Chapter 1: Melodrama
Takahashi Misaki was sitting on the couch tying a bright yellow ribbon on Suzuki-san when the great Lord Usami Akihiko, youngest ever recipient of the Naomori Award for Literature (and many others since), member of the esteemed and powerful (and dysfunctional) Usami family, secret author of a slew of hugely popular BL novels, and Academy Award-nominated screenplay writer threw open the door of his office and stalked past Misaki covered in a dark aura.
He headed straight for the balcony, where he dug out his emergency pack of cigarettes and lit one, puffing on it in contemplation. He stood like a model posing for a statue, tall and gorgeous and stately, staring out over the rooftops of Tokyo.
Misaki rolled his eyes. “What now, Suzuki-san? Should I ask him what's wrong and stroke his gigantic ego, or ignore him until he stops being melodramatic? Ignore him? Excellent advice, Suzuki-san.”
Usagi (only the two Takahashi brothers called him that) resolutely pretended he did not hear Misaki's loud “conversation” with the stuffed bear. Instead, he struck another pose and pronounced in his deep, velvety voice, “Shinjū!”
“Is that an English curse?”
“Misaki! Why must you spoil my performance with your disturbingly lower-than-average vocabulary? How can you work in the publishing business and not know what that word means?”
Misaki did know what it meant but he was not about to play along with Usagi's theatrics. He tried to derail.
“Apparently, I work there because Aikawa needs my constant help managing you, Isaka thinks I'm fun to tease, and Kirishima took pity on me. And maybe because they thought I'd also be a big help with Ijuuin-sensei. None of which requires me to know more than the average middle-schooler. They keep me around for troublesome authors and the president's amusement.”
It worked. Usagi was distracted and dropped his pose. “Huh? What are you babbling about?”
“I learned a new big word recently. Nepotism. When I was asking Aikawa to join IT&S, she explained the concept to me in little words I could understand. I got the job because of you, not on my own merits.” Misaki was surprised by the hint of bitterness in his voice. He hadn't given it much thought after that conversation, but it must have irked him more than he knew.
“Don't be absurd. You are a hard worker and you're smart and everyone loves you. Whatever the reason behind you being hired to begin with, you've proven yourself ten times over since. And don't mention that mangaka! He may have realized he was wasting his time chasing you, but I still want to punch him.”
Usagi stubbed out his cigarette and stalked into the kitchen to wash his hands, splash water on his face and rinse out his mouth. Sneaking a smoke was allowed but the lingering smell would make him want another.
Misaki watched him go through the little routine with a smile. Usagi had given up smoking for him. Usagi was currently frowning in jealousy over him. And Usagi had reassured him immediately, telling Misaki only the bald truth. Usagi did not stroke Misaki's ego when it came to these types of discussions. In fact, Usagi would rather he didn't work at all, especially now, and would not say Misaki was good at his job if he wasn't.
“So...how shall we avoid your deadline, then? Shinjū by which method? Poison? Slit our bellies open? Jump off the balcony hand-in-hand? Find a river to drown in? No, that one's unreliable - one of us might survive and ruin the whole thing.”
“Misaki!” Usagi pounced on him, knocking poor Suzuki-san onto the floor. “Little liar! You did know what 'shinjū' means. But why should it have anything to do with my deadline?”
“Why else would you want us to die gloriously in a romantic double-suicide pact? You're way behind schedule and Aikawa will soon be screaming at you over the phone, right?” Misaki asked, holding his theatrical lover close, where in the past he would have struggled and tried to shove him off.
“I have no idea what you might be referring to. I never miss a deadline.”
He felt Usagi take a deep breath. “I can't focus. It's not about the book, it's about the world. I keep checking to see if we can fly to England. We can't. I know we can't. The world is a disaster and I'm lucky to have you here safe with me. It's getting worse, not better. The number of people infected is skyrocketing. I feel like I should do something, but I can't do anything except write. I'm useless.”
Usagi was eccentric and had hermit-like tendencies and could be incredibly self-centered at times. Those were self-preservation techniques. He was sensitive and moody and emotional beneath the surface. No one could write the way he did - stories full of passion, confusion, anger, laughter, despair, and hope - without having a deep well of empathy and a wild imagination. Like all artists, he sometimes doubted there was any real worth to what he created.
“Usagi, your...you have a lot of money, don't you?” He never asked, didn't really want to know how rich Usagi was. Misaki made a big deal about living on a budget and not over-spending but was fairly certain it wasn't and would never be a concern for them.
Usagi raised his head from Misaki's shoulder to stare at him. “Shall I toss money around? That's unlike you. Or is there a worthy cause you want me to support? I donate money regularly but if there is a specific charity you have in mind, just tell me. We may not be married yet, but what is mine is also yours. I know. I'll transfer half my money into an account for you.”
Misaki was horrified. “No! That's not...You can't! I don't want it. I don't know how to handle money like that. You keep it!”
“You are a strange creature, Misaki my love. Why did you bring it up then?”
“Well, sales spiked in every department at first. People need entertainment right now. But...many people aren't working or are afraid they may lose their jobs. They will have to stop spending money on anything but the bare necessities.”
“I wondered if you could give away free copies of your books and others, or maybe sell them at a discount. Something like that. You'd have to work it out with Isaka. And the movie – it's not due to be released for purchase until next month, but maybe Usaka-sama could make it available sooner?”
“Misaki, you shame me. That is a very personal way to reach out to people right now and I should have thought of it myself. It encourages them to continue staying home and it also means my next book needs to be a good one, doesn't it? You are very clever and thoughtful and generous, even if your vocabulary sucks.”
“That would be okay? You shouldn't go overboard. I'm sure your investments and so on are being affected-” Usagi kissed his mouth shut.
“Since. When. Do. I. Ever. Go. Overboard?” Each word spoken as another clothing item flew across the room.
Last were Usagi's underpants, draped carefully over Suzuki-san's glass eyes. “There! Nobody's watching. You can be as depraved as you like when you ravage me. Come on, little pervert. Let's act out a new scene for my next BL novel.”
Misaki laughed. Then he growled and bit Usagi's throat and did his best to drive his wonderful, mercurial, playful, and loving fiancé wild.
Chapter 2: Not In a Rut
Not in a Rut
Gotouda Aki stood in the lobby of Marukawa Shoten, waiting for someone to come and get him. He was biting his lower lip in nervousness. Another job, another bunch of people he'd have to adjust to.
DELIcious had turned out to be okay, with just Morinaga, Ayano, and Kanako. Mon Chaton he had liked – not all the dishwashing, but Hiroto, Master, and everyone else had been nice to him. That was cut short when Naru made the decision to shut it down indefinitely. Until that point, Aki hadn't been too concerned about the virus. Now he wondered how many other businesses were going to be affected.
His parents – it had been a while since he spoke with them. I'll call them tonight, make sure everyone is well. Mom and Pop...if business is bad, will they still collect their money like normal? The news said the government will give money to businesses that shut down like Mon Chaton, but that won't work for the family or most of the people they collect from.
His thoughts were interrupted by a short young man yelling at a tall older man as they burst into the building. It's Usami-sensei and Misaki.
“You are such a pain! If you want to talk to Isaka, you need to make an appointment like everyone else! You aren't that special, you know! Usagi, wait!” Misaki stopped short, spotting Aki. “Aki? Why are you standing here?”
“I don't know where to go. I was told someone would come get me...”
Usami had paused halfway to the elevators and now came back. He looked at the receptionist, who blushed under his attention. “Good morning. Is Isaka in the building yet?”
“No, Usami-sensei! But Kawamura is coming to pick up Gotouda – you can ask him about the president.”
“Thank you, my dear. Misaki, I don't want to stand around in the lobby – grab Aki and we'll take him with us upstairs. We'll go bother Aikawa.”
“Grr! You just don't want to face her alone! I'll-”
A young man got off the elevator wearing a plain, dark suit. “Hello, Misaki, Usami-sensei. Is this Gotouda?” He looked Aki over. “You don't look like I expected. You're not all that tiny. Same height as Misaki.”
Aki frowned. The guy was about the same height as both of them, talking like they were midgets. Who is this jerk and why does he know anything about me? “I'm Gotouda Aki. Who're you?”
Picking up Aki's irritation from his tone, the guy said, “Sorry. I'm Kawamura Haruto. Izumi's my boyfriend. You met him – he works for Yashiro.” He bowed.
This is Izumi's cute lover that he's always gushing over? Izumi's blind – he's a dried-up little prig.
“How is Izumi, Haruto?” Misaki asked and Kawamura's face transformed.
He seemed to light up from within. His eyes went from solemn to sparkling, his mouth stretched wide in a big grin. “He's great! We tried this new position last night. Do you have a copy of 1001 Sex Positions? It was number 378, the Waterfall. It's kind of awkward to get into at first, but then-”
Usami had burst into laughter, Misaki's face was bright red, and the receptionist ducked down beneath the desk.
“Haruto!” Misaki spluttered. “You can't just talk about that kind of stuff in the lobby!” He took Kawamura's arm, shoved Usami toward the elevator, and hit the “up” button. “And don't you get any ideas, Usagi!”
Aki wasn't sure what to think of Kawamura after that reveal and he was sure his face matched Misaki's as he followed them into the elevator. Kawamura punched 6 and Misaki chose 5.
“Can I talk about it in here?”
“No!” Misaki snapped.
“I'll look it up on the internet later,” Usami said. “When will Isaka be here? Will you let him know I'm talking with Aikawa and want to meet with him?”
“He should be here soon, Usami-sensei,” Kawamura answered and Aki felt totally confused. Back to his plain and serious demeanor – Kawamura had a split personality or something. Talk about a gap moe!
Usami and Misaki exited on the fifth floor, leaving Aki alone with Kawamura. Kawamura said nothing, just stood there for one more floor while Aki tried to figure the guy out. Kawamura led him to a desk – his, apparently – and handed over a few papers on a clipboard and a pen.
“Please fill these out for the employment records.”
“Uh...okay.” Aki took the chair across from him and started filling out forms.
After a few moments, Kawamura spoke into the silence. “I'm not good with people and I seem to always say the wrong thing. I have no filter, is what I've been told, and I don't know how to lie. If I offended you or shocked you earlier, I'm sorry. Misaki understands me so I'm less careful around him.”
Oh. He stays quiet to avoid saying things that will be misunderstood. “That's okay. I'm not the best with polite stuff either. You can call me Aki – everyone does. Um...so...why do you guys need a book like that? You guys in a rut? I was worried once that Ueda and I were in a rut and I ended up wearing cat ears. But it wasn't a rut – he was distracted by something else.”
“Call me Haruto then. A rut? What's that?”
“Oh, you know...when the sex gets stale, I guess? If two people get tired of doing the same thing all the time or whatever. I heard some of the guys talking and I got all worried for nothing. He's my first long-term relationship so I started imagining all kinds of stupid junk.”
Kawamura looked thoughtful before answering. “For a long time, I was alone and I could only read about relationships in books or see them in movies. I don't make friends easily and none of the people I was friends with would have sex with me. Then I met Izumi and he's...”
Kawamura's face lit up again. “He's open to trying anything I ask for. He's the best! It's definitely not a rut. We have a lot of fun. Maybe I should stop making him do those things? I don't want him to think I'm bored with him. I hope he's not just doing them to make me happy.” His face changed again, looking troubled.
“Nah. I think he's fine with it. Whenever I saw him at Yashiro's he was always raving about you. Loves you silly, I think.”
“Really? I love him so much, it hurts to even imagine him being tired of me. Ueda's your boyfriend, right? How long-”
“Gossiping, are we, Kawamura?” a voice broke in. Aki turned around to see a man with an amused smile standing there, another very serious man behind him. Both wore finely tailored suits, the speaker's more flashy in style and color. Not as flashy as Aki would have liked – still tasteful.
“Good morning, Isaka-sama, Asahina. Yes, we were. This is Gotouda Aki. Usami-sensei is in the building and wants to speak with you. You have a meeting in an hour with the head of the anime department and lunch with the director of Marimo Books. There is a conference call with the shareholders at 3 pm.”
Yet another side of Kawamura – highly organized, nearly robotic.
Isaka turned as if to flee for his life. Asahina caught him by the shoulders and marched him into their office. “Gotouda, come with us.”
Kawamura gave Aki a little wave. “Good luck! Just ignore Isaka-sama's teasing.”
Isaka's office was sleek and spare and didn't seem to fit the man who flopped into his chair and spun it around a few times. Asahina ignored him, turning on his computer and getting into a zone. Aki stood awkwardly wondering what he should do or say.
“Gotouda, do you know why you're here?” Isaka asked.
“Because I needed a job and you had an opening?” Aki really didn't know, beyond that. “Do you owe Asami-sama a favor?”
“Asami? No. I don't know him very well. I am good friends with Usami Haruhiko.”
Ahh. Asami's business partner and Naru's boyfriend. Aki had met him and been unnerved. Usami was imposing and stern and powerful in a different way from Asami, but not lesser. Naru was...Aki didn't understand Naru at all. Playful and shallow, was his first impression. A society prince, a social butterfly full of bullshit.
Then Naru sent Aki several dress shirts in his size – shirts with subtle but colorful designs. Aki was wearing one of them now. How these shirts were different than Aki's old shirts, which made people's eyes cross, he didn't understand. But he was allowed to wear these and people liked them and Aki felt more like himself than he had since leaving Osaka. Aki kind of loved Naru after that.
So how did Isaka fit in with them? He was the president of this giant publishing empire but didn't seem too concerned with it. Aki couldn't imagine either Asami or Usami spinning in their chair or pulling chocolates out of a desk drawer to munch on at 10 am.
“Well, as far as I can tell you aren't suited for any position here, but with so many people working at home, we need someone in the building who will run errands and fill in wherever he's needed. Can you do that? Are you willing to do that sort of work?”
“I can do whatever I'm shown how to do. I might not have the experience, but I learn quick enough. I'm not too stuck up to try it, if that's what you're asking.” Working the lowest of positions at both DELIcious and Mon Chaton had given Aki an appreciation for those who did menial labor.
“What do you think, Kaoru?” Isaka asked. “Are we making a mistake, letting a yakuza heir run around the building? He's awfully cute, on top of that. What if he flirts with me?”
Asahina didn't even look away from his computer monitor. “If he'll take you off my hands, good luck to him. You're more trouble than any yakuza, and I let you run around the building.”
“I own the building – I'll run around it naked if I feel like it. Gotouda, what was the advice for couples in a rut? Should I try some cosplay? Kaoru, what sort of cosplay would drive you crazy?”
“A ball-gag.” Asahina didn't miss a beat.
Aki couldn't help laughing. These two were weird! And apparently, a couple?
“If I wore one of those, I wouldn't be able to-”
“Isaka-sama, go run around the building with Gotouda. You have one hour. Bother Misaki. See what Usami-sensei wants – maybe he'll punch you.”
“Ha! Come on, Gotouda. Let's leave Kaoru alone before he threatens to kill his superior. He's always grumpy in the morning.” Isaka jumped out of his chair and strode out of the room.
Asahina finally looked up and met Aki's eyes. He winked!
Aki ran after Isaka, shaking his head. Definitely weird.
Chapter 3: Being the Boss
Being the Boss
Isaka loved eavesdropping. He stopped, with Gotouda behind him, just out of view of Aikawa's desk.
“Usami-sensei! You can't decide halfway through a book to completely change the plot! Not when it's being serialized monthly and readers have already seen the first six chapters!”
“It's fine. The first six chapters are just the lead-in. There will be a plot twist and the story will go off in a completely unexpected direction and readers will love it and reviewers will say I'm very clever and critics will have fun tearing it apart.”
“What did I ever do to deserve this? I'm going to go bald before I turn forty – and that's next year! Comfort me! What is the next BL book about?”
“I haven't decided. Misaki and I did work on a scene last night where-mph!”
“Misaki, let him talk.”
Time to make my presence known, I suppose. Isaka took the final steps into the Sapphire/Literature office. Misaki had his hand over Usami's mouth and Aikawa's long red hair looked to be in no danger of falling out. She's nearly forty now? Times flies. He did not allow himself to think about how that meant he was also nearing forty.
Isaka could recall her in their early days, when he was an editor as well but messing about with writing. Eighteen-year-old Usami Akihiko was her first author and it was his first novel - the one Isaka had read snippets of on the sly before insisting young Usami submit it. The novel that had won the Naomori Award and convinced Isaka he would never be a writer and should turn his attentions toward running the company instead.
Aikawa had balls, even back then. No one else could have handled Usami without going mad. Maybe she had already been a little crazy herself. Not long after, she discovered Usami also liked to write BL porn and it was a match made in publishing heaven.
“Chibi-tan, I would like to hear about this new scene,” Isaka said, perching on the edge of Aikawa's desk and helping himself to a candy from her ever-present stash of sweets. “Akikawa Yayoi's novels are always so...inspired.”
If smoke could pour from a person's ears, Misaki would have set off the fire alarms. He was way too much fun to mess with. But Isaka couldn't push him too far or it would backfire.
“Misaki, why don't you take Gotouda here and show him around, introduce him to people. He's our new errand boy, so he needs to know the layout of the entire building. Make sure he doesn't seduce anyone or stab them or shake them down for cash.”
Both the cuties were fuming at him as they left the room. Youngsters.
“Isaka-sama, you tease Misaki too much. And why insult the newbie?” Aikawa scolded.
“That newbie is a yakuza baby and he's only here because Haruhiko asked me to take him in for Asami-sama's sake. I have to test him before I can trust him.”
“He's harmless,” Usami said. “But he's actually who I'm thinking of for the next story. It was quite an adventure in Osaka, from what I've gathered. There are a few more people I need to talk with first.”
“Oi! Another yakuza story? A sort of sequel to *In His Crosshairs? That would be perfect – people loved that one.” Aikawa was back in a good mood, die-hard fujoshi to the core.
Before they could go off on a BL tangent, Isaka asked, “You wanted to talk with me, Akihiko?”
“Ah, yes. Misaki had an idea and I'd like to discuss it with you. How many books and anime and manga and drama CDs and whatever else would ￥2M (approx. $19,000) get me?”
Isaka and Aikawa stared at him. “Are you opening a store?” she asked.
“No, I want to give them away. To contribute in this time of troubles. Misaki says people need entertainment but can't afford it. This will also help people who are staying home and growing restless. I don't know how to arrange it though. Buy things and have them delivered at random? Offer one per household to the first 5,000 people who purchase something from your online store? Hold a lottery? Maybe a ￥500 ($5) discount on every transaction until the money runs out?”
“That is...Argh!” Isaka ran his fingers through his hair. “Why does Misaki come up with such a thing and not any of my idiot executives? They're all so concerned with themselves. I think the last suggestion will work best and be the easiest to set up. A ￥1000 discount on each purchase, and I'll match your amount with another ￥2M from the company - by which I mean my own pocket. One per account. Do you think Haruhiko would cover shipping costs on physical items?”
Usami smiled. “I'm sure he would. Or Asami-sama, or Naru. I'll leave that in your hands, then. I've already instructed my accountant to prepare the funds. Contact him once you've figured it out - Aikawa knows his information. And, Isaka? Leave my name out of it. Misaki and I have had enough publicity and attention.”
“I can't take credit for all of it, Author Who Wishes to Remain Anonymous. I think I'll ask a few others, perhaps create a pool of donations. Ijuuin-sensei, Ichinose-sensei, Yuki-sensei - there are many who would contribute, I'm sure. And I'll need to market it with a special webpage, perhaps...”
“Have Kaidou Aki do that,” Usami suggested.
“A connection through the IT&S club – website and graphic designer. He partners with an artist who I believe might be recently added to your list of cover artists, Doumeki Aoi.”
“So, there is a benefit to joining that club? I forgot and haven't signed on since the first day.”
“It exists to connect people. If you don't sign on, no benefits. Oh, and if you want a press release with an interview - Onoe and Kaburagi. Plus, I'm going to speak with Usaka-sama about releasing the DVD, Bluray, and digital purchase of the movie early. If that coincides with the discount – most of our money might go to people buying a copy.”
“My God, our system will crash. Don't mention this to anyone else until I can get it organized. I'll need a week, maybe two.”
"I won't tell a soul. I'm off to find Misaki and say goodbye, then I have a person to track down and a new plot twist to write.”
“I need the next three chapters by Sunday,” Aikawa told him.
“Hai, hai.” With a careless wave, Usami left.
“Aikawa, your next hair salon visit is on me. Can't have you going bald from handling a difficult author.”
“Isaka-sama, how long were you spying on us? And thank you, I'll take it. Not that he's all that hard to handle, not in the last few years anyway.” He raised an eyebrow at her in question. “Usami-sensei likes a fuss made over him, so I make a fuss. His idea about changing the current book is a good one, as long as he's certain. Arguing with me about it makes his mind focus.”
“Is that how it works? Well, you do your magic on him. I need a nap.”
Isaka didn't micromanage his employees – he gave them freedom then sat back and trusted in them to do their best. Occasionally, he stirred them up to keep them off-balance, to keep them thinking creatively, and to keep them energized with a touch of fear. And always, he rewarded them for jobs well done, though they rarely knew it was him giving them bonuses personally.
His job was to make sure they continued having jobs. Which meant it was time for his boring meeting with the anime people.
But first, I'll mess with Onodera just a little before getting him to ask Yuki about a donation. I wonder if he wore that maid's dress yet...
*In His Crosshairs – “Akikawa Yayoi's” (Usami's pseudonym) BL novel based on Asami and Takaba
Chapter 4: Seize the Opportunity
Seize the Opportunity
Thursday, just after the lunch rush, Kiri was wiping down the display cases, counter, and door handles when the phone rang and Morinaga answered it. The orders keep coming in, and people are still stopping in for food. I guess that's a good thing, though it means I'll never let go of this bottle of disinfectant.
“Oh? Sure thing, Izumi. Food for eight. You guys have a new job to work on? ...I see. Well, I hope that works out. Fine, I'll send it over.” He hung up.
“They have guests today?” Ayano asked, already scooping things into containers.
“Something like that,” Morinaga answered. “A strategy meeting, Izumi called it.”
“That's going to be a lot of food. Kiri, will you be okay to deliver it? Or do you want Morinaga to take it over?”
“I can handle it. It's just across the street, right?” Yes! He'd better be there!
“Well, you be careful and come straight back,” Ayano said. “Just drop the food off, no need to hang around.”
“Why? I mean, I don't care but...”
“They are a little rough around the edges. Different from the type of people you are accustomed to, I'm sure. Not that they will harm you in any way!” Ayano rushed to reassure her. “But they do have a tendency to swear a lot and talk openly about...men-type things.”
Kiri blinked at Ayano. Does she think I'm some kind of sheltered, privileged pansy? Huh. I suppose I do come across that way to people who don't know me any better.
Kiri had the speech patterns and vocabulary of a scholar from a white-collar family. She looked refined and sweet, with her big blue eyes and salon-style bob haircut. She had also taken pains to dress nicely but casually in a calf-length skirt, brightly colored tennis shoes, and a thin sweater over a t-shirt. The sweater had been quickly set aside and the rest kept clean of food. Kiri had plans.
Meeting Morinaga's eyes, he saw what Ayano didn't and grinned at Kiri. “Take your time. Ayano is over-protective and the guys aren't that bad, especially around a newcomer.”
“Ayano!” he mocked. “She's a close friend of Kanako's and probably looking forward to meeting them. She won't be easily shocked or offended.”
“Oh, Kanako! That girl is lucky she found Shinosuke or she'd be running wild with only you and Tatsumi-sensei. The two of you have no control over her. How are two gay men the best guardians for a young lady? You can't know anything about being a woman.”
Morinaga looked troubled, so Kiri hastened to reassure him.
“Kanako had Matsuda when she was younger, and she has us and the other club members now. We're eighteen, not babies. She's not nearly as crazy as you're making out. She's very mature for her age and smart. Don't worry, Morinaga, she's fine and loves you guys. Except for fighting over the bathroom.”
Morinaga grinned. “She's in there forever! I think I'm going to get her one of those vanity tables for her room, so she can do her make-up and fuss with her hair for hours in private. Want to help me pick it out? Maybe we can set it up as a surprise before she gets back from her vacation.”
“Ooh, yeah! She'll love it.” Kiri looked at the two big bags of food containers he was holding out. “Right now?”
“Yes. It's on the 4th floor. Just go right in.”
“One second!” She dashed into the little bathroom to check herself, smooth her hair, and...Should I? Oh, why not? It can't hurt and no one will know and even if he is there, it's not like we'd...She made an adjustment.
Ready after that, she headed across the street, nervous and excited, trying to keep that from showing on her face. Kiri had not called Nanahara, despite staring at his phone number at random times day and night since the Hanami. She was afraid he wouldn't answer. She was afraid he would answer.
When Kanako asked her to fill in, Kiri decided that if Fate brought them together, she'd know it was a sign. Unless he wasn't there, then to hell with Fate and she'd call him. But Fate had two chances first - Thursday and Friday lunch delivery.
Fate threw her a bone. Kiri had no way of knowing that Nanahara rarely visited this office because Yashiro preferred to talk with him and Sugimoto at the casino, keeping the two places separate. On top of that, the casino was open all night and they slept most of the day. But not this day.
She got to the door, took a deep breath, then awkwardly opened it – heavy bags in both hands. Eight pairs of eyes looked up to see who had just let themself in. Only one pair of eyes tried to pop out and then shifted away to stare at a suddenly very interesting piece of blank wall.
Is that a bad reaction or a good one? “Hi! Lunch delivery from DELIcious! I'm Kiri, filling in for Kanako while she's out of town.”
“Kiri! I didn't know you were just across the street.” Aoi came over to help with the bags. Iku introduced everyone. Yashiro and Doumeki, Izumi, Nanahara, Sugimoto – a man about the same age as Nanahara with a plain face but the most adorable freckles sprinkled across his cheeks – and...Usami-sensei?
Aoi and Iku's appearance didn't surprise her too much. Aoi was spattered with paint and there was a wall covered in sketches and color. Kiri couldn't make out a design but Aoi must be painting them a mural. Iku, with White Fang closed, was keeping her company. But why the author? And why wouldn't Nanahara look at her, damn it?
“Kiri, is it? Do you share Kanako's interests?” Yashiro asked her. He was very attractive. She'd seen his picture in the magazines about the premiere, but in person his appeal was strong. Not that it was aimed in her direction, nor was she interested. She might have been, a week ago.
“Um...computers? No, I'm a business major.”
He laughed. “No, I meant her fujoshi side. Questioned me about my sex life quite boldly. She's as bad as Ren about that sort of thing.”
“Oh...err. No. I'm not a fujoshi and I don't interview people about their bedroom activities. Not that I have any objections! Ren is a schoolmate of mine, so I'm used to their blatant curiosity about such matters.” Why am I talking like an over-educated prig?
“I see. That's probably best, though Kanako was amusing to talk to. Join us for lunch? Ayano and Morinaga always give us too much food.”
If she left now, she'd miss her chance. “Sure?”
The souzaiya would be fine without her for a little while. Making a show of it, she scanned the room then plunked herself down at the desk beside Nanahara. Aoi gave her a questioning glance but said nothing, handing her some food. Kiri nibbled and listened to the conversation between Yashiro and Usami and snuck glances. Nanahara stayed stoic while he shoveled food into his mouth.
It seemed Usami was planning to write a story about yakuza and Yashiro was enjoying the chance to tell some tall tales (she hoped) about beating people up and car chases and being shot at and cleverly tricking people out of their money. He also had a lot of sex. Kiri tuned out, preoccupied with the man next to her until she heard Nanahara's name.
“Jumped in front of me like an idiot and got himself shot in the shoulder. Thought he was dying and asked me for a blowjob as his last wish.”
Usami's rich laughter rang out. So odd, to see the wealthy, polished author relaxing in a chair in this decidedly average office, eating from a paper plate while hearing tales of bloody business and illegal shenanigans. He didn't show an ounce of discomfort though.
“Boss! Not cool!” Nanahara finally said something.
“No, you were very cool! And cute. But not dying, thank goodness. Moron, risking yourself like some kind of hero in a children's show. Then going on about family and betrayal. You are strangely naive for a yakuza, you know. Always have been. Bought into all that loyalty and honor among thieves bullshit.”
“You've never betrayed us. That's why I'm still here,” Nanahara muttered.
“Yes, well. I'm a moron as well. And you'd have been dead working for anyone else, so I suppose I'm stuck with you. Are you sure you want to sell your share in the casino? I know we're going to shut it down after this weekend, but it will reopen. It brings in a lot of money.”
“Sugimoto can have it. I don't like casino work. It's boring.” Oh. That put a kink in a vague future plan Kiri had.
“Do you want it, Sugimoto? Can you buy him out?”
Sugimoto shrugged. “Sure. I'm good with that. It suits me.”
“What are you going to do instead, Nanahara?” Doumeki asked. It was the first time Kiri heard him speak. His voice was very deep and quiet.
“I dunno yet. A bathhouse maybe? A bar or something?”
“Legal, then,” Yashiro said.
“Yeah, I guess so. Something simple and easy. I don't know much about owning a business aside from what you showed me and I'm guessing what I learned ain't exactly legal with the casino.”
“You'll need a business partner or an advisor you can trust. When you choose, we'll find you someone.”
Usami stood up. “I should get going, gentlemen and ladies. I've taken up enough of your time. Nanahara, consider a men's barbershop. Men always gossip while getting a shave and haircut. Yashiro, thank you for speaking with me. I'll be sure to send you copies of the book when it comes out.”
“It was a pleasure, Usami-sensei. I've been a fan of your work for some time now. Make sure you write me extra sexy.”
Usami chuckled. “Akikawa Yayoi will attempt to capture your charms.” He left with a wave and a smile.
Who...? Kiri recalled Kanako showing off some book. Ehh? Usami-sensei who writes my favorite literature is also Akikawa Yayoi the BL author?! But she didn't have time to think about that. There was no more reason for her to linger in their office.
“It was nice meeting you Kiri, but we do have some business to discuss and I'm certain Morinaga and Ayano will be starting to worry about you-”
“Excuse me!” She stood up and grabbed Nanahara's hand and dragged him toward the back rooms of the office. Now or never.
Chapter 5: He's a Goner
He's a Goner
“What is it, boss?” Doumeki asked.
“At the Hanami, we teased Nanahara about fucking someone.”
“I remember. So...? Oh.” Doumeki turned to look but the couple had disappeared into one of the back rooms.
“What do you mean, Yashiro? You don't think...” Aoi also looked toward the back. “Oh. My. God!”
“There's no way. Right?” Iku's face was a mix of shock and amusement. “She wouldn't. With Nanahara? She's...No!”
Izumi sighed. “Can one of you finish a sentence, please? What are you trying to say? Kiri and Nanahara met at the Hanami?”
“Did more than meet. I was certain he'd just gotten laid after disappearing for about an hour. Sneaky bastard. Sat there and didn't even look at her this whole time. I hope she smacks him. Doumeki, what room did they go into? Do we have a camera set up?”
“No, you can't watch them. I'll delete everything after she leaves.”
“You are no fun. Nanahara owes me, that peeping tom.”
“He might. She doesn't.”
“Grr. You're right, I know. But I really want to know if she punches him – save that part.” Doumeki ignored him. “Damn it! Now I can't focus! What were we doing?”
“Discussing the new job?” Sugimoto asked.
“The new job. Yes. Misumi contacted me...”
Kiri glanced in one open door – a sort of lounge with a microwave and some tables. Across the hall was a closed door. She reached for it.
“Not that one. That's Yashiro's office. C'mon.”
She'd been dragging him. Now he led her to the last door and opened it. A small room used for storage. He let her enter first, then closed the door and leaned back against it, arms crossed.
He looked good in the daylight. She hadn't been sure that night because of the dark. Now she could see him properly. Thin, yes, but muscular. That was even clearer since today he was wearing only a plain t-shirt and jeans. And the gold chain necklace. Only one? She'd thought there were several. Maybe he only wore more for parties?
Dark hair, dark eyes, a lean face with sharp cheekbones. That little bit of beard on the tip of his chin only. It had tickled. Oh god. He's hot. She forced herself to perch on a small stack of boxes rather than attack him like some nympho.
“You didn't call. I thought we were done. You figured out what a big mistake you made that night and regretted it. Wised up.”
“Is that why you pretended not to know me?” Ugh. That came out way more pathetic sounding than she wanted it to.
“Yeah. I think in this kinda thing it's you who's got the reputation to watch out for, not me. Though you should know, some woman saw us. Dee Dee, her name is. Warned me roundabout to treat you good.”
Dee Dee is a wonderful person! And he's... so cold. Standoffish. Using more correct speech. Did he want me to call? Or was it just nothing to him? How do I find out which?
“Kiri, did you want to ask me something or say something? Why drag me here? They're all gonna know something's going on between us, you realize?”
“I don't care. I wanted...I needed to know if you...”
“Shit! Don't cry! It's not fair.” He crossed the room and pulled her into his arms.
“Not crying!” she sniffled against his chest. She felt him laugh a little.
“Nah, a tough, wild woman like you don't snivel, yeah?” He stroked her hair. “I've been thinking of you. More than I should, Girly.” He kissed the top of her head.
“I told Kanako I'd fill in for her just so I might find you here,” she admitted. “I thought if I called and you didn't answer I might just die. I'd rather get rejected in person, I guess.” She laughed a little herself. He called me 'Girly.' Like that night. Like a nickname.
“I ain't that strong. You call, I'm gonna answer. Don't text me though. I hate texting.”
“What about sexting?”
She giggled. “You'll see. I don't think you'll hate it.” They just stood there, holding on to each other. She felt her body heating up.
“Yuusuke?” she whispered against his throat. Did she just feel him shiver?
“I'm not wearing any panties.”
They were just wrapping up the meeting when Nanahara and Kiri appeared. Huh. Did it again. Yashiro gave her a closer look. Very pretty little thing. He certainly couldn't blame Nanahara but he was going to have to warn him to be very, very careful with her. Yashiro did not want the wrath of respectable parents to descend on him. Or Asami, or anyone else who might hold him responsible.
“Kiri, my dear, Ayano called all full of concern for you. I told her you ran into an old friend and were having a catch-up conversation. But I suggest you get your butt back to work. I need to discuss some things with Nanahara.”
“Don't give Yuusuke a hard time, please? It's all my fault. I'm an animal!” She skipped out the door, laughing.
Nanahara tried to wipe the big grin off his face and failed. “Sorry, boss.”
“No more fucking in this office. Only Doumeki and I are allowed to have sex in here.”
“What? I-we...all we did was talk.”
Yashiro rolled his eyes. “She talked a big red kissmark onto your throat? And are those tooth marks as well? She really is an animal.”
Nanahara slapped a hand over the marks and looked so torn between pride and shame that Yashiro could only laugh. “So, that's the sakura tree Dee Dee said you should enjoy but not ruin in the process? I liked that woman.”
“Dee Dee is great. Nanahara, she will rip you to pieces if you hurt that girl,” Aoi said, very casually. “And I'll help her.”
“Hey! You said I was nice and a good catch and a bunch of other weird stuff.”
“I did, and I meant it, and you are. But Kiri's only eighteen, so watch yourself.”
“Tell her that. She wants to do all kinds of crazy shit and I'm going to have a hard time keeping her safe. I'm the one needs help here. By the way, don't give her the address of the casino if she asks you. She already tried to pry it out of me and I told her no but I don't think she's gonna let that stop her.”
Izumi, who'd kept out of this talk, asked him the important question. “Nanahara, do you like her? Not sex with her. For herself.”
“...Yeah. I do.”
Yashiro saw an expression on Nanahara's face he'd never seen there before. Nanahara had gotten mixed up with women over the past...Fourteen years? Shit, he was Kiri's age when I met him. He'd been an idiot street rat when Yashiro saved him, ready to sacrifice himself over a woman who wasn't even his, just a pretty face with a sob story. That woman had conned him, just like she'd cheated on her man and was trying to run off with someone else and stolen cash.
That was Nanahara. An idiot. A loyal idiot with a soft heart, fierce in defense of those he cared about. He'd rush straight into the path of any danger without thought. His little family had consisted of Yashiro and Sugimoto. It had taken him a while to accept Doumeki but he'd liked Aoi and Iku right away. Now Kiri put that look on his face.
Ah, damn. Nothing I can say now will matter. He's a goner.
“Boss, what's sexting?”
Chapter 6: True Heroics
Around 7 pm, Yashiro kicked Nanahara awake. After their meeting, he and Sugimoto had crashed in the break room, not used to waking up so early. Sugimoto was next to get a foot to his side and both of them sat up, blinking.
“You've got a casino to run, don't you? Only for a few more nights, maybe, but still your business. Plus, the day is over so git. Doumeki and I want to go home.”
“Damn. I was tired, I guess. My ears are ringing.” Nanahara poked a finger in one.
“Well, you did get some exer-wait.” Yashiro turned his head just as Doumeki yelled from down the hall.
“It's the alarm at DELIcious!”
Nanahara charged out, right on Doumeki's heels. Yashiro made Sugimoto stay behind. “The cops will show up. You don't need to be exposed to them. Fucking Nanahara!” He headed out, walking not running. The other two were the muscle. Doumeki alone could take out ten men.
It was probably an accident, Yashiro assured himself. What kind of idiot would rob a business at this time of day? …A desperate one. He sped up a little, glad the street didn't have much traffic as he crossed it.
Morinaga didn't know if hitting the alarm had been a good idea or not but Ayano had done it so there they were. The two men, wearing generic face masks and clutching switchblades, had only demanded the money from the cash register. It would have been a loss not worth getting stabbed over.
The alarm was not a silent one. Meant to scare people off with its loud wailing, instead it drove the thieves into a frenzy. They had been on edge already and the noise and the fear associated with it pushed them into near-madness. One grabbed Kiri and held his blade to her throat. The other was waving his around wildly and ranting at them. Ayano was yelling back at him, not helping any.
Morinaga emptied the cash into a bag and the thief stared at him, then ranted some more. Not many people paid with cash these days but try explaining that to a psycho with a knife. Even if Morinaga was forced to open the safe, there wasn't much more. No matter what, these guys weren't going to be satisfied.
Almost a blur, Doumeki tackled the ranting one and Nanahara went straight for the one holding Kiri. That guy took the knife away from her neck to aim it at Nanahara – a big mistake. It ended up buried in his thigh and Nanahara slammed his head into the wall and then punched him several times in the face until Kiri stopped him.
“Stop! You'll kill him! Yuusuke! I'm okay! It's okay, it's over!”
Yuusuke? Oh...Nanahara dropped the guy, who slumped to the floor unconscious. Taking Kiri's face in his bloody hands, Nanahara kissed her. “Are you sure? Shit, that scared me. He didn't hurt you?” He kicked the limp body. “Fucking bastard!”
“I...I'm fine. Really. I'm...” Her eyes welled up and she started shaking.
Nanahara swept her up into his arms and held her, whispering as she sobbed.
Doumeki's tackle had disarmed his thief and knocked him out all in one body slam onto the floor. He got up to check on the other. Yashiro strolled in, nudged the first body with his shoe, and sighed. Surveying the room, he asked, “Does the camera cover that end of the room?” He pointed to where Nanahara held Kiri.
“Uh, no. It's aimed at the counter, to catch the customers' faces at the register. There's the one on the door though. It sees everyone who comes in.”
“Damn. It's too bad the one over the door is malfunctioning,” Yashiro said, taking the bottle of disinfectant and spraying the camera with it over and over until it shorted out from the liquid. “Nanahara, take her back across the street. You were never here, either of you. Doumeki, after you knocked this guy out you took care of the other one, right?”
“Sure boss, he put up quite a fight and I had to defend myself.” Doumeki casually smeared some of the guy's blood over his knuckles. Broken noses seemed to stream buckets.
Nanahara stuck close to the wall as he left carrying Kiri. Morinaga watched them cross the street and was relieved when they went inside just before a police car arrived on the scene. Then he became aware of Ayano clutching his sleeve. He hugged her.
“We're okay. You were brave. Stupid, but brave.”
“I want Kei!” She clung to him as a substitute. “And don't call me stupid – even if I was.”
“He'll be here soon, I'm sure. Until then, you've got to be strong, okay? We have to talk to the police.”
Yashiro had caught the cops' attention and was explaining what happened in a clever mix of the truth and some lies. He and his employee, who worked just across the street, were coming to the shop to buy dinner when they stumbled into the attempted robbery. Doumeki, being an ex-cop himself, had acted impulsively, taking out both thieves.
Morinaga and Ayano confirmed everything he said. Doumeki described his actions in more (fake) detail, knowing what to say and how to say it. They were all going over it a second time when Kirishima showed up and Ayano fell apart. He comforted her, then took the senior officer aside and told the man something that made him decide enough questions had been asked.
“You all need to stop by the HQ in the next day or two and make formal statements. It's clear enough what happened, so there won't be any trouble. We'll handle the rest from here and you can clean up and calm down. Good work.”
Photographs had been taken of the scene, the one working camera's footage was collected as evidence, everyone's IDs were examined. Paramedics had been called to patch up the criminals, who seemed to be middle-aged nobodies with extremely high alcohol levels in their blood.
Both had mild concussions. Doumeki's had three broken ribs and a dislocated shoulder while Nanahara's had a broken nose and cheekbone to go with the stab wound in his thigh that would need stitches.
Kirishima shook Yashiro's and Doumeki's hands and bowed low to them. “Thank you, for getting here so quickly. But...Doumeki. You don't have any bruising on your knuckles.”
Doumeki had washed his hands once the police left.
“Oi! Nanahara and Kiri! Do you have a first aid kit at the office, Yashiro?” Ayano asked. She didn't wait for an answer, just grabbed the shop's kit before charging out and heading to the office. Morinaga quickly locked the door and they all went after her.
“Kiri?” They filled Kirishima in on what had really happened as they rushed to catch up with Ayano. She went right past Sugimoto, sitting on the top stair looking bored.
“Ayano, wait before you go-” Yashiro tried to stop her.
Too late. She barged in, dropped the first aid kit with a clatter, then turned around and shut the door. “Uh.”
“Yeah. That happens sometimes when people are all excited. And after I told him not in the office, too.” Yashiro glanced at Doumeki. “Let's go home. Sugimoto, go to the casino. You guys should go find a little comfort of your own, if you know what I mean. Nanahara and Kiri will be fine.”
Morinaga couldn't deny that he wanted his Senpai very badly. He hadn't been all that scared – not for himself – but the situation had been highly charged and nerve-wracking. Then the violence, the lying, watching those two unconscious men loaded into the police ambulance...adrenaline had washed through him.
“Kei. Take me home, please. Your home, not mine.” Ayano was running on fumes. It had already been a long day for her. She was just about to head home when the thieves showed up. Only one brief breakdown – she was due another much more cathartic one alone with Kirishima.
“Of course. Men, thank you again. We'll talk more tomorrow.”
“We only did what you pay us to do. All that food – we owe you at least three more rescues.”
They split up. Morinaga went back to the shop alone. He locked himself inside and began cleaning. First, the blood. Most of it had been on thief #2, but some had dripped onto the floor and been splattered on the wall then smeared around. He scrubbed and wiped and sprayed until every last spot was gone. When Ayano arrived early the next morning, he didn't want any traces of it to remind her. Or himself.
Just as he was about to move behind the counter, a knock on the door made him jump. “Senpai?” He rushed to open it. Impulsively, he pulled down the outer shutters before locking the door again with them both inside.
“Why are you here? I'm so glad you came!” Morinaga held Tatsumi so tightly he gasped for breath.
“Kirishima told me to come get you. Why didn't you call me? Are you okay? What exactly took place? I can't see any damage.”
“Just two drunk fools with little knives. It was not that bad and the guys from across the street showed up very fast to help. Then the police and...ngh!” He kissed Tatsumi like a starving man.
“Nmh...Mori-stop!” Tatsumi had not been expecting this kind of response.
“I can't! Please, Senpai!”
“Here though? Can't you wait until-”
Tatsumi stopped struggling. Whether he heard something in Morinaga's voice, sensed it in his frantic groping, or had suffered some fear himself on the way over, Tatsumi matched Morinaga's pace.
Lips locked, Morinaga stumbled backward and around behind the display cases. He lifted Tatsumi up onto the counter and ground their hips together, raised Tatsumi's shirt enough to expose his nipples, attacking them with his tongue and fingers.
“Ahh! Tetsuhiro! Why do you always...mmm!”
“Because when I do this, you make that noise.” He wanted to strip Tatsumi naked, but he'd shown up still wearing his lab coat and that was...grrr! Pushing Tatsumi to lean back onto his elbows, Morinaga undressed his senpai from the waist down, leaving the coat, the shirt shoved up to his neck. Morinaga put his lips and tongue to bare, satiny skin and groped for the nearby bottle of olive oil.
No time for finesse. Shirt off, pants down. Morinaga sucked and fingered and then slid himself deep inside Tatsumi. At that point, he regained a little of his senses, safe and surrounded and held tight by the man he loved.
“Oh, Senpai! I'm sorry! Are you okay?”
“Don't just stop, dummy!” Tatsumi gasped out.
“Sorry!” Morinaga said, with a little smile. Then he obeyed.
Tatsumi's cries and moans filled the small souzaiya as Morinaga thrust into him. Morinaga picked him up and let gravity drive him even deeper inside, Tatsumi's ass in his hands and legs wrapped around his waist.
“Ngh! Hah! Tetsu-hiro!” Tatsumi clutched at his shoulders and gripped him down below as he came, shaking and convulsing. Then he went limp and Morinaga nearly dropped him, their balance shifting.
Draping Tatsumi face-down on the counter, pushing the lab coat to the side, Morinaga pressed inside again and continued. Seeing himself moving in and out...he didn't last much longer. He pulled out at the last minute to come all over Tatsumi's back.
“Hah! Senpai! Oh, Senpai!” Bending his sweaty head down, he rested it on Tatsumi's shoulder and they both waited for breaths to stop heaving and heartbeats to slow.
We're a sticky mess, was Morinaga's first coherent thought. Then - Whoa, I'm going to stare at this counter like a crazy person from now on. He giggled.
“Laughing? Are you laughing right now? Get off me!” Tatsumi began to squirm.
“I'm sorry, Senpai. Don't move - I'll clean you up.” Grabbing a towel, he dampened it in the sink and wiped them both off. “I didn't realize how much I was holding back, Senpai. I was scared. Now, I'm sort of drunk with relief. I'm so glad you came here for me.”
“I wish I'd been here at the time. I'd have crushed those guys' skulls in! And what if Kanako had been working? I'd have gone insane with both of you in danger.” Tatsumi made the rare gesture of putting his arms around Morinaga's neck and kissing him. “Don't get robbed again!”
“Senpai, I love you but I can't promise that one. I'll try not to?”
“Moron! Are you done here? Can I put my pants on? Do you know how many sanitation codes we just broke? We have to clean everything-mph!” Morinaga would take any excuse to steal another kiss.
“Everything important was already covered over. And this entire place has been drowned in disinfectant over and over again. We just need to turn off the heat lamp,” he did that with a click, “and move those containers to the cold side.”
They dressed, put everything in its place, then one more wipe down of all surfaces with the bleach-mixture and they could go home. Bad memories replaced by the best kind, Morinaga would have no trouble coming back. And if he repeatedly touched a certain section of the counter with a little grin on his face, Ayano would never know why.
Chapter 7: Life Lessons
Nanahara drove Kiri home - she insisting that she was fine, he telling her not to work the next day. He thought she would be traumatized by seeing the souzaiya again so soon, but she was sure that wouldn't be the case.
Kiri was exalted, thrilled, the cells in her body buzzing like bees. First, seeing him again and discovering that he still was interested in her, then the robbery and his rescue, a major meltdown she was embarrassed by, then a second crazy-hot sex session...No, she was not traumatized at all.
His display of violence might have driven her away from him if it hadn't been followed by soothing murmurs and gentle handling. And her own response – she had wanted to join him in beating that man senseless. That was the first time she'd ever felt helpless and she was determined not to let it happen again.
“Fighting lessons. I need fighting lessons. What discipline, Yuusuke? Karate? What was that move you used when you made him stab himself?”
He gaped at her for a moment before turning his attention back to the streets.
“Move? I grabbed his hand and forced it into his leg. That wasn't no fancy move. I was a boxer back in the day but that's useless against a knife. I was fast and lucky. You shouldn't go trying to take on any big dudes on your own. Fighting lessons will just get you into a brawl you can't handle.”
“Don't patronize me! I won't be a useless damsel who sits around crying and waiting for help ever again!”
“Kiri,” he pulled over and turned to look at her, “You're barely more than half my size and I ain't all that big. That guy who had hold of you...” He gripped the steering wheel. “If you tried to fight him, he coulda killed you. Maybe by accident, but that's all it takes. I understand wanting to feel stronger, but running away is smarter. Take it from someone who's been beaten to a pulp more times than I'd like to admit.”
“I shouldn't have let him close enough to touch me but I froze. If I have some training, I won't freeze next time. And I know I'm small, but there are ways I can defend myself better. I won't be stupid about it, I promise.”
“You're dead set on this?” She nodded and he started driving again. “Then Krav Maga. Nasty and dirty fighting and quick. It focuses on disarming an attacker and putting him down as fast as possible. You strike first, you strike a lot, you grab anything within reach and slam them with it anywhere you can reach. You take away their weapon and use it on them. I've heard it's fast to learn, too.”
“Let's train together! You know about it because you're already interested. You're not going to be working, right? And all my school classes are online for now. We can go and try to beat each other up!”
“Girly, are you trying to kill me?”
“Maybe. And I want a tattoo! Where did you get yours done? I'm going to stop by the casino tomorrow night, so be ready. Don't think I can't get the address from somebody! I just want to see it before it closes down. I know how to play baccarat and blackjack and Texas hold 'em.”
“I give up. I'll pick you up tomorrow at the souzaiya, if you're so determined to see the place. It ain't nothing special to look at, just sayin'. And don't dress all slutty like Aoi did. Which house is yours?”
“That one.” She pointed at a big house much like the Kaidou home. They weren't too far away from White Fang. He drove past and parked in a shadow between two streetlamps.
“C'mere.” He pulled her in for a kiss. “What kinda lies you telling your folks, Girly? Make 'em solid. I don't want a pissed off Mom and Dad having me arrested.”
“Oh, they believe anything I tell them. They don't know Kanako's out of town, so I can just say I'm going out with her. Ren would cover for me, too. I guess I'll have to tell him, at least. My girlfriends already know about you. If you run into Ren, don't you dare answer any questions about our...activities.”
“Yeah, I've heard him when he gets going. Told your friends?” He grinned at her. “You're cute, you know? Were they shocked and grossed out to hear you're into an old man?”
“Shocked? Yes. Grossed out? No way. I told them you were amazing. And you're not some old man - your my very Bad Man!” She jumped out of the car and ran off down the street.
Turning his car around, he honked as he drove past her and she waved, then carefully composed herself before going into the house to face her trusting, oblivious parents.
Just a few blocks away, Juuzen had been ejected from Ren's house after hanging out there all afternoon and having dinner. Haru was glaring at him again, thanks to Ren offering more kissing lessons. He seemed determined to drive Haru insane. How he had become a pawn in the ongoing jealousy game those two played, Juuzen had no idea.
Claiming she was stiff from writing all day and tired of being indoors, Dee Dee had scooped up Tanuki and invited herself along on his walk home. Awkward, after she kissed him last weekend. Haru's mother! Had kissed him! And he kissed her back in front of everybody and his brain melted while she just walked away like it was nothing.
It was nothing, he told himself, over and over whenever the memory popped into his head. She was messing with him that night and scoring some kind of point against Haru. They were all crazy and Juuzen wondered – if he knew back then how things would end up, would he have made a point of befriending Ren?
Probably. Juuzen, recently arrived in Tokyo and stuck living in the dorms, hadn't fit in with the other kids at Souryou High School. And Ren was clearly an outsider as well, tiny and intense and quiet and weird. Then Juuzen happened to see him kissing Haru by the shoe lockers and just had to know more.
Ren accepted him without question, having no prejudices against someone from the rougher part of Osaka or with a different accent or bleached hair and ear piercings or Juuzen's lack of sophistication. A lot of the students at Souryou were snobs and spoiled brats. It took a while, but their misfit combo had drawn in a few others until they were their own little weirdo clique.
Juuzen was friendly and kind and smart when he wasn't acting like a bone-head. He also had a bit of an inferiority complex because of his background. Raised by a single mom and a big sister, he treated women with respect and was a little scared of them. He had a new little half-sister he worshiped. He was, pretty much, a teddy bear.
Under his delinquent fashion sense, he was the dreaded “nice guy” and was sure that was why things between him and Kiri had gone nowhere. Had he wanted to do more than just hold her hand and share a few kisses? Oh, yeah. But he couldn't bring himself to try anything, not when she wasn't inviting it. He was haunted by visions of her screaming and beating him up and then going home to his mother who also screamed at him and beat him up. Nope. No wandering hands from Juuzen.
“Here, take him.” Dee Dee shoved Tanuki into Juuzen's hands so she could have a cigarette as they walked. “Or make him walk. That creature doesn't deserve to be called a dog, Ren has spoiled him so.”
She was...sexy. He had to force himself to admit it, being conditioned not to think like that. Haru's mother. She had to be at least in her late forties but, aside from a few deep laugh lines at the corners of her eyes, there were no outward signs of her age. She could pass for ten years younger, easily. Breathtakingly lovely, whatever her age.
But why the hell is she walking with me like this!? He was glad to hold Tanuki and wipe his sweaty hands on thick fur.
“Uh...I saw your wolves when we had our class trip to Canada. I guess those are more like what you think of as a proper dog. Kiri has a big black Labrador named Lyuba.”
“Are you heartbroken over Kiri? She wasn't right for you, I think.”
“What? No. I like her better as a friend. It's more comfortable. I'll have to wait for school to start to find a girlfriend. All the other girls I know already have boyfriends.”
“What are you going to study?”
“I'm not sure yet. I was thinking of game development – I like playing computer games. But I also liked talking with Tatsumi-sensei – the older one – about rainforests and insects and nature. I never considered a career like that – traveling the world, researching, and exploring. I don't know if I'm smart enough though. Maybe I should be a travel blogger? But I'm not exactly handsome enough to put my face up on the internet...”
She laughed a little and he felt his face heat up. “I'm an idiot, I know. Ren, Kiri – all our friends have plans and goals they're working towards and I'm just drifting.”
Stubbing out her smoke, she dropped it in a trash can as they turned the corner. “No, it's fine at your age to explore your options. I like that you have a broad range of interests and are open to waiting for the right one. I know many people who didn't bother to think, just did what their parents wanted them to. They ended up stuck in jobs that made them miserable.”
He slowed down, then came to a stop in front of a modest-sized house. “Um, this is my place. Here.” He held Tanuki out to her. She didn't take the dog, just stared at the house.
“It's dark inside. Isn't anyone home?”
“Yeah, uh...I actually live by myself. There's a little studio behind this house. They usually go to bed early in the front. My parents live in Osaka and I was staying in the dorms at school. I was going to move to the University dorms but I found this place, so they helped me rent it. It's cheap.”
“Does Ren know you're all by yourself? They would let you stay at the house, I'm sure.”
“I didn't tell him yet. And I don't want to live there - Haru already doesn't like me much and then this whole kissing thing...”
She laughed again. “Show me in. I want to be sure you aren't stuck in a slum or living like a savage.”
They went through a gate and skirted the house to what should have been the garage but was converted into living quarters. Juuzen had basic life skills drummed into his head by his mother and sister. His little home was clean enough and there was real food in the fridge. Tanuki wandered around sniffing everything, then hopped into a basket of clothes and curled up.
“Oh. This isn't bad at all.”
“Tanuki! I just washed those!”
Dee Dee helped herself to a glass of water, then stepped over to the wall and turned off the light.
“Huh? Mph!” Before his eyes could adjust to the small amount of moonlight streaming in the uncurtained window, Juuzen was being kissed. Thoroughly. Again.
“You don't mind, do you? No strings, we're not dating. Just this, once in a while?”
Dee Dee was a very good teacher. She had sensed Juuzen's potential and now took pains to coax it out and add new dimensions to it. He'd be grateful later when his head started working again – the one above his neck, not the one below his waist.
She pulled off her shirt. She pulled off his shirt. She pushed him down on his bed and...had her way with him. Juuzen wouldn't be able to face Ren and Haru without sweating and stammering for weeks. Especially not with her sitting there cool as a cucumber as if they hadn't. Hadn't. Yaaaaaaahh!
Chapter 8: No Lectures Necessary
No Lectures Necessary
Ayano stood outside the souzaiya for a good five minutes, working up the nerve to open the shutters and go in. Kirishima sat in his car watching her. She had insisted he leave, but she was secretly thankful to know he was right there behind her, waiting. Both as physical safety and as pressure to prove she could do this, could be in there alone.
Right! She opened the shutters, unlocked the door, entered and re-locked it, then waved at him with a smile. He blew her a kiss and drove off.
Damn. It was spotless. She had left all the mess to Morinaga and he had done everything. Not cool, Ayano. I'll have to make it up to him, somehow. She rolled up her (metaphorical) shirt sleeves and got to work. After an hour or so she stopped flinching at every noise and glancing over her shoulder.
Morinaga arrived at 8 am and they went right into their usual routine of competing for stove space and trading mild insults about each other's cooking. Izumi stopped by and replaced the camera Yashiro had ruined and put a new memory card in the other one.
“Yashiro said to tell you guys Kiri got home just fine and she is planning on working today. He talked to Nanahara, I guess.”
“When did they...? How did that happen? They're a thing, right?”
Izumi shrugged. “At the Hanami, seems like. You're the gossip, Ayano. Ask her yourself.” Morinaga snickered.
“Hmph! But what is he like, Izumi? Isn't he too old for her? And a gangster or whatever? She's a girl from a good family! The Hanami was only a few days ago and they've already...?”
“You're not going to talk trash about someone who risked his life for you guys yesterday, are you? Kiri's old enough to decide for herself. He likes her, that's all I know.”
“I'm not trash-talking! I'm very grateful to him and Doumeki and Yashiro. It's just not appropriate! And of course, he likes her. She's a pretty young girl who doesn't know any better.”
“I don't think you know her very well. Ask her about this, see how she feels. Called herself an animal, yesterday. In the end, it's not your business what she does or who she does it with.” He left, Ayano steaming.
She turned to Morinaga, who raised his hands in surrender. “I was surprised. But he's right and it's not our business.”
“What if it was Kanako?”
His face hardened. Ooh, Morinaga could look scary. “Then I'd sit him down and have a talk with him. After that, I'd decide whether or not to turn Senpai loose. He once threatened to cut someone's dick off. Then he stabbed the guy in the ass before I could stop him.”
Ayano laughed in spite of herself. Tatsumi did seem like someone who was a volcano on the verge of erupting. I wonder if he's like that in bed? Eek! What am I thinking? She caught Morinaga giving her a quizzical look. Nope! Can't ask!
“I'm just worried about Kiri, that's all. I won't try to boss her around when it comes to her personal life.”
“Good. She's more likely to confide in us if she isn't resentful. That's all we can do – be there if she needs help. I'd want Kanako to feel comfortable enough to tell me if she did fall for someone like Nanahara. We don't know him – he could be a nice guy. Aoi likes him. Yashiro was not a typical yakuza and I doubt his men are either.”
“You are a nice guy. That...display yesterday. Nanahara is not a nice guy.”
“Ayano, you do recall what Kirishima did for a living before Asami-sama shifted his interests?”
“But he's not...Kei's not like that at all!”
“No. Kirishima would most likely have killed both of those men without breaking a sweat. Understand it, Ayano. Understand the man you love. It doesn't make him any different – to you. He's still a nice man where you're concerned. That doesn't mean he can't also be other things when necessary or pushed to it.”
Her Kei, a killer? A thug like Nanahara? They were nothing alike, not in the same class at all. He would never hurt me!
Oh. He would never hurt ME. I don't really care who else he might hurt. Selfish of me. And I don't want to see that side of him ever, even though I know it has to be there. I'm not stupid, I just don't want to think about it. Kiri saw that side of Nanahara yesterday and wasn't scared by it or disgusted. Maybe she liked it. She's not me.
“I see what you're saying. I'm too judgmental. And too obsessed with appearances. I know that!”
“I know you do. I'm just reminding you before you tear into her. Gossip away. Give advice. Just don't lecture. It won't work.”
When Kiri showed up, Ayano did not lecture. She did ask. Which unleashed a torrent of talk. Too much information! Kiri couldn't talk to Kanako or Reiko while they were away, so she let loose on Ayano and Morinaga.
Soon they both knew more than they wanted to about sex under trees and Brazilian waxes and tattoos and...Kiri was nothing like Ayano. Kiri didn't care about appearances or impressing people – not in the same way Ayano did, anyway. She already knew her place and wanted to step outside of it. She wasn't fearless or careless, but she was brave.
She has no idea what it's like to grow up poor and alone and ignored. She doesn't have to scratch and claw her way up out of the gutter the way I did. But what did all that clawing and scratching get me? Not much. Ayano's life now was the result of dropping her old habits and trusting in friends and becoming open to letting them help her when she needed it.
I learned the hard way. Hopefully, Kiri won't ever have to. So Ayano didn't lecture, only offered to listen more if Kiri ever needed an ear to bend. Until the day was nearly over and Kiri changed into the clothes she had brought for her date. Then Ayano flipped out.
“You can't wear that!”
“What's wrong with it?” Kiri looked down at herself. Loose-fitting black slacks made of silk that billowed and slithered. High-waisted, with a matching black halter top tucked in and a wide belt of woven gold-painted leather. Peep-toe heels in leopard print, not too high. She spun around, showing off her bare back. “I like it and it's not slutty.”
Morinaga hid a chuckle while Ayano tried to find the right words. In truth, she was jealous of the outfit. “It's too...old! You look twenty-five! Won't you cause him trouble like that? And you're not wearing a bra!”
“I'm not wearing panties either. I don't really need a bra – I don't have big boobs. But why does it matter how old I look? I'd stand out more in the crowd if I looked like a teenager.”
“You'll stand out in any crowd, no matter what you wear, Girly. And what's up with you and panties? Why you telling people about them who ain't me? You know, I liked those ones with the little hearts all over.”
They all turned to see Nanahara leaning on the doorframe, arms crossed. He was wearing a dark green suit with a bright blue satin shirt. No tie, collar unbuttoned too low and gold chains – three of them – and gold earrings in several places on his ears, one of them with a diamond. Bandages on a couple of his knuckles.
Ayano was a little dazzled, she had to admit. He wasn't conventionally handsome but he had something. Sex appeal, confidence. And a warm glow in his eye as he looked at Kiri. She could see he both lusted after and liked Kiri. Honest about it.
“Yuusuke! Sneaky. One sec.” Kiri went to grab her purse – a little black clutch with a gold chain – and a larger bag that held her clothes from the day.
While she was doing that, Nanahara gave Ayano and Morinaga his attention. “You guys okay? No trouble after we left?”
“Fine! We're fine. And thank you. It could have turned out much worse,” Morinaga said.
“I didn't do much. Charged in like a fool. Lucky is all. Glad it worked out. You ready now, Girly?”
“Yes. Let's go!” Kiri walked past him and he patted her bottom playfully, then groped her a little. “Hey! Bad Man – save that for later!”
“You really ain't wearing any? Are you crazy?” Kiri laughed and said something teasing, their voices fading as they went off toward his car.
Ayano stared after them. She hated to admit it, but those two had a powerfully strong chemistry.
“Yeah...I don't think telling her he's all kinds of wrong would be a good idea. And I don't think he's taking advantage of her naïveté.” Morinaga's voice was dryly amused.
“No. You're right. I'm never going to make a snap judgment like that again.”
“You shut up!”
Back to normal in the souzaiya.
Chapter 9: Date Night
Nanahara took Kiri to dinner at a nice little restaurant. Not too fancy, but the food was good.
“I thought you didn't have time for dating?” she joked when they arrived.
“A man's gotta eat. You want to eat while I do – that's not a date. Anyway, it's too early to go in. You'd be bored just sitting around while it's closed.” She was staring at the menu. “Order whatever you want.”
“Honestly, working around food all day kind of killed my appetite. At least this place is Italian – that's different. Ooh, they have wedding soup! I'll have that.”
She had the soup, he had a steak. Conversation was spotty and a little awkward as they tried to find common ground. They both liked baseball – that would be good whenever the season started. He wasn't much into videogames or anime or reading. Then he admitted he liked watching TV dramas - the kind full of rich people backstabbing each other and having sordid love affairs and closets full of secrets that come tumbling out at the worst time.
“It's like watching aliens on another planet pretending to be human. I can't stop.”
She laughed and he smiled at her. It didn't matter really if they had much in common. She enjoyed his company. His energy.
“Truth is, I ain't had a lot of free time and we usually just hung out drinking and bullshitting with the other guys, back when we were still...in the family. Since then, it's just been work all night and sleep most of the day. Guard the boss when he needs it. Now Doumeki does that. TV shows I can record and watch when I get a chance.”
“You're going to start a new business though. I can help you with that – I'm a business major, after all.”
“Eh? Won't that be learning about big business, like Asami-sama's? Not some little shop on the corner.”
“Same basics. A bigger business just means more people to manage. They all need to keep the books and hire employees and have the same laws to follow.”
“We'll see. You done?”
“Yes. What now?”
“Now...I gotta work and you're gonna lose your allowance.”
The casino was disappointing but also interesting. It wasn't all that big, set up in an old warehouse in the middle of a bunch of other warehouses. It was professional and clean – not at all the seedy den of sin she'd been picturing. Maybe that came with the customers? They weren't open yet.
He showed her into the office, where Sugimoto looked up, opened his mouth to say something, then changed his mind and closed it again. There were a couple of desks, a big safe, a couch and some chairs, and a small TV.
“You get tired, you can sleep on the couch here. I might not be able to drive you home until later. This place runs itself pretty well, but we gotta stay on the floor most of the time and let people see us. If it's going okay I can get away for a bit, but you never know. You can leave your purse in here if you wanna.”
“Okay.” She opened it to take out some money but he stopped her.
“Don't you dare. I was kidding about your allowance.”
“But I want to play!”
“Who said you couldn't? It's not much fun with your own money though. Careful with the drinks - don't go getting plastered or barfing. Besides, drunks make stupid bets. At least try to make the money last a while, yeah? Are there pockets in those pants?”
There were. He tucked some chips into them. He assigned a bouncer to watch over her personally, then went off to have a pre-opening meeting. She wandered around the floor, then perched on a stool at the bar and asked for a gin and tonic. She had no idea what that was but had heard it ordered in movies.
It tasted terrible. She sipped it though, determined to play it cool and sophisticated. Eventually, all the dealers and bouncers and waitresses came out and took their places. The doors were opened and a few men trickled in. Nanahara leaned on the bar beside her and was handed a whiskey, which he tossed back. Then he stole a sip of her drink and choked.
“What the fuck you drinking, Girly? Tastes like shit.”
She laughed. “All the cool people order a gin and tonic! It does taste like nail polish remover though.”
“Cool people are stupid then. Give her some champagne,” he told the bartender.
Her glass disappeared and a flute took its place. She tried it hesitantly.
“Ooh! Bubbles up my nose!”
“Hey, Girly. You're beautiful, you know that?”
“Huh? What?” He'd caught her totally off-guard with that. And with the kiss that followed. She leaned into it, wrapping her arms around his neck.
“Don't let anyone touch you. Be careful, promise me.”
“Okay.” She was a little light-headed, not from the champagne.
“Good. Have fun.”
He was off again to talk to someone. She took a moment to gather her wits, then turned around to survey the room. More people. Mostly men, but a few women who looked like escorts. Several were studying her, had seen his little display. He'd announced to them all with a kiss that she was taken. She was almost offended. But seeing all the interest, she had to admit it made her feel safer. The bouncers, the waitresses, the dealers – all of them would keep an eye out for her if she was the boss's lady.
She giggled. I'm the boss's lady! Time to lose the boss's money! Not that she planned on losing, but she wasn't foolish enough to think she was going to win big. She was a rank amateur who had played some hands on the internet to practice.
Choosing a table at random, Kiri found a seat and pulled out one of the chips. A pure black chip. ￥100000 ($900). Holy shit! He'd given her ten of them. She had the dealer break one up and set out to conquer baccarat. She lost it all (that one chip) but it took her an hour. He checked in with her occasionally – marking his territory. She giggled each time.
Next, she tried blackjack. She lasted longer there before the second chip ran out. It was past midnight by that time and she was still wide awake, so she moved to the poker table.
Now this game, Kiri liked. And she held her own. She stopped drinking alcohol (she'd only had three glasses of champagne, spread out over three hours) and switched to coffee. She wanted all her wits. Her table drew a crowd, not just pervy men trying to flirt with her either. These were serious players, and they sensed a kindred spirit. She was having fun.
She won back a black chip's worth. Then another. She had a bad run and lost one again. She sat out a few hands to watch. Someone nibbled on the back of her neck, and since the bouncer didn't go berserk, she tilted her head to give him more skin to press his lips on.
“How's it going, Girly? This is the first time I've enjoyed watching someone play, ya know? Usually, they all look serious and desperate or depressed. You're sparkling.”
Twisting around in her seat, she won a kiss. “This is fun. You were right though. If I was playing with my money, I'd have been broke and sad in the first hour. You gave me too much. I still have most of it – here.”
She tried to hand back the extra chips. “You done playing? It's getting real late, by the way. When are you supposed to be home?”
“Oh. I'm not.”
“Not going home tonight. Well, not to my home and not tonight but whenever this place closes.”
“I told them I'm staying over at Kanako's house. They don't expect me home until tomorrow night. Unless you don't want me to see where you live. Is it all messy?”
“Not messy. But...you sure? It's gonna be at least another four hours before I'm done.”
“I'm going to play a little longer, then I'll go take a nap.”
“Whatever you want, Girly. I-oh shit. Stay here or go straight to the office.”
Tracing his path through the crowd, she saw five men had just entered. Yakuza, she'd swear. One older man who was obviously the boss and four attendants. Nanahara and Sugimoto had both made their way over and were shepherding the group toward the bar.
Chapter 10: Leverage
Never good at obeying orders, Kiri scooped up her chips and headed to the bar herself. She took a stool behind Nanahara and eavesdropped.
“...going to shut down? Why?”
“Well, with the virus and all, it doesn't seem like a good idea to stay open.”
“You're full. You should keep it running until the people stop coming in. We have an arrangement.”
“You get a piece of the take cuz this is your turf and you help keep the cops offa our back. If we're closed, you don't gotta do nothin'. So whaddya care if we close or not? You ain't makin' that much offa us.” Sugimoto's accent was stronger than Nanahara's.
“You think the cops are just going to stop asking for their payout? All the businesses are taking losses – casinos are one of the few still bringing in cash. It makes a difference. Unless you're planning to move again to somewhere out of my territory, this place is under my watch. I don't want it closed.”
“Tsunakawa, we ain't your men. We ain't your family. We had a deal and it don't give you that right over us. It's only for a month or two. You ain't going broke in that amount of time. It ain't safe to keep this place running. Not health-wise.” Nanahara was trying to be reasonable.
“That's right, you're not mine. You're not anyone's anymore. So keep this place open. People get sick, that's their problem. You don't like it, then disappear and take all this shit with you or I'll claim it for myself. Yashiro, damn him, had a talent for choosing locations and this one is perfect.”
“Motherfucker! You can't-”
“Buy it off them, then.” Kiri was horrified. Her mouth had just opened up and spewed out words.
“What? Who the hell are you? Shut up, and keep out of our business.” Tsunakawa did not like women telling him what to do, apparently.
“Kiri!” Nanahara glared at her.
“Don't tell me to shut up, asshole. If you want their business, make them a fair offer for it. They did all the work, they brought the customers in, they take all the risks. Are you just a lowlife thief, or a boss with some kind of honor? They might not be a part of your...association anymore, but that doesn't mean they should be treated like this. They stuck to your rules, you owe them some respect.”
“Someone take this little bitch away, please!”
One of his men approached her and Nanahara got in his way. “Touch her and die.”
“Seriously, Nanahara? You going to war over a pussy?”
“You kiss your daughter with that mouth?”
“Don't you dare mention my daughter, you piece of shit!” He studied Kiri. “How'd you score this one? She expensive?”
“Do you really want this kind of reputation?” Kiri asked, ignoring his insults. “Doesn't it look weak – threatening to steal the business of someone you had a deal with? Won't other people start to worry you might steal their businesses, too? I know Yashiro isn't yakuza anymore, but that doesn't mean he can't talk and spread rumors.”
Tsunakawa reacted to that, finally. She'd caught him with an important point he hadn't considered. “Rumors.”
“That you've gotten so weak, you're resorting to this kind of behavior. A family's status is based on its power, isn't it? I don't know where you stand, but you'll lose face if this gets out. And it will get out. Discuss it like civilized men. Find a compromise. Rent their equipment and staff the place yourself. Buy them out. Give them the month or two off they're asking for. Don't steal it like a petty thief.”
“Petty. Nanahara, your girlfriend has a big vocabulary.” I've moved up in rank.
“She does. She's way too smart for me.”
“I can't afford to buy you out. Everything's a mess right now.” Tsunakawa downed the scotch he'd ordered when he first arrived. “If you guys let me put a couple of people here to run this place while you go off and do whatever you were planning to do for the next month, how much would you want?”
Nanahara waved him to Sugimoto. “He's better with that stuff. Besides, he's buying me out, so this place will be all his anyway.”
“Fuck, Nanahara! You're not even a part-owner? Why'd you even bother?”
“Because. He may not be my partner after next week, but he's still my brother. It ain't in my nature to stand by and watch someone take what's ours or threaten the people I care about. I'm old-fashioned that way. I'll never abandon them. Doesn't need blood or vows made with sake. Sugimoto, me, and Yashiro been a family for fifteen years almost.”
“Yashiro left you for Doumeki.”
“Nah. He's still looking out for us, and we for him. Don't forget that. Ain't none of us alone.”
“Fine. I don't want Yashiro flapping his mouth about me, so let's make a new deal. Sugimoto?”
“Gimme the weekend to come up with some numbers.”
As Sugimoto and Tsunakawa talked, Nanahara dragged Kiri back to the office. Uh oh. I'm in trouble.
But all he did was hold her tight. “Crazy. You're crazy. I almost died when I heard your voice.”
“I'm sorry! I shouldn't have interfered. I spoke without thinking!”
“If you spewed out all that without thinking, I'd hate to see you when you were on top of your game. You came up with the perfect way to make him shut up and listen. You gave us...uh, what's the word? Helps you move something...”
“That's it. He's real touchy about his status. Their family almost collapsed a while back and he's been slowly building it back up. And you were right about Yashiro being able to tear that all down with nasty rumors.” She felt him take a deep breath. “It was dangerous. But you helped us. So, thanks.”
That was unexpected, that he would admit she was helpful, thank her even. She'd been ready for an epic scolding for having the audacity to butt into men's business.
She pulled back far enough to see his face. “You're not mad?”
“Hell yes, I'm mad! I almost got my ass kicked before we could take any of that training together. That fucker ruined your fun and called you some names I'm going to make him pay for someday.”
“Mad at me, I mean?”
“What for? Speaking your mind? Defending us? I guess I did order you to stay away, but shit, I ain't your keeper. And I'm an idiot – nobody ever listens to me.” He grinned at her. “You're okay, I'm okay. That's a win, far as I'm concerned. We were a team, yeah? I'll hold 'em off, you tear 'em a new asshole with that vocabulary of yours.”
She laughed. This man was dangerous for her heart. Her Bad Man. Her nice guy. She could get used to being this boss's lady.
And...let's end it there. The Tokyo Yaoiverse had a little action in this one! Next week...who knows? Not me! See you soon!