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Flattered and Insulted

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Upon entering their living room, Kenzaki walked up to Yoshizumi and said, "Honestly? I'm flattered and insulted by this."

"This," which he tossed at his lover, turned out to be a copy of Mochimune's newest script.

Yoshizumi had just finished reading through his own copy an hour earlier. He was already under contract to play the lead, and he'd wondered who Mochimune was planning to recruit as his main co-star.

His hands had wrinkled Kenzaki's copy in the act of catching it. He smoothed down its top pages as he said, "There are hundreds of actors who would kill to have a part written specifically for them."

"I know." Kenzaki dropped down onto the sofa, scowling. "This is insulting both to them and you. To ask a non-professional like me to jump into the part -- it's like saying training and experience don't matter."

"Well, that's probably not too far from what Mochimune actually thinks," Yoshizumi said, wryly. "From what I've heard, he didn't find film school particularly worth his while. And, to be fair, a lot of veteran actors either aren't very good, or aren't good at taking direction."

"Too true," Kenzaki said. "I saw a Masakawa Shinobu flick yesterday, and I wish I could get my 1800 yen back. Talk about phoning in the motions! And you've told me stories about the prima donnas." The scowl remained on his face as he added, "That doesn't mean that I would be any good -- or good at taking direction, for that matter."

Yoshizumi scooted down the sofa so that he could rest his head on Kenzaki's lap. Smiling up, he said, "You wouldn't have become a number one host if you weren't a persuasive actor, and you take direction from your clients all the time. All things considered, it's not a crazy bet at all."

"When you put it like that, he sounds almost sane," Kenzaki said. "But seriously? Host-acting and film-acting are completely different genres. I may joke a lot about offering jobs to our guests from your industry, but I would never actually go through with it. Not unless they were willing to go through all the training, and I'm certain most of them wouldn't. You've seen how hard I am on the boys I do hire."

"Yes, there's far more to being a host than just the acting." Yoshizumi's smile deepened. "In fact, that's one of the reasons I couldn't help falling for you."

"What on earth are you talking about? You see through every single thing I do or say!"

"Not everything," Yoshizumi amiably countered. "That getaway week you gave us, for example. I had no clue we were on our way to Montreal until the car was halfway to the airport."

"We'd barely seen each other for over a month," Kenzaki pointed out. "Your schedule was the craziest it's ever been --between the location shoot, the festival, the awards, and all of the obligations related to all those things, we'd had three conversations at most when you weren't already half-asleep."

Yoshizumi's smile turned rueful. "It now seems ridiculous, how convinced I was that love would devour too much of my time. I can't believe how scared I was of getting serious."

"I'll never forget how the sheer suggestion of it sent you bolting away," Kenzaki quietly said. He placed his hand over Yoshizumi's, cradling it against his cheek.

The words and gesture were light, but Yoshizumi didn't miss the flicker of old anguish in Kenzaki's eyes. He softly said, "I loved -- and love -- how much you love your job. I love how high your standards are, and how they make you strict with the junior hosts and the rest of your staff. I love seeing and hearing about the dozens of details and nuances that separate real hosts from pretend hosts, and great hosts from merely good ones." He lifted Kenzaki's other hand to his lips and kissed it. "If there's one thing Mochimune respects, it's vocational commitment. Even his anti-heroes show it, in their way: Rafu kidnaps mediocre pianists so he can break their fingers in the name of Brahms. Kanaye becomes a poisoner to punish chefs who skimp on ingredients and preparation."

"So I should be flattered that he sees me like those guys? What a twisted son of a bitch."

Yoshizumi chuckled at Kenzaki's dour tone. "Are you saying I shouldn't be pleased that he's written this film with us in mind?"

Kenzaki brushed a kiss against the palm he'd held to his cheek. "It's a great story," he admitted, "and there are lines for you on every single page. Which means you'll be on the screen every minute of the movie. I definitely won't be complaining about that."

He twined his fingers with Yoshizumi's as he continued, "There's no way I can take the part of Souji, though -- not as long as I'm in the business of being a host. It would undo months -- and in some cases, years, even -- of the relationships I've built with my customers. Not just this role, but any role -- especially any role involving romance."

He sighed as he brought their hands together on top of Yoshizumi's chest. "It's not a secret that we're together, and some of my best clients even routinely ask about you. But how much I truly love you -- that has to stay out of the attention they want from me. It's my job to help them feel they're at the center of my universe. I can't do that if they're reminded too often or too well that there's already someone there."

Yoshizumi gently answered, "Our jobs are not that different, in that way. When the cameras are rolling, I'm not doing my job if the audience can't forget who I am outside of the movie. They have to believe that nothing matters more to me than whatever my character wants."

"Just so," Kenzaki said. "You want them to be so caught up in the story that they aren't thinking about whether it's true or not, or that you even exist away from the screen." He stared down at their joined hands. "My problem is, if I were to do that good a job with a role, it would bleed into the awareness of my customers, in ways I don't want or need. I can trust you not to hold any characters I play against me, good or bad, but I can't take that for granted with anyone else."

"I am a lucky man," Yoshizumi murmured. "I've never had to worry about how my public and private lives might overlap."

"I wouldn't call it luck," Kenzaki said. "Frankly, you rarely play parts that could be mistaken as autobiographical. Even in your bigger roles, the people you portray tend to be mythical, historical, dangerous, or incurably weird."

Yoshizumi laughed. "You're being too kind. You didn't mention all the ones too unimportant to make any impression at all."

"Those, too," Kenzaki ruthlessly agreed.

Yoshizumi laughed again. "So what you're saying is, I'm too strange or too boring for normal people's fantasies." His eyes gleamed with mischief as he added, "Shouldn't I count myself lucky that you love me anyway?"

Kenzaki didn't smile. Instead, he continued staring at their hands as he replied, "It's almost funny, how well it's worked out: given the characters you play, your fans aren't overly invested in your love life. For most actors, openly dating a host would be out of the question, but it doesn't seem to have hurt you."

"It hasn't," Yoshizumi confirmed. "I wasn't getting cast as anyone innocent or pure of heart even before we got serious." His eyes still bright with amusement, he continued, "You have to admit, I do have some things in common with the characters I play!"

"That's what I mean, about it not being luck," Kenzaki said. "Maybe you played some naïve, in-need-of-rescue types when you were a child, but by the time we met, that was definitely nowhere in your personality. I can't imagine any competent casting director choosing you to depict someone completely noble, completely stupid, or completely helpless. As good as you are at acting, your independent streak is too strong for you to hide. It's so much a part of you that it's a part of every role you play."

Yoshizumi's eyes had widened with surprise as Kenzaki delivered his assessment. When Kenzaki was done, he was silent for a moment. Then he blinked and refocused his gaze on his lover, saying, "If you really believe that, then why have you always been so eager to defend me from scheming rivals and directors?"

Kenzaki flushed. "I do believe it," he muttered, "and I think your fans see it in you, too -- and that's why you haven't alienated them by dating someone 'inappropriate.' As for offering help that you don't really need…" Kenzaki stared even more fiercely at their hands, struggling to find the right words. "…I think, in general, that people are more attracted to people who don't need them," he said at last. "We want to feel special because someone chooses to accept what we can offer, rather than having our gifts accepted because the recipient has no choice, or because the offer was mandatory. I guarantee you that my clients have much more fun buying jewelry I don't need than donating rice to the poor."

Trying to follow Kenzaki's train of thought, Yoshizumi eventually said, "So you being my guardian -- it's less because I need guarding, and more about feeding your ego?"

Kenzaki affected a plaintive tone. "Must you phrase things so unromantically?" The two men simultaneously burst into laughter. In his normal voice, Kenzaki continued, "Your unromantic reputation actually helps me, you know. We aren't seen together that often, and when we are, we aren't lovey-dovey in the slightest. Which makes it very easy for my clients to ignore our relationship -- they can even pretend that you and I are merely very good friends --"

"Gee, I wonder who's tried that before," Yoshizumi muttered, flushing.

"--and it doesn't change anything for anyone, other than letting them enjoy a fantasy for a few hours--"

"-- of being attractive to an attractive man who doesn't have to pay attention to them," Yoshizumi concluded. "Though, technically, you do, since they're paying you--"

"But I'm good enough at my job for them to forget that. Just like an actor who can make me forget I'm watching a movie until the house lights come back on."

Yoshizumi squeezed Kenzaki's hands, gazing at him with open affection. "Are you sure you don't want to take this part? It is a great role -- and, not to be insulting, but you'll probably never receive this kind of offer again. I've never asked what you plan to do after hosting, but if you had any thoughts of giving acting a try, this is too good an opportunity to reject."

"I've toyed with the idea, of course," Kenzaki said, pulling one of his hands free. "I might as well tell you that I've ruled it out." He was silent a moment, seemingly losing himself in the pleasure of stroking Yoshizumi's hair. Then he said, "I know I can't be the number one host forever, but I don't see myself leaving the business. There are clients who will continue to ask for me no matter how old I am, both because they've become comfortable with me, and because I'll be someone who will remember what they looked like when they were themselves younger. They'll find it easier to believe that they're still beautiful when the compliments are coming from me and not some boy young enough to be their son." He let his hand glide against Yoshizumi's hair for several more strokes before adding, "I'm also an exceptionally good manager. I can keep on doing that no matter what happens to my looks… and I've been thinking it might be time to start a second club. Not to compete with the Rusty Nail, but as a complement to it -- we're sometimes too crowded for our, ah, less determined customers, and thinking of them making do with lesser clubs doesn't sit well with me at all."

"You really were born to be a host," Yoshizumi murmured. "No wonder you don't find Mochimune's attention flattering."

At the mention of the director's name, Kenzaki automatically scowled. At Yoshizumi's amused reaction, the scowl melted into a faintly sheepish grin. Kenzaki said, "About the new club… I've been thinking I could call it 'The Shisa.' "

A slow smile spread across Yoshizumi's face. "That would be perfect. It's very you, and it will encourage people to associate the two clubs -- but without expecting 'The Shisa' to be a copy of 'Rusty Nail.'"

"Exactly," Kenzaki said, pleased at Yoshizumi's grasp of his vision. "'The Shisa' will be of the same quality as the Nail, but not an imitation of it. Shou is more than capable of running the Nail on his own--"

"Aha." Yoshizumi's smile widened even more. "So this is really about creating an opportunity for Shou, isn't it. You are so unbelievably nice--"

"Don't talk nonsense," Kenzaki ordered. "I'm not being nice -- I'm being a responsible manager. If we don't promote Shou to a job worthy of his abilities, some other club will finally lure him away. I'd be a fool to let that happen."

"I see," Yoshizumi said, in a tone that said, I totally see through you, you softie. Kenzaki made an annoyed noise and changed the subject. "Since I won't be taking this part, are you going to make any suggestions to Mochimune about who should be cast?"

"Hmmm. I hadn't thought much beyond all the ways it reminded me of you." Strictly speaking, the role of the main co-star wasn't that of a host -- Mochimune had made the character the chief curator of a museum -- but in appearance, background, and personality, Souji resembled Kenzaki far too much for the details to be coincidental. Mochimune had clearly been making inquiries, and Yoshizumi now suspected those inquiries had commenced soon after the evening they'd happened to dine at Hayabusa. He'd ordered the "Kodak roll" for Mochimune merely as a gesture of friendly silliness, and he was still somewhat astounded at how it had suddenly escalated into a series of wordless throwdowns between Kenzaki and Mochimune, Kenzaki and himself, and himself and Mochimune.

Throughout his childhood, his aunt Ine had repeatedly warned him that his sense of humor would get him into serious trouble someday; while Yoshizumi didn't consider his current situation "trouble," the impulsive dessert order had certainly created some waves he'd had no reason to anticipate. Mochimune had never been overly kind to his co-star Ninomaya before that fateful night, but in the days that followed, the director's dissatisfaction with Ninomaya's efforts had visibly and audibly increased tenfold, to the point that Ninomaya had nearly quit the movie.

Yoshizumi had lost his own temper then, threatening to walk if Ninomaya did. He'd told Mochimune that Ninomaya had been talented enough for the director to hire in the first place, that the actor had in fact done everything Mochimune asked of him, and that if Mochimune wasn't getting the results he wanted, it was because of his inadequacy as a director rather than Ninomaya's as a performer.

It was the most insolent thing Yoshizumi had ever said in his entire life. It was a wonder that it hadn't ended his career, but Mochimune had seemed more intrigued than insulted by his outburst, and things had been considerably calmer on the set after filming resumed. That word would get around about the incident was inevitable, and it had apparently increased his standing among his colleagues in the industry: Katou Youji had sent him a magnum of Dom Pérignon -- and, to Yoshizumi's amusement, so had Kikuchi Katsuya. He was never going to bring up the coincidence with either of them, but he was secretly, continually entertained by how often the two enemies demonstrated to him their similarities.

In any case, Yoshizumi had agreed to star in Mochimune's next film, script unseen, in large part because he wanted their collaborations to outdistance the miserable little blowup. He wanted his name to appear in future histories of film as the actor who had starred in some of Mochimune's major films, not the actor who had lost his cool with the auteur and gotten away with it. On a less grandiose level, he also wanted the satisfaction of outlasting Mochimune's capacity for being a jerk: the man had compelling stories to tell, and Yoshizumi liked to believe he had the experience to handle anything Mochimune tried to impose on him. It was a gamble, of course, but Yoshizumi felt he had a good handle on the director's limits: Mochimune was too keen on making great movies to write him a bad part.

The overly personal elements in the new script had clearly been an attempt to make him and Kenzaki squirm -- and Yoshizumi planned to make some inquiries of his own, with a followup lecture or two to certain acquaintances on the virtues of discretion -- but overall, it was in fact a terrific draft. Like all scripts, it would undergo numerous adjustments between this version and the one enacted in front of the cameras, and now that Kenzaki had taken himself out of the picture, Yoshizumi was willing to bet that the physical specifications for Souji would disappear: the character's resemblance to Kenzaki had not been essential to the plot at all. It was possible that Mochimune would still try to find a younger incarnation of Iwaki Kyosuke, but it would be an unnecessary complication: it was chemistry that Mochimune was pursuing -- the altercations with Ninomaya had brought that to the fore, at least.

Aloud, Yoshizumi said to Kenzaki, "The auditions for your part are going to be a hell of a marathon. Mochimune will be taking extra pains to make sure whomever he picks has that extra 'something' in his scenes with me."

Kenzaki pursed his lips. "Do you really think there will be an open call? I still don't know much about your business, but if I were him, and I couldn't get me for the part, the next person I'd automatically think of would be his boyfriend. That Miyasaka guy."

"Oh, no," Yoshizumi groaned. "You're absolutely right. Oh, hell."

"I don't understand," Kenzaki said, looking alarmed. "Why don't you want to work with Miyasaka? Do I need to reconsider--"

"Don't. You. Dare," Yoshizumi immediately said, glaring at Kenzaki. "When you know that I know how much hosting matters to you? What a revolting thought -- the sheer idea is beyond insulting."

"You know that I would do it," Kenzaki insisted. "Yes, my career matters to me, but you matter more."

Yoshizumi gritted his teeth. "Get it into your head for once and for all that I would never accept that kind of sacrifice. My career is not more important than yours. Were you listening at all when I told you what I love about you?"

"You had better explain to me why I shouldn't worry about you having to work with Miyasaka."

"I'm sorry. I didn't realize how that sounded to you," Yoshizumi said. "You don't have to worry about Miyasaka. I'm not worried about him in particular -- he's not the sharpest pencil in the case, but he does take direction well, from what I've heard, and his skills are on par with Ninomaya's, from what I've seen. No, it's the fact that he's the director's boyfriend. Mochimune is a clever man, but I don't trust him or Miyasaka to keep their personal lives completely off the set, or to keep me out of any idiotic power struggles they can't resist playing."

"Oh, I see now," Kenzaki said, sounding both amused and sympathetic. "It's like the times when Kikuchi and Onozuka aren't speaking to each other--"

"Exactly." Yoshizumi thumped his head against Kenzaki's lap. "Why me? All I've ever wanted to do is act. What did I do to get surrounded by so many nauseating, love-deranged fools--"

Kenzaki halted the rant by pulling Yoshizumi up for a long, deep kiss that went on, and on, and on. When they finally broke apart for air, he huskily said, "Better?"

"Much," Yoshizumi said, his own voice equally husky.

"Then move over so I can lie down with you," Kenzaki said.

Adjusting their bodies to the new arrangement necessitated some squirming, some tugging, and several mild curses. Once they were finally settled against each other, Yoshizumi quipped, "Getting comfortable takes so much work!"

His palm resting on Yoshizumi's hip, Kenzaki intoned, "The finest meals require much preparation that is never discussed with the customer."

"Stop it," Yoshizumi said, laughter in his voice. "You're not at work now, and neither am I."

"Weren't you just saying how much you love my devotion to my work?" Kenzaki teased.

"I do," Yoshizumi said, "I really do. But I also love how there's a Kenzaki Toshiya that only I get to see."

Kenzaki grinned. "It turns you on, yeah?"

"You know it does. I'd be lying if I claimed it didn't."

"Well, we can't let that kind of flattery go to waste," Kenzaki declared, laughing outright. He slid his hand to the front of Yoshizumi's jeans, and soon the only sounds in the room were the unvarnished groans and gasps of honest pleasure.