. "Shocked, I would imagine. Perhaps they'll even disown you. So go cling to your owner because that's going to be all you have left... until he realizes what a useless thing you have become to him."

Takaba heard the sound of someone slowly applauding behind him. "What a performance... a pitiful, cowardly man making empty threats toward someone who is not even his opponent." Takaba turned to see Asami standing near the entrance, smirking. "This man is wasting your time, Akihito. He is incapable of saving his own failing business. He won't be doing anything to you. He is only a paper tiger."

"Those were not empty threats! You may be untouchable but this young man is not! And there is nothing you can do to stop me from ruining him."

Asami's eyes flashed dangerously as he approached the man. "There are many ways I can stop you, Oshima. It's only a matter of deciding which one will do you the most harm..."

"STOP!" Takaba stepped in front of Asami to block his approach. Asami stopped and looked at Takaba in surprise. Takaba looked back at him pleadingly, "I can take care of this myself." Asami gave him a short nod but then returned his menacing glare back toward Oshima.

Takaba turned to Oshima. "You just said that you can do nothing that will affect Asami. So there's nothing for you to gain by hurting me, except to possibly create new adversaries. How is that good business sense? All I ask of you is to think about that-- before you act."

Oshima's gaze flickered back and forth between Takaba and Asami, and then he smiled shrewdly at Asami. "It seems you are not quite as bulletproof as you would like everyone to believe." Oshima carefully side-stepped around Asami and quickly exited the gallery.

"What did he mean by that? Is he threatening to shoot you?!"

Asami glared angrily in the direction where Oshima had exited, "It's just an expression..." Asami's mood changed from serious to playful as he smiled slightly. "Are you worried for me, Akihito?"

"Don't be an idiot! Why would I be!? But, I think I've had enough of tonight."

Asami nodded in agreement. "I'll have Kirishima bring the car around."

. . . . .

. .

Chapter Text

. .

. . . . .

Takaba sat in the back of the limo with Asami. Asami had cracked the window and was smoking a cigarette. He was staring out of the window, deep in thought. He had an agitated expression on his face.

Takaba's thoughts were in turmoil. He was still shaken by Oshima's threats, but even more so by the look on Asami's face.

"Asami... don't do anything to Oshima."

Asami didn't answer. He kept staring out the window.

"Please..."

"Why do you care so much about what happens to such a detestable man?" he said, finally breaking his silence.

"Just promise me you won't... do anything to him."

Asami drew deeply from his cigarette and exhaled. The cloud of smoke was sucked out the window.

Takaba began to nervously pick at his fingernails on one hand. Hearing the sound, Asami covered Takaba's hand with his own and turned to look at him.

"Don't do that," he frowned.

Takaba shook his head. "I couldn't live with it... if something bad was to happen because of me..."

Asami's stared at him for a moment and then his expression relaxed. He squeezed Takaba's hand and turned to look back out the window. "Don't worry about it."

Takaba waited for Asami to remove his hand, but it stayed on top of his.

He's holding my hand! This is so weird.

Takaba blushed and turned to look out his window. He realized the scenery looked different than he expected. "This isn't the way back... where are we going?"

"We're going to a hotel," Asami answered.

"Why?"

"I made a donation to the museum in exchange for the invitation. The level at which I donated gave me the privilege to choose who would be sitting at our table. The hotel room was included as part of the package."

"Is that how I ended up sitting next to William McLaurin?" Takaba asked, surprised. "How did you even know who he was!?"

Asami smiled slightly, "I'm glad you were pleased by it."

"Thank you... for tonight. I don't know how I can ever make it up to you."

Asami turned back to look at Takaba. He released Takaba's hand and then reached over to Takaba's groin and gave it a gentle squeeze. "I'm sure you'll think of something."

Surprised by Asami's sudden groping, Takaba grabbed Asami's hand and tried to move it off of him without success. "Is EVERYTHING you do motivated by sex?!" he grumbled indignantly.

Asami smirked. "Only when it concerns you."

. . . . .

The hotel suite was huge. It was about 3 times the size of Takaba's former apartment. Takaba looked around and saw a duffel bag placed next to a suitcase. "Hey, that's mine!" He went over to the duffel bag and unzipped it. Inside were some of his everyday clothing, neatly packed.

Did Kirishima do this?

In the middle of the room was a small table. Placed on the table was a large bowl of fresh fruit, and a chrome bucket partially filled with ice with a bottle sticking out of it. Asami slipped off his tux jacket and draped it over the sofa. He walked over to the table, lifted the bottle out and looked at the label. "Hmm... not bad."

The sitting area and the bedroom were separate. Takaba walked into the bedroom and saw a large pit next to some floor-to-ceiling windows. He walked up to the pit and saw it contained a very fancy tub. There were a couple of plush white towels set beside it.

A bathtub in the bedroom?

Asami walked up beside Takaba and looked at it. "It's a jacuzzi."

"I know that," Takaba rolled his eyes. "Why is it out here instead of in the bathroom?"

"Romantic ambiance. If you dim the lights, you can look at the stars outside these windows while you're in it. This looks like a honeymoon suite.

"HONEYMOON?!" Takaba shrieked.

"Just enjoy it for what it is." Asami stepped close to him. He reached up and began to loosen Takaba's tie.

"What are you doing?"

"What do you think I'm doing?" Asami frowned. "I'm undressing you."

Takaba smacked his hand away. "I can do it myself."

"Isn't that boring? Why don't you undress me instead? Or is my clothing too complicated for you to handle?" Asami smirked.

"Watch me!" Takaba unbuttoned Asami's vest and slid it off him. He reached up and untied and removed Asami's tie. "See?"

"Go on..." Asami smiled.

Takaba began to feel a bit self-conscious as he reached around Asami's waist to pull his shirt tails out. He unbuttoned Asami's shirt, marveling at how sexy Asami looked partially undressed with his shirt opened to reveal his bare chest. I can't take his shirt off until I unbutton the sleeves, he had to remind himself.

He looked up at Asami. Asami had a strange, intense look in his eyes. Takaba's breath caught in his throat. He quickly looked away because he felt as if he was about to see something in those eyes that he was not prepared to see.

Asami grabbed Takaba's chin so that Takaba was forced to look up at him. "Why did you leave the room during that song?"

Takaba pushed Asami's hand away. "Too much champagne. I wasn't feeling well so I went to find a bathroom."

Asami smirked at him. "Why do you lie to me when you know I can what you're thinking just by looking at your face? You were longing for something." Asami's eyes bore into him. "Are you that easily affected by romantic music? Were you fantasizing about me taking you in my arms and kissing you at that moment?"

Takaba glared back at Asami. "You don't know my thoughts as well as you think! Yes, I was feeling romantic but I was thinking of Anaïs, not you. I was wondering what it would be like to kiss her at that moment."

Asami chuckled and then took Takaba into his arms, kissing him softly before slipping his tongue into Takaba's mouth. Takaba tried not to react but it was what he had been waiting for all night. Takaba could feel the comforting warmth of Asami's bare chest against him. He moaned softly.

Oh crap! Did that sound just come from me?!  Embarrassed at having his bluff called, he pushed away from Asami's embrace.

Asami gave him an amused look. "Did you really think you could make me feel jealous of a young newlywed woman who was yearning for her husband? How cute! It's a pity it wasn't the pretty young woman who was attracted to you, but rather that absurd musician."

"You mean Leo, the lead singer of Disquietous?" Takaba reacted, surprised. "Really!?" He smiled slightly, "Wow..." He couldn't help feeling flattered.

Takaba watched as Asami's eyes flashed angrily. "I don't want to know what kind of useless thoughts you have going through your mind right now," he growled. He yanked Takaba toward him and kissed him passionately, and then he began undressing Takaba in earnest.

Takaba felt a small thrill of victory at Asami's reaction and wanted to try for another. "If I had really wanted you to take me in your arms and kiss me in front of all those people, would you have done it?" he smirked, teasing Asami.

Asami paused for a moment, thinking. "Doing something like that..." He furrowed his brow, "It would create a lot of troublesome problems, but... I wonder?"

Asami returned his gaze to Takaba and smiled, "Maybe I should publicly claim you as my property, then there would be no question in anyone's mind who you belong to. Would you like that?"

Takaba angrily pushed him away. "HELL NO! I am not your property, you bastard!" Takaba stomped off toward the bathroom. "I'm gonna go take a shower!" he yelled angrily.

Once in the shower, Takaba realized that despite the rude property remark, Asami never offered to do something that he wasn't prepared to follow through on. What if I had said yes? Are you really fine with making this relationship known?

Takaba thought about his parents, grandmother, friends, and co-workers. No... I don't want them to know. I'm not ready for that. I don't know if I'll EVER be ready!

The thought made him feel like a coward. And a little sad.

. . . . .

When Takaba exited the shower, he saw Asami wearing a bathrobe and standing next to the jacuzzi which was now filled with churning water. The champagne bucket had been moved close to it, along with two glasses. The lights had been dimmed.

"The shower is free," he told Asami. Asami headed toward the bathroom.

Takaba looked at the champagne bottle. It had already been opened. I'm not having any more of that stuff!

Hearing the shower start up, Takaba looked toward the bathroom. Asami hadn't closed the door all the way so Takaba walked over to close the door for him. He caught a glimpse of Asami's reflection in the mirror through the small opening. Because the lights in the room were dimmed, Takaba knew that Asami wouldn't be able to see his reflection back in the darkened room. Takaba watched as Asami took off his robe and then entered the shower.

The water cascaded down Asami's toned body. He reached toward a soap dispenser and then began rubbing his body down with a handful of foam. He washed his groin area last. His scrubbing movements slowed down considerably, and then he closed his eyes as he applied the soap to his most intimate parts.

Takaba's face flushed. He's been washing that place for long time. Is that... getting longer? It is! Holy shit!

Takaba felt a strong sexual heat surge through his own groin area. He reached down and began touching himself, the towel that had been tucked around his waist fell to the floor.

Asami took a deep breath and then stopped. He reached for more soap and applied it to his hair, scrubbing the gel out.

Highly aroused by now, Takaba tried to mentally wish Asami's hands back to the area between his legs. No... wash yourself there again.

Asami put his head under the water to rinse his hair. After all the soap was rinsed away, he leaned forward so the water was spraying against his neck and back. He opened his eyes, and then Takaba saw a worried and unsure look cross Asami's face. Somehow, seeing this unguarded expression of Asami's made Takaba aware that he was definitely violating a private moment.

Takaba stepped away from the door. What the hell was I doing? Am I some kind of pervert!?

Looking down and seeing his full erection answered that for him. He grabbed the towel that had fallen on the floor and walked over to the champagne. He quickly poured himself a glass and started gulping it down, but then stopped.

Whoa... this IS good! He drank it slower to enjoy the taste. He finished the glass and looked down again. His erection twitched back at him.

Damn it! Go down already!  He didn't want Asami coming out and seeing him like this.

He poured himself another glass and then slipped into the jacuzzi. Each of the jets seemed to be of different strengths. He found the strongest one and sat with his back against it. He closed his eyes and felt his body relax.

This is pleasant... He heard a splashing sound. He opened his eyes and saw Asami had slipped into the tub across from him.

Crap, I'm still hard!  He noticed the bubbles caused by the churning water covered up everything. As long as Asami stayed where he was, he would never know.

Asami stayed still, looking at Takaba. Takaba felt a momentary stab of annoyance. Why is he just sitting there?

Oh... I'm definitely drunk... Takaba leaned forward to kiss Asami. Asami still didn't move, so Takaba had to lift his butt off the seat so he could bend over to reach Asami. Asami finally reached up and pulled Takaba closer to him so that their lips could meet.

Takaba was really enjoying the kiss, but now the jacuzzi jet was blasting toward his rear end. One of Asami's hands also slid back there.

Takaba squirmed. "Wait Asami... the water is... "

Asami's other hand grasped his erection. "You're already hard! Does the water feel that good? Maybe you'd like it more if you could feel it directly." He reached around with both hands and spread Takaba's cheeks apart.

Takaba tried to squirm out of the way of the jet, but Asami repositioned him so the water was pulsating against the area from his testicles all the way to his small hole. "No, don't... this feels weird..."

He immediately began moaning. The water was very stimulating but gentle enough that being able to come from the sensation felt just out of reach. To be held at that level of arousal was frustrating for him. Takaba began breathing hard and his vision started to darken. He closed his eyes and laid his head on Asami's shoulder.

Suddenly, he felt himself being lifted out of the water and placed on the floor next to the tub.

"Akihito?" Asami called out his name worriedly.

He heard the sound of ice being shuffled around in the champagne bucket, and then he felt something cool and wet trail across his forehead.

"That feels nice..." Takaba muttered. He felt cool lips upon his, and then an ice cube slipped into his mouth. Takaba played with both the ice cube and the tongue that had delivered it. It quickly melted and then the tongue retreated.

Takaba smiled with his eyes still closed. "More... "

Again, he heard the shuffling of ice. He opened his mouth in anticipation.

He suddenly felt a very wet and chilling sensation, as a handful of ice was poured directly onto his stomach. His eyes flew open as his stomach muscles contracted in shock.

"SHIT!"

Asami's body was positioned directly over his. "What the hell, you jerk!? Don't you know you can cause someone to become sick by doing something like that!?"

"That's a myth," Asami grinned.

"Oh? Is it now...?" Takaba reached up and grabbed Asami around the waist and then yanked him down so that Asami fell on top of him. He felt Asami's body jolt as it came in contact with the ice. Takaba grinned mischievously. Asami chuckled, and then resumed kissing Takaba.

Takaba felt his legs being spread apart and then a cool, slick finger entered him. Takaba arched his back and gasped.

"Your body temperature is still too high," Asami whispered.

"I think... something different would help."

Asami smiled, "If that is what you would like."

Takaba felt something much thicker push into him. Their wet bodies grinding together created a sweet friction against Takaba's erection. The sensation was almost unbearable.

It wasn't before long he was crying out. His secretions jetted out, shooting across his stomach. He held on tight to Asami until he heard Asami's urgent moans just before he collapsed on top of Takaba.

As they both cooled down, Takaba clumsily groped around until his hand came in contact with a large towel. He pulled it over Asami mumbling, "You're gonna... catch a cold... "

Asami lifted his head up and looked at Takaba, puzzled. Takaba's eyes were closed and then a snore broke from his mouth. Asami smiled and rolled off of him. He took the towel and thoroughly dried Takaba off, and then lifted Takaba up and carried him to the bed, covering him with a blanket.

He sat on the edge of the bed watching Takaba sleep and listening to his soft snores. The snores stopped and Takaba began twitching and moaning in his sleep. Asami frowned and then gently nudged Takaba.

Takaba's eyes fluttered. "Please... don't tell them..."

Asami stroked Takaba's hair, calming him down and soon the snoring resumed. The worried and unsure expression Takaba had seen earlier returned to Asami's face. Takaba subtly twitched again and muttered. "No... they can't know..."

Asami's expression changed into a hardened look as he finally made his decision.

. . . . .

He felt alone. Takaba groggily reached out to assure himself by touching Asami but he couldn't seem to reach him.

This bed is too big.

He tried scooting over but still couldn't find him. He opened his eyes and sat up. Asami was not beside him.

He looked toward the bathroom. There was no light coming from it. He wasn't there either.

Takaba got up and stumbled through the darkened room, feeling his way until he reached the sitting area. He stood there for a minute trying to let his eyes adjust.

He heard a soft click and then the door to the room opened. Bright light spilled in from the hallway, as someone dressed in dark clothing entered the room.

Takaba froze. Someone is breaking into our room!

The door closed and he heard a low chuckle come from the intruder.

The dark figure started to make its way toward the bedroom but then stopped suddenly. It turned toward him. "You're up," the shadow said softly in Asami's bass tones.

Takaba let out his breath. "Where were you?"

"This is a nonsmoking room. I went out for a smoke."

Takaba could indeed smell a heavy scent of cigarettes coming from Asami.

'A smoke'? You smell like you burned through the entire pack!

Takaba approached Asami and embraced him. Asami's arms went around him in response. Underneath the smell of cigarettes, his nose picked up a musky scent. Ahh... now THIS is the smell that I like! Takaba reached up to touch Asami's face. It felt damp.

"You're sweaty," Takaba told him.

"Am I? Well, it's warm outside. Go back to bed... I'll rinse off and join you in a moment."

Takaba stumbled back to the bed. Just before he fell asleep, he looked out toward the sliding glass doors that led to a balcony.

What an idiot. He could have just stepped out there for a smoke.

. . . . .

The next morning, Asami and Takaba were getting dressed to go have breakfast at the hotel restaurant before checking out. Takaba was suffering from a hangover.

Asami, on the other hand, seemed to be in exceptionally good spirits. He was even whistling.

It's the tune of that damned love song Leo performed last night!

It made Takaba's headache worse. Takaba had a sudden fantasy of finding Asami's gun and threatening to shoot him with it if he didn't quit it. The only thing that kept him from lashing out was his anxiety over Oshima outing him.

I can't do anything about work. Either they'll fire me, or they won't. My friends... Kou and Takato... we've always stuck to each others side whenever there was trouble. They might be shocked, but in the end I don't think they'll abandon me. I'm not too sure about my other friends though. My parents... if they're going to hear about it, it's probably better if they hear it from me first. I'll call them after work...

This is going to be really bad! Ugh... I feel sick. I don't think I can eat breakfast. I'll just tell Asami to go without me.

Takaba turned on the TV to get his mind off his rolling stomach.

"... was a very successful night for the Mai Museum which will be open today to the general public beginning at 9:00 am. In other news, the owner and CEO of Senbou Enterprises was found dead this morning..."

Asami walked up to the TV and stood there watching, as he buttoned the cuffs on his sleeves.

"... Oshima Heitaro's body was found in a drainage canal behind an apartment complex. Oshima was a guest at yesterday evening's grand opening of the Mai Museum. Witnesses reported that he appeared to be drunk when he left the gala. It's believed he fell in the canal, which was flooded from the recent heavy rainfall, and drowned..."

Asami chuckled and turned to walk back to the bedroom.

Takaba turned the TV off and caught Asami's arm before he could enter. "Did you have something to do with this?"

Asami stopped to look at him, "Did I have something to do with what?"

"You know what I'm talking about!"

"You mean Oshima's rather convenient demise?" Asami walked into the bedroom, laughing heartily.

"This is no laughing matter! I DO NOT want to be responsible for someone's... demise."

Asami stood in front of a mirror and tied his tie. "You're not responsible. The only one truly responsible is Oshima himself. You have no worries." He turned to face Takaba. "Are you ready to go to breakfast?"

"I AM responsible if you had anything to do with it! Oshima was not drunk last night!"

Asami sighed impatiently. "Would it make you feel better if I told you I had nothing to do with his death? You should feel disappointed by that."

"I... I'm not sure if I believe you."

Asami smiled at him, then pulled on his suit coat and headed toward the door. "Call room service and order something for yourself before you leave."

"Oshima wasn't drunk...!"

Asami turned around and smirked. "You're right, he wasn't. He was stone cold sober."

. . . . .

. . 

Chapter Text

. .

. . . . .


Later that morning, Takaba reported for work. His editor, Shinotake, was looking over some pictures with Mitarai. "I guess we could try to do some creative cropping with these two, but the rest are unusable."

"The other photographers kept jumping in my way!" Mitarai insisted.

"Editor?" Takaba approached them and pulled out his phone and handed it to Shinotake. "Do you think you can use any of these?"

Shinotake slowly scrolled through the pictures. "These... are FANTASTIC! Yes, yes! I want them!"

Mitarai was looking over the editor's shoulder in disbelief. He turned to Takaba. "You got photos of the celebrities INSIDE the museum! How did you manage to get in!?"

Takaba put his arm around Mitarai's shoulder. "Well, it could be because I have such good connections."

Mitarai shrugged him off and frowned. "Bullshit."

Takaba grinned at him.

"Takaba, send those photos to my computer. Mitarai, why don't you get on that story about that guy, Oshima."

"Yeah, right... I get to do a story about some drunken idiot who drowned in a drainage ditch." Mitarai brightened, "Can I interview you about it, Editor?"

"NO!" Shinotake growled.

Takaba looked at Mitarai, puzzled.

"That guy who drowned... it happened in the canal right behind Shinotake's apartment," Mitarai explained.

Takaba paled. He was heading straight for my boss! Takaba glanced at Shinotake and saw his boss looking back at him with a wary expression.

A courier came by and dropped some envelopes on Shinotake's desk. Shinotake looked down at the pile and began opening his mail.

"Oh, here something for you, Takaba-kun." The courier handed Takaba a padded envelope. Takaba took the envelope and opened it. Inside was a music CD. The back of the case had been signed with a marker: "For my good friend, Akihito Takaba". It was signed with a flourish: "Leo".

Mitarai's eyes nearly popped out. "That...that's the lead singer from the band Disquietous! You know him?!" Takaba saw a piece of paper inside the envelope. He pulled it out, unfolded it and read:

 

Akihito,

Sorry we didn't get a chance to say goodbye. I hope all your pictures came out all right. Can you send me copies of the ones you took of me? I would particularly like the one of the two of us together. I collect selfies taken with people I've met round the world.

Write to me as well! Let me know when you're coming to the UK. I'd love to show you round London!

Regards,
Leo

email: beethoven8cm13@...



Mitarai was staring at the CD case. "Hey, if you're interested in selling this..."

Takaba smiled slightly, "No."

"Did the lead singer write that note? Can I read it?"

"No!" Takaba held the note protectively to his chest, "It's personal!" he said, pretending to be outrageously offended.

Takaba laughed as Mitarai groaned in frustration.

Mitarai looked at the editor who was looking at a card and frowning. "What do you have there, Editor?"

"It's a complimentary pass to a private gentleman's club. The note says the owner will cover my bar tab for the first 90 days."

Mitarai snatched the card from the editor. "Wow! This is for Club Sion! That's a really ritzy place. He must be a big fan of our newspaper, huh?"

Shinotake scratched his head, puzzled. "I guess..."

"Man... you guys have all the luck," Mitarai pouted. He handed the card to Takaba before stalking away.

Takaba looked at the card and read the short note. It was signed Asami R.

"Editor, do you know this person... Asami?"

Shinotake shrugged. "It's seems I've heard the name somewhere before..."

"How about that person whose body was found behind your apartment... Oshima."

Shinotake flinched. "What makes you think I knew him?!" he snapped at him.

Takaba was caught by surprise at the editor's outburst. Shinotake sighed, "Yes, I knew him. He caused my father's magazine to go bankrupt by putting pressure on our advertisers to pull out... all because we published a flattering story about one of his competitors. He was a real piece of shit. He had a lot of enemies. I don't think anyone will be mourning his death."

Shinotake stared at Takaba for a long time before leaning in and whispering. "Between you and me? I'd say he finally got what was coming to him." He winked. "Now get back to work."

Takaba looked down at the Club Sion card. Asami's words came back to him. "Would it make you feel better if I told you I had nothing to do with his death? You should feel disappointed by that."

No, it couldn't be...!

Takaba looked back at his boss. Shinotake was staring off into space... with a scary smile on his face.

 

 


 

~Epilogue~

Takaba had placed Asami in a difficult position. Asami didn't want to go against Takaba's wishes, but his instincts were strongly telling him he needed to remove a threat. Watching Takaba suffer from the anxiety of being outed as being in a gay relationship was not what made Asami decide to eliminate Oshima. It was the realization that once Oshima discovered how much distress he could cause Asami by hurting Takaba, it was very likely he would continue targeting Takaba.

Asami's men tailed Oshima but were ordered to not take action. Asami wanted to deal with Oshima himself since this was a personal matter. Asami was dropped off at Oshima's last known location and he proceeded to track Oshima on foot, waiting for the opportunity to take him out. He followed Oshima to an apartment. Asami recognized it was Takaba's boss who answered the door. Shinotake tried to close the door on him but Oshima began raising his voice. Shinotake feared this would disturb the neighbors so he exited his apartment and the two of them walked around to the back of the building.

Asami followed but stayed hidden in the shadows. Their voices became louder as they continued to argue. Oshima kept insisting that he had information about his "immoral" employee, Takaba, that would require the editor to fire him, but Shinotake was determined instead to confront Oshima about his role in causing the Shinotake family business to go bankrupt.

The argument escalated when Oshima got up in Shinotake's face and yelled he would also take down The Weekly Headline if Shinotake didn't listen to him. In anger, Shinotake roughly pushed him back, which caused Oshima to lose his balance and fall. He hit his head in the fall, was knocked unconscious, and then rolled down a short slope into a canal. Shinotake watched Oshima go under the water but did not move to save him. Instead, he looked around to make sure there were no witnesses and then retreated quickly back to his apartment.

Asami waited around long enough to confirm that Oshima was not going to resurface and then left the scene. He made several phone calls on his way back on Shinotake's behalf; to assist in covering up any possible connection between Shinotake and Oshima, and to help erase any evidence of foul play.

Asami was delighted that Shinotake solved his problem for him without him needing to take action himself. He felt he owed Shinotake a debt of gratitude, hence the complimentary gift of the Club Sion membership along with three month's worth of free drinks.

Asami continued to chuckle for the rest of the day about someone else taking out Oshima before he had the chance... and that "someone" happening to be Takaba's boss.

Shinotake made good use of those free drinks, as he had a very anxious and stressful month until Oshima's death was officially ruled as an "accidental drowning".

. . . . .

Leo, the lead singer from the rock band Disquietous, was indeed very disappointed that Takaba had left suddenly. He had been planning all evening to entice Takaba into coming back to his hotel room for a little "rumpy pumpy".

David, contrary to what Anaïs told Takaba, was not Leo's boyfriend but rather a very enthusiastic fan brought along at Leo's whim. Leo is in the habit of "sampling" his fans.

Leo loves having a pen pal from Japan and Takaba gets a kick out of being email buddies with the wild rock star. Takaba and Leo do email each other occasionally...

...much to Asami's annoyance.

 

. . . . .

. .