Chapter 1: Where Do I Sign?
Where Do I Sign?
Two months ago...
A quiet knock on the door was answered with, “Come in.” Oki opened the door to Usaka Kazuomi's office.
“They're here, boss.”
“Show them in, then make sure we're not interrupted.”
Oki stood back to allow two men into the office, then closed the door. Usaka stood up from behind his desk and bowed politely. “Iwaki, Katou, please come in and have a seat.” He waved them to a small sitting area. “Thank you both for taking the time to meet with me.”
Iwaki Kyousuke, in his forties now, had aged gracefully into a silvering fox, still slender and fine-featured. His husband, Katou Youji, could easily pass as ten years younger than his actual thirty-nine.
“We're intrigued, Usaka. Why both of us?” Iwaki asked as they all settled into the comfortable chairs.
“I'm assuming you've heard the recent announcement that I'm producing a feature film, starring Saijou and Azumaya.” They nodded. “Well, I'm going to need a few actors with specific requirements that I thought you could help me with, Iwaki. And I need a director, Katou.”
“Me? Direct? I have only directed a few small projects over the years, Usaka.”
“And what sort of talents are you looking for?” Iwaki wondered. “My agency has no specialties when it comes to the actors we represent.”
Usaka gave them a look. “You can understand, I want no details about this project revealed until the last minute. That title I used in the press release is just a filler. Nothing we discuss can leave this office.”
They exchanged glances, then Katou answered for them. “Of course, Usaka. Top secret.”
Usaka produced two copies of the script for A Second Chance at First Love. “Here's the script. Saijou and Azumaya will be starring, but I'll need two featured actors for the side couple and a young woman with a name who will only play a cameo role – she's to be a decoy for the press, I'm afraid. And I want shooting to start by September so we can release it before Christmas. Fast, I know, but rumors are going to start no matter how careful we are. You don't need to read the whole thing to get an idea of what the story is, but please take a look.”
Usaka stood up and went out onto his balcony to smoke, leaving them alone to skim through the script.
The first thing they both noticed was the author. “Usami Akihiko? Seriously?” Iwaki muttered.
“The novelist? He's never written a script, has he?” Katou whispered back.
Eyes met. “Gay romance?” they said together. They kept reading, not skimming anything. By the time they had gone through the entire script, the two men were hooked. Usaka was back at his desk, quietly handling correspondence while surreptitiously watching the pair. They're in, he thought, hiding a smile.
“Well, Usaka,” Iwaki finally spoke, “I can see why you want to keep this under wraps for now. And what you meant by 'specific requirements.' Am I right in thinking your stars are going to come out, using this movie as a...announcement of sorts?”
“I thought of your example.” Usaka joined them again. “When you two did Embracing Love, the people accepted your relationship. Saijou and Azumaya have already worked together too many times for it to be an on-set romance, but we want to win over the public for them. Plus, I think it's about time for a big, splashy gay love story, with a modern take. Usami's script, which he adapted from a BL novel, is a fresh look – treating the main couple just like any other love interests in a romance.”
“It's a wonderful script. How on earth did Usami-sensei get involved?”
“Well, that's a story I probably can't share the details of, but he volunteered and he's investing as an executive producer. I believe he's going to come out publicly as well.”
The couple gaped at Usaka.
“And I'm getting two songs at least from Bad Luck for the soundtrack. If you recall, the singer Shindo Shuichi is in a relationship with the writer Yuki Eiri. My...companion Arisu is going to work with them to produce the soundtrack.”
“Arisu? My god. You're grabbing the most prestigious, internationally renowned, soundtrack composer for this?” Katou was floored.
“Your companion?” Iwaki whispered. Usaka let it pass.
“I want nothing but the best. I want this to win awards. I want it so huge, no one would dare snub any of us for making a gay romance. I want to ram it down the public's throat and make them love everyone involved. We'll overwhelm and drown out the stuffy conservatives. This is 2019, and LGBT people need a boost in this country.”
“This could very well do that. The story is excellent, takes their relationship seriously, with none of the ridiculous clichés gay characters usually get stuck with.” Iwaki was thinking. “Could I play the store owner?”
“Iwaki! You haven't acted in ages!”
Iwaki smiled. “What? You don't want to direct me?”
“Direct you? Shit. Usaka, are you sure you want me as director?”
“Yes,” Usaka answered decisively. “You have a light touch and you get the best out of performers. Everyone says your sets were fun and comfortable, and that's important with this one. I researched everything, believe me. And yes, I thought of you, Iwaki, for the role of the owner. Katou can even jump in there somewhere. And I want Usami-sensei and his boyfriend to do cameos. Maybe Yuki and Shindo, too. Though Shindo will have to wear a wig – that pink hair of his is distracting. Oh, and the couple the story is based on. Luckily, it takes place in a department store, so we can mix them all into the shoppers.”
Usaka sat back in his chair and waited to see what they'd say.
“So, the secondary couple – those are the two parts you were referring to with special requirements?” Iwaki asked.
“Yes, there is one kissing scene for them, so the two actors will have to agree to that. The entire cast needs to be okay with this subject matter, even though there won't be anything explicit. We don't want any sour apples making a fuss. I've got an insanely tight non-disclosure contract for the cast and crew, but it would only take one disgruntled person to wreck my plans.”
“Simple enough sets, aside from the store itself. Hmm...six weeks for main shooting...” Katou was already planning. “Set builder, costume designer, location scout, cinematographer...”
“I've already made a list. And there's a big department store that recently went out of business – I arranged to use it. We can remodel the inside as we choose.”
Katou grinned at Usaka. “You've done half my work already!”
“I take it that means you want the job?”
“Where do I sign? Iwaki, this is going to be fun! We haven't worked together in a while.”
Iwaki rolled his eyes. “It's going to be a lot of stress for you. But it's an amazing opportunity.” He stared at Usaka. “You have our support.”
“Thank god. I was counting on you two.” Usaka let out a long sigh. “Take the script with you. Just keep it secure. Katou, I have the contract here. Iwaki, you can confer with him about casting. And we'll meet once a week for updates, next week Saijou and Azumaya will be here. Sound good?”
“Let's do this!”
Chapter 2: Breaking the Bad Habit
Breaking the Bad Habit
“Misaki,” Usagi called from the couch, “I think we should talk about something.”
That's weird, Misaki thought. Usagi sounds so serious. “Okay, let me start the dishwasher...” He hit the button and then joined the author in the living room. “What's wrong?”
“Nothing is wrong. You know next week is the big meeting for the movie. All the main cast and crew will be there, including me.”
“Oh, right. I can't believe it's going to start filming already.”
“So, we need to decide on something, now that this is really happening.”
“What do you mean?”
“As far as I can tell, Usaka has assembled as many LGBT people as he could to work on this film. It's not just going to be a movie about a gay couple, it's going to make a social statement. A big one. And it's going to get a lot of attention from the press. He's not planning to reveal any details yet, but my involvement will be noted. Then, once the real plot is known...it's going to cause an uproar. We...no, I...will get a lot of attention. More than ever before.”
Misaki stared at him. “So, we need to be more careful from now on. It's going to be a pain, but you've dealt with the press.”
“Not like this. Especially after the fuss about Haruhiko. I think you can expect paparazzi camped out in front of the apartment. You will be noticed. They will research you. And they will put two-and-two together.”
What does he mean? “Wait. You think...?”
“You are going to be out, as well as me. Unless we take steps right now.”
Out? The whole world will know Usagi and I are...! “No! That's not possible! I can't! What about work? What about your writing?” Misaki jumped up and started pacing, not seeing the hurt on Usagi's face.
“Misaki. Calm down. First, I don't think my sales will be affected at all. Yuki Eiri got more popular once his relationship with Shuichi was revealed. And Isaka, Kirishima, Aikawa – hell, I bet most of Marukawa already know about us. You won't be fired.”
“That's your fault! You always make a damn scene! But it's one thing for the company to hide it, and something else for the outside world to know. They could still fire me.”
“They won't! I'll personally out Isaka if he tries it! And the workers there would support you – that place is crawling with gays.”
“Out Isaka? What are you talking about?”
“Isaka and Asahina. They've been together forever. Anyway, it will just be free publicity for Marukawa and he knows it.”
Misaki was in a full-blown panic, nothing was making sense. Usagi got up and tried to hug him only to be violently shoved away. “Don't touch me! You always try to get your way by distracting me! Not this time, you hear me?!” How can he be so calm? Doesn't he care how I feel?
Usagi had walked over to look out the windows. His voice was quiet. “Move out.”
“Shut up! What?” What did he just say?
“Move out. I'll help you get an apartment of your own. You can afford it now. We don't have to see each other. Leave me, and there will be no problem for you ever again.” He went out onto the balcony and lit up a cigarette. Misaki couldn't see his hands trembling from there.
I can't think! I can't think! I've got to do something. Misaki left the apartment and got as far as the elevators before he realized what he was doing, before Usagi's last words sunk in. Leave him? As if he could survive without me! The man would be dead in a week if I wasn't... Misaki sank to the floor, ignoring the elevator when it arrived. Shit!. Stop lying to yourself, Misaki! He lived 28 years without you just fine. Why? Why am I running? Why do I care if people know about us? He wants me, he loves me, he needs me – not as a housekeeper, dammit!
He remembered what Takaba had said. “It's a shame you can't be more open about it. Society sucks. Why shouldn't you walk down the street holding hands with the person you love? Or steal a kiss, or hug each other? What harm does that do to anyone?”
Misaki knew Usagi wanted to do those kinds of things with him. Usagi felt no shame about showing affection. Why do I? It's not because we're both men or because I'm Japanese. What a stupid excuse. It's because I'm a coward. I was about to sacrifice everything because I'm scared some strangers won't approve of me. All our friends and family support us, so why am I concerned with anyone else? To hell with everyone else!
Misaki stood up and marched back to the apartment. Usagi was still out on the balcony, slumped on one of the lounge chairs holding his head in his hands.
“Why did you come back?” Usagi asked without looking up. “You're better off without me. I'm just a selfish asshole who's always forcing you to do things you don't want to do.”
“I came back because I love you. And you love me. I'm tired of being a coward, of letting you down, of making you feel like you're forcing me. I'm not a child anymore and I need to stop acting like one.” Misaki slowly walked over to him. “I'm ashamed of myself, for letting my fears dictate how I act with you. For allowing myself to form the bad habit of denying you when what I really want is to be yours forever. I'm so sorry, Usagi!” Misaki's voice finally broke.
“Misaki!” Usagi pulled him onto his lap and wrapped him in that familiar and comforting embrace, cool hands holding him close. “It's not your fault! I've pushed you and pushed you, always demanding you do things at my pace. Because I'm pathetic, and desperate not to lose you. Forgive me, please! I'll do better if you help me. I swear.”
“I told you before - if I didn't want you, I would have left a long time ago. But I could never bring myself to show you, so it was just words. I'll do better, too. If you help me. I love you, I really do! I don't care if the world knows or hates me for it! I'll never leave you.”
“Oh god! Thank you, Misaki! I was so afraid I'd finally pushed you too far this time, ruined everything for good.”
Misaki took a deep breath. Then he turned his head and kissed Usagi's throat. Licked it. He felt Usagi go absolutely still. “Misaki?”
“I want you. I want you to make love to me, right now.” Misaki tangled his fingers in Usagi's hair and locked their mouths together. They kissed hungrily, but Misaki could sense Usagi holding back. “What?” he mumbled against Usagi's lips.
“I know. It's warm out tonight.”
“People will hear us.”
“I don't care.”
“We need the -”
“Check my back pocket,” Misaki interrupted. As Usagi found the bottle of lube, Misaki pulled off his shirt and started unbuttoning Usagi's.
“Misaki!” It wasn't a protest, just shock, as his shirt followed Misaki's onto the floor.
Misaki leaned forward and put his lips right to Usagi's ear. “Fuck me, Akihiko,” he whispered.
“Nnngh!” Usagi lost his last shreds of control. He attacked with hands, lips, tongue. The rest of their clothes went flying, and Misaki released the chair so it laid back flat. Laying full length on top of Usagi, Misaki bit and sucked on his neck as Usagi's long arms stretched down to work him open with slicked fingers.
“Enough. Usagi, it's enough.”
“Are... are you...sure. Gah!”
Misaki had sat up and impaled himself. “Oh god! I...Ahhh!” He came hard, just from penetration.
“Misaki! You're crazy tonight!” Usagi bucked upwards, gripping his hips.
“Hah! I don't care anymore! So deep! More!”
“Shit! Misaki!” Usagi was panting hard, trying to hold back his own climax long enough to bring Misaki off again. Pulling out – earning him a frustrated whine – he positioned Misaki on hands and knees and entered him from behind. Thrusting deep, he reached around to stroke Misaki's cock. “I can't... gonna come, Misaki!”
“Nggh! Close! I'm close! Uh! Huh! Don't stop, don't stop!”
Usagi sped up. “Now, please Misaki! With me!” Feeling Misaki's muscles lock up, Usagi let himself go, pumping out his orgasm deep within while Misaki convulsed and cried out. Completely spent, they collapsed onto the sticky seat cushion, Usagi smashing Misaki flat.
“I love you so much, Misaki. I didn't mean to scare you so badly. What I planned to say earlier was that you could move out temporarily, just until the media attention dies down. And we could keep seeing each other, just not here where they'll be watching. We can keep it secret still. I really don't care. It's up to you.”
“Usagi, I finally realized something. I don't want other people's opinions to scare me anymore. You, my friends and family – those are the people that matter. And they all know. So I won't run and hide and lie about us anymore. I...I'll probably still freak out sometimes, so be patient with me.”
“It's cute when you freak out.”
“Usagi! Don't call me cute! And get off me before I'm glued to this cushion permanently, you big pervert!”
“Well, you're a little pervert now, you know. Doing this outside! Shocking.”
“...! I will kill you.”
Chapter 3: More Money?
Usaka stood up to speak, looking around at the assembled people seated around a circle of tables. The heads of each department, the main cast, and Usami Akihiko, all watched him with anticipation.
“I'd like to welcome you all today and thank you all for agreeing to be a part of what I'm hoping will be a very important (and entertaining) movie. For too long, Japan has left its LGBT people ignored or ashamed, used them as comic relief or tragic figures, portrayed them as depraved deviants. It's our goal to show the world that gay people are just people, with the same problems when it comes to love and family and work and everything else.”
“We also want to make a damn good movie.” Everyone laughed. “Which is why I took pains to recruit all of you. Not just because you're LGBT, or supportive of that, but because you're the best of the best. Starting today, this movie is going to be of interest as news. I want to stress how important it is that we keep everything under wraps for as long as humanly possible. We want to control public opinion, and to do that we need to control the press. So please, everyone keep an eye on your teams and on yourselves.”
“Now, let's have everyone introduce themselves, starting with our writer and executive producer, Usami Akihiko-sensei.” Usaka sat back down to a round of applause.
Usagi took his turn. “Hello. I just want to say that it's a privilege for me to be here as a rookie screenwriter. And since you're all under that very draconian non-disclosure agreement -” More chuckles. “I also want to explain a little about why I was so eager to become a part of this. All my life I've been an outsider. I didn't fit in with my family, I had few friends growing up, and it took me a very long time to find my one true love. And it wasn't just because I'm a rich weirdo hermit, which I am. It was also my sexuality.”
He glanced around. “I've always used my writing as an outlet, to express myself. But what few know is that I'm also Akikawa Yayoi, the author of the BL novel that inspired this script. Those BL novels are where I indulged that part of myself, even though they are as clichéd and cheesy as any other type of erotic novel - and primarily read by women, to boot. But now, this chance to let others see a part of the world that is very important to me is...remarkable. More than any of my novels or awards, I want this movie to be my legacy, so I thank you all for helping to make it a reality.” He bowed deeply to more applause, as everyone was moved by his words.
Katou stood up next. “Many years ago, I was an AV actor struggling to move into the mainstream side of this industry. And I was given a chance, an awesome chance that changed my life in many ways. Not only did Embracing Love open doors for me, but I got to work with someone I'd long admired. Who happened to be a man. Who is now my beloved husband. We were very lucky that the public accepted us, though we also manipulated the press as much as we could for our own benefit. Well, that movie has faded now and it's time for another.”
“The people – regular people – are not so close-minded as we fear. They will listen, they can learn. It's up to us to teach them by example. This story, this movie, will be an excellent lesson. And I hope it will inspire others in both this industry and their personal lives. We can do something very important here, and I'm very grateful to Usaka-sama for allowing me to be a part of it. Please help me to make it a success, and I will do my best to help you all.”
Saijou Takato and Azumaya Junta shared a look, then Takato took his turn. “I've been a part of this industry for most of my life, and it's always supported me, challenged me, enchanted me. And I almost lost all of that, because of a scandal rag's exposè. It was only through the efforts and help of many people that we managed to diffuse the situation and save my career. Any of you who haven't realized by now, that was Junta in the picture.” He laid a hand on Junta's shoulder. A hand wearing a gold ring. And Junta patted that hand, showing off his matching ring.
“This entire project began when we decided to make sure that never happened again, to us or anyone else. This time we want to make the publicity work for us, rather than against us. There is an element of revenge, I'll admit,” he smiled. “As actors, we have to face the fact that our private lives are never truly private. We're going to turn that around and make it work for us. If people are so interested, then we'll give them a good show, and a damn good movie. With your support, Junta and I are ready to take on the world. Whatever the outcome, we will have done something to be proud of. Thank you all.”
Junta jumped to his feet. “I'm not an eloquent speaker like these guys, so I just want everyone to know how much I love you all, though I love Takato best!” More laughter, everyone dazzled by Junta's angelic magnetism. “We will work hard for you, we put our trust in you, and we're sure you will all do an amazing job. Let's have fun!” Cheers broke out.
The speeches continued around the room. Usaka sat back, satisfied. Usami leaned over to whisper in his ear. “I've word of another investor, if you're interested.”
“What?” Usaka's head turned sharply. “We have enough right now, but it would ease things considerably if we had more money, of course. The budget is going to be stretched to the limit, so another investor would be great. Who is it?”
Usami hesitated. “I'd rather let them do their own talking because they aren't...well, you'll make up your own mind. You are a member of Club Sion, right? Are you free tonight for dinner? 8:00 pm, and bring whomever you like. I will be there, with a few others.”
“I can make it. But what about Katou, or Saijou and Azumaya?”
“Are they also putting their money in? This investor is a bit risky, which is why I'd say you should decide from a business angle. If that affects them also, bring them. Or leave them out for now and make your own assessment first. Up to you.”
“I'll see if they can make it. At this point, we're all in it together. Risky, huh? Now I'm intrigued.” Usaka's mind was racing through all the extra things he might add with a larger budget.
“You may be horrified - I honestly don't know. But then, that's what makes it fun!”
“You are a terrible tease, Usami-sensei.”
“Good thing I'm a great writer, huh?” Usami winked and settled back into his chair.
Chapter 4: A Muster of Peacocks
A Muster of Peacocks*
“Whoa...” Misaki marveled, staring around the dimly-lit lush interior of Club Sion. This place was way out of his comfort zone, and so were the people they would be meeting. “Are you sure you want me here? I don't have anything to contribute.”
Usagi smiled at him. “Of course I want you here by my side. And you facilitated the entire thing, you know, you and Takaba. You're the one who said I should tell Haruhiko about the movie. Let's get a drink.” He headed for the bar since they were the first to arrive.
Usagi ordered a martini and a beer for Misaki, they both sat down and turned around to gawk. “Why so much black?”
“Dark and desperate acts require a suitable atmosphere,” Usagi said in a sinister voice.
“Stop that! He really is a yakuza boss?”
“Yes. Although according to Haruhiko, he's leaving that world behind and trying to become an upright citizen.”
“No wonder Takaba wouldn't tell me who his boyfriend was. He seems so normal! He did say he was done risking his life for a scoop – think that's how they met?”
“Who knows? Takaba is beautiful enough to catch anyone's eye, but it would take more than beauty to hold a man like Asami.”
“Hmpf!” Misaki pouted.
“Not my type, darling.” Usagi kissed his cheek. “I like them adorable.”
“Eek!” This whole PDA thing was still making Misaki blush, but he was trying.
“Wait until you see Asami. Do not make me jealous, Misaki.”
“What are you talking about? You know I'm not into guys.”
“Tonight will put that to the test. The two sexiest men in Japan, then Iwaki and Katou, Arisu for heaven's sake, and Asami. Not to mention Naruse or my brother, now that's he's had that makeover. Any one of them enough to drive a person to lust. And I don't think it matters what gender you are – they're just gorgeous.”
“Pfft. You're handsomer than any of them, I'm sure!” Misaki heard what he'd just said. “I mean...wait, um...Well, you are, dammit!”
Usagi's rich laugh rang out. “Misaki, I adore you!” Enchanted despite himself, Misaki could only stare at Usagi's perfect smile. No one compares to you. But if I tell you that your head will swell up bigger than a watermelon. So I won't say it, stupid Usagi.
He tore his eyes away and noticed new arrivals being led toward the bar. One light, one dark, together and separately, Iwaki and Katou were undeniably incredibly handsome men. Studying them, Misaki realized he had no idea which would take the lead, so to speak, in the bedroom. Both seemed confident and masculine but also gave off a whiff of...softness. It puzzled him. In that movie, Iwaki had been the bottom, but seeing them in person...
“I think they're a true vers couple,” Usagi whispered.
“What does that mean?”
“They do both. Switch it up on a regular basis.”
Misaki turned bright red. “How did you know what I was thinking?”
“It's a guy thing. We can't help thinking about it when it comes to a same-sex relationship. Plus, your face is very readable. Don't get shy.” Usagi smiled and held out his hand to the couple and introduced Misaki.
Chatting casually, Katou tossed in, “So, are you excited about being in a movie, Misaki?”
“What?” Misaki choked on his beer. “Me?”
“Both of you. Usaka said you should come play with us as extras.”
Saijou appeared while Misaki was still trying to process. “Where's Azumaya?” Iwaki asked him.
“We traveled separately - Usaka wants us to dodge the press. He should be here any minute.”
“Shit.” Everyone looked at Katou and then turned to follow his gaze. “It really is Arisu.”
“I worshiped him when I was a teenager,” Usagi said.
“Me too,” Katou agreed.
Misaki knew nothing about Arisu as a rockstar, but couldn't deny the man was amazing. Extremely tall and slender, his aura overpowered everyone and everything as if fireworks had just gone off in the room. A mane of red hair, leather pants, sunglasses indoors – he dazzled. They barely noticed Usaka standing beside him or Azumaya right behind.
Arisu randomly handed out candy as they followed the maître d' toward the others. Everyone was introduced, with Arisu giving Misaki a sweet and calling him, “wildflower,” bringing another fierce blush to his face as he tried to shrink behind Usagi.
“Is this everyone?” a voice asked from behind them. Spinning around they saw Haruhiko and Naru standing there and more introductions were made.
“Where did you come from?” Usagi asked his brother.
“We came in the back. There's a private room set up for us, if you're all ready?”
“Let's go.” Everyone made their way to a large and comfortable dining room, the table laid out with food and drinks. Takaba was already there, talking to a man with his back to the door. He stayed that way as they filed in, even though Takaba's eyes acknowledged the group's arrival and there was plenty of conversation still going on. Not until the door closed did Asami turn around to face them all.
Misaki stumbled backward into Usagi, his heart suddenly pounding in his chest. He nearly turned and ran out, the reaction was so overwhelming. Yukina Kou had affected Misaki, if he was being honest, but this man – dangerous, stunning, scarily powerful. Misaki felt like a mouse in the midst of predators, with Asami clearly leader of the pack. He thought, I might lay down and die if he asked me to.
“And there it is. I told you Misaki, at least one of them would get to you.” Usagi turned him around and forced his chin up so their eyes met. He blinked as Usagi's comforting amethyst gaze sank in, calming him down.
“Sorry,” Misaki whispered. “Scared me.”
Haruhiko walked over to Asami, shaking his head. “You really can't resist making an entrance, can you?”
“Leftover habit, I suppose. Welcome, everyone, to Club Sion. I'm Asami Ryuichi, the owner and hopefully, a new investor in your movie. Why don't we all have a seat? Akihito, sit with Misaki.”
Usaka was frowning as everyone settled at the table, but not at Asami. To Takaba he asked, “Why do I recognize you?”
“Ah, Usaka-sama. I'm Takaba Akihito, owner of Viewfinder. I was recently hired as your on-set photographer, and I'll be doing the glamour shots for the posters.”
“Takaba...Okay, that makes sense. I didn't meet you because my assistant handled that, but I did see you. Still, your name sounds familiar too, for a different reason?”
Haruhiko spoke, “He's also a journalist – wrote up my recent interview.”
“Press.” Usaka didn't sound happy.
“I signed the contract. Not a peep from me about the movie that you don't approve.” Takaba assured him. “I do have some contacts that would be useful should you want to 'leak' certain vague details occasionally.”
“Oh? And how, I wonder, did Asami know anything about this movie before today – like the fact that Usami-sensei was involved?”
“I knew from my brother, and I told Asami,” Haruhiko said. “Asami is a new partner of mine. Or rather, he will be, once I get my new company set up. Anyway, we're both interested.”
“I have no idea what's going on,” Azumaya sort-of-whispered to Saijou, who could only shrug in confusion.
“Asami Ryuichi, infamous yakuza boss?” Katou's eyes were popping.
“He's beautiful, isn't he?” Arisu asked randomly. “Not enough color in this club, though.”
Naruse was snickering and Usagi looked amused as well. Misaki, recovering from that...whatever, hoped someone would take charge of this really awkward gathering.
“Let's cut right to the chase, shall we?” Usaka said, staring at Asami. “How much are you willing to contribute?”
“A million American dollars each, from myself and Usami-sama.”
“Done. Let's eat.” A shocked silence fell over the room. Even Asami had to blink.
Usagi laughed and put his hands together. “Itadakimasu!”
*Muster of peacocks - like a herd of cows, school of fish, etc. Our men are just such proud beauties I have to think of them as peacocks showing off their feathers.
Chapter 5: Producer's Intuition
Of course, it wasn't that easy, Usaka knew. But the details could wait. If Usami Haruhiko was going to vouch for the man, then Usaka would take their money. And Usami was clearly here with Naruse, while Asami and Takaba apparently were a pair. Same-sex couples were crawling out of the woodwork for this movie, and he wasn't going to fight it. He'd been in a strange frame of mind ever since that trip to Karuizawa and the events he'd witnessed there. I met dead people and spirit creatures – what's a gangster compared to that?
Once the shock had worn off and people followed Usami-sensei's example by digging into the fine dinner, the mood in the room mellowed and conversations began to spring up. Asami was a suave and charming host. When combined with Naruse's ability to converse with anyone on any topic, Usami-sensei's sharp wit, and Azumaya's enthusiasm, everyone relaxed.
After most of the food was gone Usaka brought the main topic back up. “Alright, Asami. I was flippant earlier, but I meant it. I'm not going to turn down such an offer, and I'm willing to trust you with Usami-sama backing you. I've heard a few rumors about you lately, enough to reassure me that you aren't going to insist I fill my sets with thugs or find Takaba there selling drugs or whatever yakuza nonsense people might be afraid of.” Asami raised an eyebrow at that but kept silent.
“Are you two even aware of what this movie is about? And how...prominent do you want your involvement to be? Or will you simply use the name of this new company you're putting together? I'll admit I'd prefer the company name only because the situation surrounding this movie is delicate.”
“We're aware,” Usami said. “My brother felt the need to warn me that another media storm would hit the family soon and what it entailed. I'm sure you know about the recent...altercation between me and my father. Father is not having a good year.” He shrugged. “And we're fine with using the company name only since we want this movie to succeed as much as anyone.”
Asami spoke up. “I'm well aware of my reputation, which I'm working to change. I'm a very good businessman and I have a lot of money. I'm sure that those two factors will win out in the end. We have no desire to interfere in the actual making of the movie, just to make a solid investment that I predict will pay off to everyone's benefit.”
“Being connected to a movie about a gay couple is risky for someone trying to improve their public image,” Usaka pointed out
“I think of it as progressive. The new generation is going to end up changing a lot of things in this country. Anything I can do to speed that along is worthwhile. I want to walk down the red carpet at the premiere with Akihito by my side.” Asami shot a glance across the table at Takaba, chatting animatedly with Misaki.
“Remarkable, isn't it?”
“The lengths we'll go to for those we love.”
Asami was unfazed. “Remarkable is a good word. How did you meet Arisu, speaking of lovers.”
Usaka knew there was no point hiding anything in this group, and he had been the one to bring Arisu to the meeting. “We dated for about a year in college, then broke up before graduation. It's only recently that we reconnected. It's strange – over twenty years have gone by, yet we're still the same where it matters. The things that drove us apart vanished with maturity, I suppose.”
“I still drive him crazy,” Arisu said, “in the best ways. Probably because I'm a little crazy myself.” He hummed a tune. “Have you all heard the Bad Luck songs? They tell me you wrote the lyrics for one of them, Usami-sensei. I really liked it.”
Usami-sensei actually had a fanboy moment, as an idol of his youth praised his work. “I'm honored, truly. I had a very big crush on you. It's a bit surreal to be sitting here in this crowd. Not only Arisu, but Iwaki and Katou as well – I admired you guys when you did Embracing Love. And now we're all working together – amazing.”
“The movie will be amazing, and maybe now you can afford me, huh, Usa-chan?” Arisu shoulder-bumped Usaka.
“How would you know if it's any good? You haven't read the script, dummy.”
“I can hear it. It's very loud when we're all together like this.” He closed his eyes and swayed to his inner music, fully back and now under his control after going through meditation training at the monastery. Thank god, Usaka thought. I'll never be pushed into a rage over that again.
Arisu hummed again then pointed at Iwaki and Katou and tapped on the table. “The steady heartbeat, drums.” Usami-sensei and Misaki - “The melody, flute and clarinet.” Saijou and Azumaya - “Brass, loud and triumphant.” Usaka was, “a saxophone refrain, in the background but always present (and sexy).”
“Now, tonight we've added the piano,” he looked at Naruse and Usami-sama, “and the violins,” he ended with Asami and Takaba. “Little Songbird will add guitar, making you a full orchestra.”
“Little Songbird?” Misaki asked.
“He means Shindo.”
“Fascinating. We are music to him,” Usami-sensei said quietly.
“Everything and everyone is music to Arisu. It can get tiresome, but it's the secret of his success.”
“It also makes me horny,” Arisu announced, draping himself over Usaka and nibbling on his neck. Years of self-discipline came into play as Usaka kept his face neutral while Asami barked out a laugh and Saijou stared at this unbelievable revelation about his previously cool, detached mentor.
“Maybe on that note we should wrap this up,” Naruse suggested, rising to his feet.
“Wait.” Usaka detached Arisu from his earlobe. “I just want to make sure – Saijou and Azumaya, Iwaki and Katou – you're all fine with these guys as investors? I know I made a snap decision, but I brought you along on purpose, as this affects us all. So, the final say is up to you collectively.”
They exchanged looks, then Iwaki spoke for everyone. “We're fine with it. The movie can use the money, Usami-sama vouches for Asami, we trust your judgment.”
“We placed this project in your hands for a reason, Usaka,” Saijou added. “You're the best and you've never made a wrong step when it comes to this business. You're the one holding the entire vision together in your head. You won't steer us wrong.”
“Okay, and thank you. Asami, Usami-sama – I'll send over paperwork tomorrow. Um, where do I send it?”
Asami handed him a business card with the relevant information. “I'm looking forward to making a lot of money with you. With all of you,” his piercing eyes swept the gathering. “My instincts have never led me astray, and they're telling me this movie is going to be a huge success. Oh, I've set up memberships to the club for all of you. You'll get a card on your way out but stay as long as you like tonight. Good night, everyone.”
Then Asami leaned closer to Usaka and whispered, “Take him home this time – the floors in here are not that comfortable.” With a clap on the shoulder, he held his hand out to Takaba and the two of them left the room, Asami laughing softly.
Finally, the rest of the group got to see Usaka completely flustered. That voice was a weapon not even he could guard against, sending a quiver straight to the pit of his stomach. He'd obviously spied on their last visit with hidden cameras. Damned yakuza bastard!
Swallowing hard, Usaka managed a farewell. “You are all under orders to join us for the first day of filming on Sunday. We'll be leaving first. Come on, Arisu.”
Chapter 6: First Day on the Set
First Day on the Set
“This is boring, but still exciting.” Misaki's enthusiasm for being on the set was dwindling. He'd spent the first hour wandering around and gawking at everything and everyone, but the next hour was nothing but sitting around.
It was mind-blowing, how many people were needed to make a film – it was nowhere near as glamorous as he'd imagined. Wires and cables snaked everywhere, cheap tables held all sorts of props and equipment, scaffolds and lights and microphones cluttered the room. Only the set itself was pristine aside from the actors' marks taped in various places on the floor, but crew members were swarming all over it as they prepared for the first shot.
Saijou, seated beside him reading a book, looked up and chuckled. “This is the industry – hurry up and wait. They call us here so that the moment everything is set up we can start, but it always takes much longer than they predict. Especially at the beginning of a shoot, when people are getting used to each other and the feel of the set.”
“The feel?” Misaki asked.
“Every director has his or her own style, and they set the tone for the rest of us. Some keep things tense, some are scary, some are chaotic. Katou has my favorite style - fun but controlled. He's put his trust in the crew, and they'll respond by giving their all to prove he was right to do so.”
Misaki looked closer and noticed that, while everyone was working hard, they were also smiling and helping each other when necessary. “It does feel comfortable. Even for me.”
“Nervous about your first acting job?”
“I know I'm not doing anything really, but I still feel like I'm going to mess up and be a disaster! What I don't understand is...why this scene as the first one? It's kind of random and in the middle of the story.”
“Movies are rarely shot in order, for a lot of complicated reasons. But the first shot is often one like this because you're not the only person with the jitters. Having a relatively unimportant scene at the beginning takes away some of the pressure. Don't worry, you'll be fine.”
“I wish you were in the scene with me.”
“You're a shopper at the Jewelry counter, right? They gave you a few lines to say and everything. Too bad you don't need a television, because I'm in Electronics,” Saijou joked. “But Nishimura is a good guy – he'll take care of you. And Junta – you'll see how natural they make it feel.”
“Which one is Nishimura? I met him, but my mind's gone blank.”
“Uhh, that's him, talking to Usami-sensei.”
Misaki studied the darkly handsome guy wearing glasses for a moment but ended up staring at Usagi as usual. He sighed. “Stupid Usagi, why can't he look a little awkward or something?”
Saijou smiled to himself, then he answered, “I think Usami-sensei has been playing a role all his life - this is no different.”
“I guess. But he could at least pretend to be having a hard time,” Misaki pouted.
“Misaki! How pretty you look, all painted and powdered, with your hair styled like a young executive!” Naru gushed.
“Thanks, Naru. You look great! Well, you always look good though. Is Haruhiko here too?”
Naru waved toward a far corner of the department store they were shooting in. “Everyone from our dinner at the club is here, as well as our other friends. Some of them are still in make-up though. So fun, that we're all going to get cameos in this scene!”
“Why don't you go say hello to your friends, Misaki? It's still going to be a while,” Saijou encouraged him. Misaki got up and wandered off, missing the wink Naru exchanged with Saijou.
When Misaki got across the big room, he found not only the group from Club Sion, but also Kamijou and Nowaki, Kirishima and Yokozawa and Hiyori, Aikawa, and Yuki Eiri with Shuichi in a dark wig that Misaki found hilarious. “Wow, everybody's here today?” He avoided looking directly at Asami.
“Usami-sensei gave us a whole list of people he said should be included as extras for your scene. It was his one request,” Usaka told him. “Does it make things easier for you, Misaki, to have so many friends here?”
“It does, I think,” Misaki said shyly.
“Call it a demand, which is what it was. Stupid Bakahiko.” Kamijou grumbled. Misaki grinned at him, knowing this sort of thing was not to Kamijou's taste.
“Misaki!” Shuichi glomped onto him. “Isn't this fun? I'm so jealous that you get to say lines!”
“You look pretty weird in that wig!”
“I know, right? Haha! But they said pink hair would stand out too much. At least they didn't make me wear a suit. Yours is nice though.”
“Yeah, this is my own. Usagi bought me a bunch when I got my job. I almost never wear them.”
Another wave of people entered and Misaki spotted Morinaga, Tatsumi, Ichimaru, Haruto, Todo, most of the people he knew from Marukawa, even Isaka (“Hey, Chibi-tan!”)...so many of his friends and co-workers. “Whoa! Usagi arranged all this? He's crazy! So much trouble for you!”
“Not at all, Misaki,” Katou said. “We would have hired extras in any case. Now, relax and chat. I have to go see how everything's progressing.” He strolled off and Misaki thought about what Saijou had said – fun but controlled. How is he controlling everything though? He seems so casual! Misaki decided not to worry about it, and waded into the crowd to talk with everyone.
More time flew by, and then the call went out for everyone to assemble near the set. Make-up artists ran around touching everyone up as they were positioned in scattered groups around the sales floor of the department store. This was a scene set during a busy weekend, so everyone would be wandering around and pretending to shop.
He would have liked to talk with Usagi to settle his stomach, which was churning again now that the scene was going to happen for real. But Usagi was stationed on the other side of the set. Misaki spotted his brother, Manami, and Mahiro waving at him wildly and did a double-take before waving back. When did they get here? Wait, is that Tanaka? But there was no time to think about it.
They were ready to start. “Okay!” Katou addressed them through a loudspeaker. “We're going to run through the scene once as a rehearsal, so you can all find your marks and see where the cameras are moving around. Try not to knock them over or look into the lens. Everyone act as natural as possible and have fun. This is a lively shopping scene and you're all having a good time! Right, go when you hear 'Action!'”
The scene was marked with the slate, Katou called out, “3...2...(1 - always silent)...Action!”
Misaki walked slowly up to the jewelry counter and stared down into it, trying desperately to ignore the cameras as they panned around the room and then closed in on him. Nishimura, playing the role of Morita, the unrequited love, approached from the other side of the glass display case and asked, “Is there anything I can help you with sir?”
“Um, I'd like to see those, please.” He pointed to a set of couples' rings, plain silver bands. Morita brought them out, and then Azumaya appeared as Yano, the tsundere who's confession was rejected by Morita. They began an awkward, tension-filled conversation, while Misaki-the-customer was forgotten and embarrassed to be overhearing their very personal exchange. It was a perfect little role for Misaki, and the two actors were so believable that he didn't have to fake his nervous fidgeting or the discomfort on his face.
The discussion ended and Morita turned back to customer-Misaki, apologizing profusely for neglecting him. “What do you think of the rings? Can I show you some other choices?”
Misaki bit his lip, traced the rings with his finger, then shook his head. “I-I have to think about it more. Sorry for the bother.” Then he turned and scurried out of the shot. He caught sight of Takaba, camera in hand, who waved and gave him a thumbs-up.
Katou called, “Cut! Excellent! Let's reset.” He trotted out from behind the main monitors to consult with the several cameramen. As he passed by Misaki, he stopped to pat his shoulder. “You were great. Good luck with the next one.” After exchanging a few words with the other actors, Katou went back to his monitors and raised up the loudspeaker again.
“This is it, the one you've all showed up for! Let's do our best and help Misaki make it through!” People laughed and called out encouragement. The scene was marked again, Katou did the countdown and...”Action!”
When Misaki got to the counter and pointed at his choice, this time Nishimura pulled out a different pair of rings, one encircled with tiny emeralds and the other with tiny amethysts. “An excellent choice, and already engraved.” He stepped back as Misaki looked at him in bewilderment. “Read,” he added with a smile.
Misaki picked up the smaller ring, with the stones that matched Usagi's eyes. Squinting to see the tiny print, he read out, “Itsumo Aishiteru...” (I will always love you.)
Long, cool fingers took the ring from Misaki and he looked up into Usagi's handsome, beloved face. “What...?” Isn't he supposed to be over by the appliances?
“Takahashi Misaki, my beautiful blossom. I don't want to wait anymore, I don't want to hide anymore, I don't want to think about a life without you ever again. Will you marry me?”
Usagi smiled and repeated himself, slowly and loudly. “Will. You. Marry. Me. Misaki.”
“That's not the line.” Brain malfunctioning...
“Misaki! Focus!” He waved the ring in Misaki's face, who heard very distant laughter.
Marry him. Rings. OHMYGOD!
“YES! YES! I'm sorry! Yes!”
“Oh, thank god! Slapping you right after proposing would not be romantic. Give me your hand. Not that one, the other one!” He slid the ring onto Misaki's heart finger. “Put mine on me.” It took Misaki three tries to get the emerald-studded ring on Usagi's finger, he was shaking so badly. “Now kiss me.” It was a very sweet kiss.
Cheers rang out, and Misaki eventually became aware of the fact that they were surrounded by a huge crowd of laughing, crying, chattering friends and family. He hid his face on Usagi's chest as they were swarmed by people eager to congratulate them. “Stupid Usagi. I'm gonna die of embarrassment!”
Misaki felt the rumble of Usagi's laugh against his cheek, as well as the familiar heartbeat. “No, you won't. My Misaki is made of sterner stuff.”
He was snatched away by Takahiro, who squeezed his little brother until he squeaked in protest. The day became a series of handshakes and hugs and kisses and back slaps. Glasses of champagne appeared from somewhere, as well as tables full of food. Takaba bounced around taking pictures of everything. At one point, Misaki found himself facing Katou and had to ask, “What about the scene? Was this all fake?”
“Nope. We got it on the first take – that wasn't a rehearsal. An auspicious start to our movie! But that was the only scene we planned to shoot today, so enjoy the party and the rest of your lives together.”
The rest of the day passed in a blur until finally, they were alone in Usagi's car driving home. Misaki played with his new ring, turning it around and around.
“Hmm?” He glanced away from the road and saw tears streaming down Misaki's face. “What's wrong?” He pulled the car over and parked.
Misaki unhooked his seat belt and crawled into Usagi's lap. “Nothing's wrong. I'm happy. I've never been so happy in my life! Itsumo Aishiteru, Akihiko.”
“Oh, my Misaki!” Usagi crushed him to his chest. “Itsumo Aishiteru. You're mine forever and I'm yours.”
Misaki sniffled. “Okay, I'm better now. I just had to say that.” He smiled up into Usagi's face and moved back into his seat. “Let's go home. There's a coupon I want to use.”
Usagi's laugh rang out as the sports car sped through the streets of Tokyo.
Ahh, I just had to do something a little special for my 20th story in the Tokyo Yaoiverse. Hope you enjoyed the engagement party.