TITLE: The Scoop
AUTHOR: Moonchild in Distress
PAIRING: Asami Ryuichi/Takaba Akihito
SUMMARY: Akihito learns that both professionalism and jealousy can be equally bad advisors.
DISCLAIMER: All credit for the sexy characters goes to Yamane Ayano, obviously.
A/N: I think that owing to the unforgiving editing hand of my beloved Anonymous Super Beta it became almost readable. What's your opinion?
Together they presented quite an attractive sight, Akihito admitted reluctantly, his fingers mechanically adjusting the camera for a better view. Like two beautiful and dangerous animals, peacefully cohabiting after agreeing to share the territory. He wasn't sure wild animals made such pacts but Asami Ryuichi and Liu Fei Long probably could. The evidence was in front of him.
And this sight was throwing a different light on his recent return from Hong Kong. How stupid he had been, worrying himself with countless questions, waiting for reciprocation from Fei Long, declaration of war, news of the man's disappearance – anything to prove that these events had taken place at all, but hearing nothing. All he could recall were several blows, most of them to his head, a dark cell and no food or water, before he had been blinded by a bright flashlight and Asami's strong grip on his arm had pulled him up from the floor and taken down several surprisingly empty passages to freedom. Back then Asami had limited their verbal exchange to a few brusque commands, and all Akihito's further attempts to find out the details from him had led, quite predictably, to sex, until he stopped asking altogether. What was the point, if every reminder of Fei Long touching him triggered Asami's territorial response?
Now he finally had the explanation as to why his rescue had been so swift and bloodless. And he... didn't like it. Apparently mutually inflicted bullet wounds and sexual abuse of one's lover – Akihito winced as he broke his own rule of not using this word in reference to his relationship with Asami – were mere trifles for old friends and colleagues. Exactly how close had Asami and Fei Long become? There were barely a few inches separating them now as they stood at the embankment, peacefully discussing something. The cars in which they arrived were left at a considerable distance, along with silent men in dark suits patiently waiting for their masters. That suggested some degree of trust and lack of intention to start a minor war right away.
Akihito twitched, rearranging his body slightly against the rocks which he was lying on. After hours of flattening himself on hard and sharp-edged stones, he fully expected to be sporting a nice collection of bruises and scratches tomorrow. Past experience told him to be extra cautious when it came to spying on either of these two and demanded he put a sensible distance between the objects and his viewfinder. When discovered by Asami or Fei Long, he usually paid for it in full. Akihito refused to think about what might happen if they caught him together, while being on friendly basis.
The growing anxiety forced him to wrap the photo session up, and retreat without waiting for the end of the meeting. In the old days wild horses wouldn't have dragged him away from such a place, but not now, when he knew firsthand what happened to curious observers who didn't get away in time. He had already collected enough material tonight.
The return home was unremarkable, most of Tokyo still asleep and nobody pursuing him. Back at the apartment, he connected the camera to the laptop with shaking hands, agitation and inexplicable anger growing with every new photograph filling the screen. Sometimes he regretted switching from his old standard cameras, after yet another one got smashed for the umpteenth time by Asami's bodyguards, to a digital device and a used laptop. Faster and cheaper to use in the long run, this equipment didn't offer the soothing effect which the film development process always had on him.
He didn't care what Asami and Fei Long were doing, did he? He was a professional, damn it, who could recognize the scoop of his lifetime when he saw one. This was work, it didn't matter to him who was in the pictures. And if the article gave Asami trouble, it wasn't Akihito's problem. Let him think twice next time about who to spend time with.
The more time he spent around Asami, the stronger grew his conviction that Asami simply didn't apply the society's rules to himself. Where common people committed crimes, this man merely adjusted the law to his convenience. Rape turned into passionate sex, shooting became an argument, drug-dealing started looking like legal business, and murder passed for accident. Before Asami, the border between right and wrong had been clear. Now Akihito had trouble remembering his original plans to unmask the true face of Asami Ryuichi. Asami had an astonishing ability of making his every action look normal and appropriate, and in general seemed to live by a self-devised code of conduct – meant only for himself, of course.
This time was different, though. Let him discover exactly what the public thought of his clandestine meeting with a criminal boss from Hong Kong, and how their view of the matter differed from his.
In the morning Akihito woke up with a distinct feeling of wrongness. Usually it meant either that he had drunk too much last night and now desperately needed to go, or that his body considered two hours of sleep an insufficient and insulting compensation for its hard work. This time, however, the feeling seemed to have nothing to do with Akihito's physical condition.
It only took him a look at the desk with the camera, keys, his coat, a notebook, a pack of chips and a bottle of Pepsi all hurled in one heap to remember. The laptop was still on.
"Fuuuuck." For a moment Akihito wanted nothing but to hide under the blanket till the nightmare was over.
Why? Why did he do that? Asami hated it when Akihito attempted to investigate him, and Akihito damn well knew it! Hadn't he intended to lie low for the time being, in a timid hope that Asami would forget about him for a while? And Akihito had a very good reason to wish for that, in view of their last contact. It had been through a phone call...
The call had caught Akihito in the middle of inhaling a pile of hastily thrown together food remains from his fridge, some of rather dubious age – his first meal on an incredibly messy and long day.
"I spent last night at your apartment. Arrived at around eleven pm and left at half past six the next morning."
"Err... what?" While having already been used to Asami's calling him at random times to arrange their next meeting or, rather, to inform him where and when it would happen, Akihito hadn't expected to hear about a past meeting. Which hadn't happened, unless Akihito had been suffering from a memory loss.
"There was some... trouble. The details don't concern you. But when the police ask you, you will tell them what I said. As for what we've been doing, you may describe one of our last times. Say, when I brought the vibrator. Your blushing will convince them you are telling the truth."
"I don't blush– Asami, you want me to provide an alibi for you! Lie to the police?"
"No way. This is a crime, and I have nothing to do with your so-called business. Ask one of your henchmen to do this."
"Takaba... just once, could you think before opening your mouth? Nobody would believe the word of people who work for me."
"So you'd rather have me break the law for you?"
"It seems you forgot who you are talking to. I have seen your police record, you know. So let's skip the part where you give me a speech about being an honest, law-abiding citizen."
Akihito had winced. "I am not obliged to explain myself to you, Asami! I won't do it, and you aren't going to force me!"
"Who said anything about forcing? This is a small courtesy which I think you can afford."
"Well, I don't feel like being courteous towards you!"
"Ah, so that's what this has been about." Asami had laughed softly. "You're still angry about me not taking you to Europe?"
"I didn't want to go there! I just...," Akihito had trailed off.
"Fine. I'll tell you what deals we've been discussing there. It's not like I'm going to take part in any of those. Too much risk. And those who did appear to be interested... well, I suppose they will just have to make do with a little publicity."
Akihito had almost felt his heart stop beating. This had been the first time Asami had ever agreed to share information with him. Occasionally Akihito had got away with the scraps he'd dug out on his own, without Asami's men destroying all the evidence he had collected, but Asami had never volunteered to help him with his investigation. And they both had known that Akihito would've provided an alibi for him regardless.
The call had shaken Akihito up. Now he'd been expected to commit a crime in order to help Asami. Such a small favor, really. It had confirmed his suspicion that Asami had never perceived his actions towards Akihito as criminal or abusive. Evidently, Akihito had owed him for this attention. Could he have refused? How would Asami have taken his answer? Doubts and worries had kept piling up, his brain strangely devoid of any helpful solutions. This had been promising to become another sleepless night to thank Asami for, Akihito could've told already.
"Good morning, Matsubara-san. This is..."
"Oh, Takaba! I was just about to call you. Congratulations on your accomplishment. The piece you sent me last night, it looked really good."
"Ahh... yes, thanks. About this thing, actually... Did you do anything to it?"
"Well, of course. I forwarded both the photograph and your commentary to the editor without delay, and he promised to clear a spot for the material in tonight's issue. Hot stuff like this can't just lie around, waiting its turn. You have to give it to the world right away!" He laughed.
"So it's already gone to print?"
"I should hope so! Just you wait, my boy, you'll be a celebrity in no time. Once the article is out, everybody will be after you. Every paper wants reporters capable of producing real sensations, and this one is a remarkable scoop."
"Yes, I suppose... I'm very sorry, Matsubara-san, I need to go. Thank you for all your help."
Upon hearing out another string of praises and exchanging customary goodbyes, Akihito hung up. Well, fuck. Bitterly he thought that Matsubara-san wasn't too far off the mark in mentioning people who would be after him after the article was published. Akihito only doubted that his visitors would be making him any job offers.
A pounding from the staircase shook him out of the gloomy meditation over how much time he got left to live.
Survival instincts not having kicked in yet, Akihito unlocked the door without checking the visitor's identity first. And promptly attempted to shut it back as he recognized the arrival. Too late. Asami's well-polished boot prevented the door from closing, and a powerful shove of his hand sent the door flying open and Akihito into the opposite wall.
"What did you think it would do to me and my reputation, a picture in a newspaper indicating my association with an infamous Chinese drug dealer?"
...That was fast. Did Asami have spying equipment installed in his apartment?
"I'm just doing my job. If you didn't want me there, you should've called me beforehand and asked not to come. Politely." A little voice inside his head was screaming that he was digging out his own grave with such insolence, but it was stifled by another, more cynical, saying that given what he'd done, his words mattered very little.
Judging by Asami's almost compassionate look, Akihito wasn't the only one to think so. "Your next visitor will be Fei Long or his people. And don't think that he'll be here to offer you protection or congratulate you on a lucky shot. Back in Hong Kong, there are serious people he responds to, and they won't like to find out that he might have entered an unapproved alliance with yakuza."
It was the knowing, confident tone the words were delivered in that drove the point home and set up a spark of sickening fear in his stomach. He'd known all along that he was playing with fire, and people who appeared for some unfathomable reason to be interested in his ass, might soon come after his head. Squashing down the building surge of panic, Akihito attempted the most nonchalant tone he could muster at the moment, "I'm used to dealing with you guys. Me and Fei Long are practically old friends – you should know."
The absolutely last form of reprimand he expected from Asami was a cuff on his nape, which made him feel like a little kid.
"Do you want to live, Takaba?" Asami asked him very quietly and very seriously.
"Then go and pack the essentials."
As punishments went, this one was far more effective than tying him and shoving a film roll up his ass, or beating and raping him. Those left him scared and hurting. This one, the torturous wait for God only knew what, was driving him insane.
He wasn't quite trapped here, oh no. Actually he could leave Asami's apartment at any given moment. Only he didn't have anywhere to go. His old place was most likely under surveillance, and he refused to endanger his friends with a request for temporary shelter. Other than these minor factors, he was a free man, Asami said, as he showed him in.
Put in a position of a guest rather than a kidnapping victim, Akihito was uncomfortable with refusing Asami, and noticed soon enough how the violence level in their sex diminished. Asami clearly enjoyed observing his uninhibited reactions, and applied considerably less control over Akihito's behavior in bed. There was also a lot of touching at random times, an arm wrapping around his waist, a hand ruffling up his hair, a leg rubbing against his when they sat close. For a change, it felt like petting rather than forceful testing of Akihito's limits. The knowledge that he was allowing things to become so natural and easy with his lack of resistance, was freaking Akihito out.
When Asami gave him a key to the apartment, Akihito found himself completely at a loss for words. Accepting it equaled agreeing to Asami's terms and assumptions. In particular it meant that Akihito had acquired a more-than-guest status here.
He wanted to return the key immediately. But to do so, he first needed to figure out on what grounds the key had been given and could have been rejected. It could be a display of Asami's trust in him. Which would be an obligation. Or it could be Asami believing that he was a harmless kid incapable of causing serious damage, far from the shark reporter image he was trying to maintain. Which would be an insult.
Unsure whether to feel flattered or offended, Akihito decided to keep the key till the day he made up his mind. Not that Asami was actually standing in front of him all this time, waiting for his reaction. He had simply placed the key in Akihito's hand with a brief explanation of its purpose, and left.
Other than satisfying Asami's – all right, and his too – desires, Akihito had nothing to do. He was hopeless at cooking and house-cleaning, leaving aside his complete resentment of the idea of playing a housewife to the bastard and the fact that Asami had far more competent visiting help for that.
On Asami's birthday he attempted to be helpful at least in one way. "What about your alibi? You said the police would..."
"Ah, that. I took care of this issue. I completely forgot that you aren't supposed to be useful."
"Hey, what's that supposed to mean!" Asami's condescending tone helped Akihito's initial relief to evaporate almost immediately.
"Just that you redefine the concept of 'trouble magnet'. Involving you in my business would lead me to bankruptcy in days."
Right. He'd just been insulted again. And so much for his special scoop. He didn't want to admit again he'd had any expectations about that trip. His reaction had been another never-ending source of amusement he had unwittingly provided to Asami. Of course Akihito had been interested! A yakuza boss going on business to Europe, it had sounded like something big, very likely a beginning of new large-scale international criminal cooperation. But Asami had gleefully interpreted Akihito's questions as a desire to accompany him as a lover, ignoring the hurried clarification that the interest had been strictly professional.
Asami pushed a small leather case further down the table, in Akihito's direction. Akihito stared at it suspiciously.
"Whatever it is, I don't want it," he declared, his eyes glued to the case. For all he knew, it could explode at any given moment.
"But this is your present." The object was just a couple of inches away from his hand now.
Akihito attempted to appeal to logic. "Isn't it... your birthday today? Why would you give me a present?"
"Indeed, it is my birthday, and I want you to have this." Asami looked particularly smug when Akihito raised his eyes at him.
Some kind of sex toy, apparently. Where Akihito was concerned, nothing made Asami as happy as seeing Akihito in sexual and extremely humiliating situations.
There were small gold letters engraved in the leather, Akihito noticed as he dared to pick the misaddressed present up. Vertu... The name rang a bell in his head. He'd heard it before, he was sure. He opened the case.
Rows of gleaming buttons, golden front panel, small silverish screen... It wasn't difficult to recognize the object now. A Vertu mobile phone. He'd read about them once, and had a good laugh with his friends over crazy idiots wasting twenty, thirty thousands of American dollars on things intended merely for calling. The price was reflecting the value of the components used – extremely reliable alloys also used in scientific expeditions to Mars, sapphire and ruby bearings inside, gold and platinum inserts, if he remembered correctly, rather than the functional merits of the cell.
Slim and elegant, the phone nevertheless felt unfitting and unexpectedly heavy in his hands. If the Vertu could talk, it would probably admit that it was equally uncomfortable lying in Akihito's palm.
As gifts went, this one was the most impractical and unexpected he ever received. A piece of jewelry, akin to those that courted women received, would be insulting yet understandable. Something useful, such as a new reliable camera, would be highly appreciated. This was something in-between, a thing he was expected but unwilling and unable to use.
He couldn't return it. He'd have no problem giving it back to Asami on any other day. On the man's birthday, however... Perhaps there was something wrong with Akihito, but to him birthdays were special occasions, when gifts had to be accepted and thanked for. Even if they were made the other way round.
He wasn't going to put it to any practical use, obviously. Showing off such a valuable toy would be ridiculous in most circles he was in. In other circles, where he gathered most of his material, it would be plain dangerous to demonstrate anything valuable.
Keeping it at home might turn out just as disastrous. The door to his apartment opened with one kick of a foot even when the lock was functioning properly, and regardless of how much time he spent at Asami's place, he wouldn't start keeping his belongings here. Akihito was very determined about that.
If he left just one thing around, Asami could easily take this as his declaration of intent, and next thing Akihito knew, all his clothes would be relocated next to Asami's suits. The ever empty shelves in the drawer where Asami was keeping his underwear seemed suspicious, too.
"Much as it pains me to distract you from your new toy when you are so entranced with it, may I suggest we continue the dinner in another room? The dessert is there." Asami's voice interrupted the silence as he rose and headed out of the dining room.
Akihito had had enough time to explore the penthouse's layout to identify the "other room" Asami went into as the bedroom. He got up from his seat and for once followed Asami without protest. His mind was too occupied with thoughts of another expense item in his already overdrawn budget, a bank cell to keep the little nuisance in.
For weeks Akihito saw nobody but Asami and his subordinates. Talked to nobody but Asami. He was on the verge of walking out of the apartment, even if it meant getting straight into Fei Long's hands, when Asami merrily informed him that there was nothing for him to worry about. Literally nothing.
"You... you bastard, you lied to me, didn't you? All this bullshit about Fei Long and his revenge, when practically nobody even saw those pictures!"
"No sensible editor would send a picture like this to print without consulting with me or my assistants first. That is, no editor who wants to have a place of work to return to tomorrow."
"You think you can do whatever you want, don't you? You decide what goes to press and what doesn't? And what if I have copies? You can't buy every paper in the city!" What annoyed Akihito the most about Asami – and he could be honest enough with himself to admit that it wasn't Asami's unyielding interest in him – was the superior, all-knowing attitude. For once he wanted to see Asami at a loss, genuinely surprised, preferably about him, Takaba Akihito. But this time was unlikely to be any different from the others.
"If you mean your top secret hiding place, a cell at the Kawasaki station, then no, you don't have copies. However, if you have another hiding spot... well, then we'll just call in experts to prove that the pictures are fake."
Akihito jumped from his seat. "What! They aren't fake. You know they are not! You were there!"
"What I know is of no significance here. What matters is your reputation at any respectable newspaper where people will know that you tried to sell them a hoax."
"How much will it cost you? The experts' judgment?" He had to keep his cool. Stay calm and collected, like that bastard.
"Nothing, actually," Asami smiled at him. "These people have been my employees for so long, they wouldn't accept payment for such a small favor."
He thought about everything, just as Akihito should've expected. Attacking the man would be pointless and painful, Akihito reminded to himself. All their previous interactions suggested that he couldn't even fend off Asami's advances, let alone hit him. Even if he moved fast enough to take him by surprise, the initial shock would've worn off too fast for Akihito to cause any serious damage. And at this particular moment he wanted nothing but to inflict serious, if not mortal, damage.
"What the hell did you do all this for!"
"I wanted to spend a romantic weekend or two with you?" Asami suggested, not bothering to hide the amusement in his voice.
Akihito narrowed his eyes. "Try again. If you wanted a romantic weekend with me, you'd send one of your gorillas to bop me on the head and drag here unconscious."
"Why, Akihito, you know me so well..." Asami was in a playful mood apparently. That usually happened when he had all the cards in his hands.
"I'm going home," Akihito said with a sigh of capitulation. Nothing would be gained from this argument.
Akihito jerked his head up, a very bad suspicion stirring in his brain.
"Your apartment had been leased out, your belongings are in a storage." Before Akihito started yelling, Asami leaned forward and slowly said, emphasizing every word, "You. Are. Living. Here."
He was, wasn't he? Living here, and he even owned a key to prove it now. "I didn't agree to..."
"What's done is done. You are already here, and you like the place. Running away won't accomplish anything."
Akihito swallowed, unsure what to reply. He would never move in of his own will, but leaving now with no particular reason and no place to go would indeed look childish.
Obviously interpreting his silence as acceptance of the situation, Asami went on, "You will probably find the paper you've been sending materials to, somewhat reluctant to continue working with you. I'm afraid my employees unnerved them a little."
So he lost his job too! It had been so damn hard to establish the contact, find people who had always accepted his photographs and paid fairly for his work! To go through all this again at some other place, talk, and convince, and cajole...
"I decided to help you with new employment. Here," Asami handed him a letter.
The logo in the upper corner was easily recognizable, a European fashion magazine that had been rapidly gaining popularity in Japan in the last few years. Akihito skimmed through the text. The letter was addressed to him, and things they were referring to... His curriculum vitae, which he had never bothered to prepare, his application for a job position in their magazine, which he hadn't made either, his portfolio... What the hell? Where could they have seen his pictures? In the crime news section of their morning paper?
But even without seeing the works they were referring to, he recognized them.
Akihito knew it had to come up. He'd known it before, when he had first seen Asami in his apartment, thoughtfully going through his collection of "leftover" photographs. Those were the pictures unnecessary in his line of work, shots of scenery, of people in the street, carrying over the mood, not precious sensational data that he got paid for. It was a senseless waste of film that he could not afford, yet allowed himself too often. Because it was interesting. Asami had never commented on those photos, never mentioned them to Akihito, making him secretly glad. Last thing Akihito wanted was to be mocked for his sentimentality by Asami Ryuichi.
"It's a well paid and prestigious position, a staff photographer in a magazine of this class. Frankly, I was a little surprised that they reacted to your candidature so enthusiastically. No pressure was even required." Asami joined him on the sofa and stretched his legs comfortably, his arm casually wrapping around Akihito.
"So now you are arranging not only my sex life, but also my living and working accommodations. I'm being promoted from your possession to your personal whore. Thank you so much for the honor!"
"How you measure your self-worth is your own choice."
"And what is that supposed to mean?"
"It means that as long as you want to see yourself as a whore, you will be one. I made you an offer..."
"Oh yeah? Sounded like an order to me."
"...That can have many interpretations."
"A person capable of rational thinking would've taken it as a proposal to become my permanent lover."
Silence. Just as Akihito managed to muster up a more or less dignified sarcastic attitude towards Asami, the man once again found a way to throw him off the track completely. So what now? Was it really an invitation to become a part of Asami's life? A place to live by his side, a new stable and safe job – damn it, it did sound like one.
But wait, Asami said it was one of the possible interpretations, nothing else! If Akihito took it at face value and started behaving accordingly now, what were the chances Asami wouldn't proceed to explain to him that he had misunderstood? God, how confusing... And what was the point of this argument to start with, considering that Asami would make things go his way regardless?
"And all the beautiful models I'll be taking pictures of, won't that bother you?" Akihito inquired with finality in his voice that he wished wasn't there, and hastily added, "if I accept?"
"Knowing how noble you are, I doubt you will allow yourself to add new grief to their already stressful lives. Besides, I warned the editor that you should only work with female models, just in case." Asami tightened his hold on his waist, pulling him closer.
"What the hell are you implying!"
"Nothing that could be a big revelation to you, so don't overreact."
"I am not gay!"
"No, of course not. You are the most heterosexual man I ever slept with." Akihito rarely saw Asami that amused.
Akihito closed his eyes, both to avoid more talking and to enjoy the firm, unhurried stroking of the lower part of his body. Sex was always good with Asami. Enough to drive him wild and make him stop caring who he was with. Being rescued by Asami felt good too. It made him feel safe and protected. Independence was nice but sometimes he did need to know there was a safety net to fall back on.
Did it mean they were lovers? Did they have a "relationship", the kind of thing some of his past girlfriends had tried to drag him into and then accused him of being unsuitable for? Lovers. That implied feelings, and Akihito wasn't quite sure about his, let alone Asami's. The man had power and money, was probably used to getting what he wanted. Akihito might've been just one of those things, and all Asami was waiting for was for Akihito to stop saying "no". It could very well be Akihito's defiance alone that kept Asami's interest in him alive.
Stroking fingers were exploring the territory between his half-spread legs, tracing the seams of his jeans.
He'd find the way back to what he'd been doing. Somehow.
The hand briefly splayed on the small of his back and then began impatiently tugging his shirt up and off him.
Asami had no say in his career choice, whatever the man thought. Akihito just needed to destroy the negatives to ensure that.
Asami's teeth closed on his exposed nipple, forcing a gasp out of his mouth.
Where could Asami keep them? In that safe, behind the bar?
The ever insistent lips moved upwards and latched onto his neck.
Yeah, that would be a good place to start searching. Akihito just had to watch Asami carefully when he was opening the safe again. Indeed, living with a criminal taught him to think like one.
His thoughts were suddenly interrupted as he was turned in the air and all but thrown onto the sofa, flat on his back. Another tug, and his pants joined the shirt on the floor. Asami's fingers immediately found a new target. Akihito arched his back, half-enjoying the fondling, half-anticipating the inevitable. There would be time later to consider the means of retrieving his troublesome negatives. He was too occupied at the moment to dwell on this, and his lover had little patience with people not paying attention to him. Not to mention that when Asami was near, it was impossible to think of anyone but him.