I don't own Sekaiichi Hatsukoi or Junjou Romantica, Nakamura Shungiku does. This is a sequel to 'Silence is Thy Friend', as by popular demand of readers. The warnings here are about the same as before: possible OOCness, dirty humor, and lemon fluff.
Also, I have no idea what any of Usagi-san's books are about, so please take my plot and characters for his book with a grain of salt. I hope you enjoy!
While You Were Out
"I thought I told you I don't like you talking with HIM."
"Why can't I talk with him? He's my good friend!"
Akihiko pushed Misaki up against the tree, violet eyes glaring into green ones. As he did so, a bittersweet violin began to play for ambiance. "I don't want you talking with him because he wants more than friendship from you."
Misaki's eyes widened. "More than friendship? B-But how can that be, Akihiko-san?"
Akihiko leaned forward and brushed his lips over Misaki's ear. "How? It's very easy to see 'how' he could feel that way for you, Misaki."
Misaki twitched, and arched against the tree, moaning softly. "Akihiko-san…"
"Your body, your spirit, your heart…how can anyone resist?" Akihiko leaned up and rubbed his face into Misaki's hair. "I know I can't…"
"Akihiko-san…" Misaki twisted against him. "Don't…not here. Everyone can see us…"
"…True," Akihiko said at length, smiling devilishly at his lover. "And only I am allowed to see you this way…and to hear your sweet voice…"
Onodera Ritsu's jaw was still hanging open as he snapped his television off with the remote control. He tossed it aside and scrubbed a hand over his face. "I-It really became an anime? Oh my God, I feel so sorry for Takahashi-san…"
His cell phone rang. Ritsu checked the caller-I.D. and groaned as he answered the phone. "What do you want, Takano-san?"
"That's awfully rude of you to say to your boss," Takano Masamune scolded him. "You're finished with the edits, correct?"
"I finished them at the office," Ritsu said. He faked a really loud yawn. "Can't this wait until tomorrow? You woke me up."
"If being asleep means you were watching the newest episode of Pure Love Romantica, then I GUESS you were asleep."
Ritsu's whole face turned red and he jumped off his couch. "Y-You bastard! Are you holding a cup up to your wall and listening to me?"
"Oh, so you WERE watching the show?" Takano sounded genuinely surprised.
Ritsu froze, realizing Takano had been baiting him and he was caught. "What," he seethed through clenched teeth. "Do you want?"
"I'm finished with my own edits, but I believe a second-opinion might be necessary. Would you mind stopping over, Onodera?"
"Second-opinion?" Ritsu echoed. "You're the boss, Takano-san! You can't get a second-opinion from an employee!"
"Says…" Ritsu floundered, and he growled in frustration. "It's almost midnight!"
"Yes, and I want to be in bed before one," Takano said. "So will you come over?"
"You don't want my opinion on your storyboards!" Ritsu snapped. "You just want me to come over so you can have your way with me!"
Takano was silent on the other line for several moments. Ritsu considered hanging up on him when he finally got a response back.
"It would please me just as much to have your assistance, Onodera. So, will you come over?"
Takano was bluffing. He probably had everything done, and just wanted to screw him!
But…before Ritsu realized what he was doing, he had already shrugged on a coat.
No, no! Ritsu flung off the coat and kicked it across his messy floor. I can't just hop into bed whenever he feels horny! The selfish bastard!
"So, are you coming over?" Takano asked him again. "This is a request of your boss."
Ritsu bit back several swear words and reached for his coat again. "I'm only staying ten minutes TOPS! Then I'm returning to my apartment! Got it?"
Takano chuckled lightly. "Loud and clear."
When Ritsu opened his eyes the following morning, it shouldn't have been a surprise to find himself curled up naked in Takano's bed.
No…no, it wasn't a surprise. And that's what made it worse.
Ritsu groaned in dismay, and hid his head underneath the pillow. He did it again! He was sucked in by Takano!
And it didn't help that Takano did have storyboards for him to look at last night. Ritsu remembered looked at each of them and telling Takano that he thought his boss's edits would suffice.
Then Takano pinned him to the couch and kissed him and rubbed his fingers over his—
No, no! Ritsu shook his head furiously. I don't want to think about such things anymore!
Still, Ritsu winced at the dull pain in the lower region of his body as he got dressed. Takano didn't hold back. But then again, he never did.
The bedroom door opened, and Takano came in holding a cup of coffee. "Where are you going?"
Ritsu tried not to wince at his soft tone of voice. "I need to shower and get a change of clothes before I go to work. These are the same clothes I wore yesterday, after all."
Takano idly drank from the cup of coffee before he handed it to Ritsu. "It's still a little early, Onodera. You don't need to rush."
Ritsu glared at the cup of coffee, wondering why Takano would drink from it before giving it to him. "…Fine." He took a tentative sip, and found himself revitalized. "Did you get a response back about the edits?"
"My writer is undoubtedly asleep," Takano said. He lit up a cigarette and took a long drag off it. "Right now it's a matter of waiting on Ichinose Erika-sensei's storyboards."
"Ichinose-sensei has a new project?" Ritsu asked, looking at Takano as he shrugged his shirt on. Ichinose Erika was one of their bestselling shoujo mangakas. Her name on any series was almost guaranteed to sell.
Takano smiled around his cigarette. "It's bound to be a…good project." He walked passed Ritsu to put out the cigarette in an ashtray on the bedside table.
Ritsu noted that he'd just lit up the cigarette, and had abruptly put it out, and hurried to finish getting changed. "Mutou-sensei's manuscript was sent to the printers last night. Kaitou-sensei's latest chapter is due next month, and Kumori-sensei…" he shuddered very slightly as he remembered the trouble this particular artist continually gave him. "Is still developing her new series after her old one finished. But I'm still coming in to see what else I can work with."
"That's good to hear." Takano suddenly took Ritsu's half-full cup of coffee and set it on the bed table. Then he took Ritsu by the arm. "Come on."
"'Come on' what?" Ritsu asked warily, resisting slightly as Takano began to pull him out of the room.
"You said you wanted a shower, Onodera," Takano said over his shoulder. "So we're going to take a shower."
"W-We're?" Ritsu sputtered. He tried to pull his arm free. "No, Takano-san! What I meant was—I want to take a shower in my apartment! MY APARTMENT!"
"But this will save us both time. You can go back to your apartment afterwards to change into a new set of clothes."
But Ritsu's fight was moot as Takano dragged him into the bathroom.
Ritsu felt exhausted as he stepped out onto the fourth floor of Marukawa Publishing. Though it was still early morning, he could hear the bustling activity of the other departments as he walked passed them. It was refreshing, considering the state of the building during their flu pandemic two months earlier. He was almost certain they might have to quarantine the building, or something.
But no, everything was back to normal. And the Emerald Department was back at the beginning of their cycle.
"Ohayo gozaimasu," Ritsu greeted glumly as he entered the department.
"Ohayo, Ricchan!" Kisa called to him cheerfully, waving.
Takano was at his desk, speaking with someone on the phone and looking at storyboards. After giving him an embarrassedly thorough shower, Takano almost came into Ritsu's apartment with him to help him change. Ritsu insisted that his boss leave him alone at least for that, and was able to get back into his own place with little incident.
Of course, Takano still beat him to work, and didn't look nearly as tired as Ritsu did!
Ritsu walked over to his desk, ready to unload his bag, when something on the desk caught his eyes. It was a book, but it didn't make Ritsu thrilled. He snatched it up, and glared at the two cute boys cuddling on the cover. "'Be My Butterfly by Fujimori Kouya'?" he screamed in fury and waved the BL book over his head. "Who put this on my desk?"
"Oh, you received another one?" Mino asked, smiling as he leaned his chin into his hand. "You're very lucky to keep receiving those books for free."
"I don't want them!" Ritsu shouted, slamming the book down hard upon his desk. "Do I have to go to the BL department again to tell them to stop leaving these for me?"
"But it's a gesture of goodwill," Kisa pointed out. "This is to show their appreciation to you after you edited Akikawa-sensei's book. Oh, by the way…" Kisa slid a copy of Pure Love Romantica Volume 20 across his desk to Ritsu's. "Arigato, for letting me borrow this!"
"KEEP IT!" Ritsu snapped, scrubbing a hand over his face. "Oh, this is too frustrating!"
It had all started when Aikawa-san delivered every book ever published by Akikawa Yayoi, aka Usami Akihito, to Ritsu as a 'thank you' for begrudgingly editing Pure Love Romantica Volume 20 in her absence. One week later Ritsu found another BL book, by a different author, waiting for him on his desk.
And he's been finding the exact same surprises every day since then.
"Onodera, SHUT UP!" Takano snapped at him. "Your superior is on the phone!"
Ritsu bit back several curse words as laughter erupted around him. He slowly sat down at his desk, shoving Pure Love Romantica Volume 20 back at Kisa and shoving Be My Butterfly to the farthest corner of his desk he could manage. My stomach hurts…
Everyone in the department stiffened at this sing-song tone of voice. Ritsu very, very reluctantly turned his head towards the door, where an overly cheerful Isaka was standing. Inwardly, Ritsu still didn't know what to make of his superior, especially when Isaka had only used him as a pawn to try and annoy Usami-sensei. Just be nice. When in doubt, smile Ritsu…
Isaka gave Ritsu a pleasant wink as he sauntered into the department. "Takano, has Ichinose Erika-sensei sent you her first proofs?"
"I have them in my hands," Takano said, holding up the storyboards as he hung up the phone. "She seems to have a good grasp of the story."
Isaka hummed as he reached Takano's desk. "I feel a strong 'but' in your statement, Takano."
"Everything's fine," Takano said. "This is her first project that's based off a novel. She's very confident that she can pull this off."
"But there's also the matter of getting input from the author himself," Isaka said. "Though he has no say in the matter, we are going to be showing the product to Usami-sensei himself."
Ritsu stiffened. U-Usami-sensei?
"She's almost ready," Takano said, stacking up the storyboards. "She just told me she has three more storyboards to send me to finish out the chapter."
"And I know we can count on her with this," Isaka said confidently.
"Um…" Ritsu didn't want to get involved, but he couldn't deny he was curious. "Isaka-san?"
"What is it, Onodera?" Isaka asked over his shoulder.
"Ichinose-sensei's latest manga is based on a book written by Usami-sensei?"
Isaka positively smiled at him. "That's right! We purchased the right to make a manga out of 25th Century Nostalgia!"
"EH?" Ritsu screamed, nearly falling over in shock. "25th Century N-N-Nostalgia?"
"We realize the book was published under Onodera Publishing," Isaka explained. "But they didn't seem to mind that we acquire rights to release it as a one-shot manga."
"S…Sou…" Ritsu pressed a hand to his forehead, feeling light-headed. 25th Century Nostalgia was being made into a manga. Nobody had told him this! Especially since Ritsu was the one who'd originally edited the book!
And the Emerald Department is releasing it? Ritsu shook his head. That's odd. The many times I edited it, it didn't feel shoujo. How are they going to work it as a shoujo manga?
"But there is cause for concern," Isaka said, suddenly looking wistful. "Because as a manga adapted from a book, we need to maintain the integrity of the novel without affecting the artist's style. Ichinose Erika, while one of our best mangakas, has quite an ego on her." he suddenly pressed a hand to his forehead. "She must maintain her style, but not overpower her style over Usami Akihiko's storytelling! It will be quite a challenge…"
Ritsu was getting a vague headache from Isaka's apparent drama-queening. Looking around the department, everyone else looked annoyed with Isaka, but nobody was going to dare say anything out loud.
"Wait!" Isaka suddenly slapped his fist into his palm. "That's it!"
"That's…what?" Ritsu said wearily.
Isaka pointed at Ritsu. "We will make this a joint project!"
"A joint project?" Takano asked.
"That's correct! Through the collaborations of Onodera-kun, who had edited the novel version of 25th Century Nostalgia! And Takano, who is Ichinose-sensei's chief editor! We'll be able to maintain the integrity of both artists!"
Ritsu felt sick all of a sudden, and his face twisted up in pain. "I-I-Isaka-san…are you suggesting that I work with Takano-san?"
"Excellent idea," Takano interjected. "As Ichinose Erika's editor, I have a full grasp of her storytelling. Since Onodera was Usami-sensei's editor, he has a full grasp of his storytelling. Our combined efforts will surely help to put out a good manga, while maintaining the integrity of both artists."
"B-B-But—" Ritsu sputtered.
"I'm so glad you agree with me!" Isaka said smugly. "We'll be able to make fans of both authors happy."
"Isaka-san!" Ritsu said, jumping to his feet. "I u-understand your reasoning for wanting me to work with Takano-san. But is that really necessary to make the manga perfect?"
Isaka looked at him with confusion. "I thought it was a good idea. Don't you want to work with your boss, Onodera-kun? Your schedule is free for the time being."
"I-I know that, but—"
"Work with me until Kaitou-sensei's deadline approaches," Takano offered. "What you're mostly going to be doing with this anyways is making sure it stays true to the novel."
"But you already said it does!" Ritsu pointed out.
"I did. But nobody knows the novel better than you."
"I know I can count on you, Onodera-kun," Isaka said cheerfully, slapping Ritsu on the shoulder. "Be sure to give Takano honest feedback!"
Ritsu was left stammering in the middle of the department. He had to work on a project with Takano of all people? Why were there such conspiracies against him?
"Stop standing there with your mouth hanging open," Takano snapped, shoving Ichinose Erika's storyboards into Ritsu's hands. "I've done all of the technical edits. Let me know what you think of the storyline."
Ritsu slowly returned to his desk. Kisa was positively smiling at him. "You get to work on a project by Ichinose-sensei, and it's based off a book you edited, Ricchan! Isn't that exciting?"
Ritsu slowly sank down into his chair. "…No."
The day seemed to progress slowly. Across from Ritsu, Mino was talking smilingly into his office phone, though loud, incoherent screaming could be heard from the earpiece. Midday, Hatori stood up and announced that Yoshikawa Chiharu's latest chapter was ready for the printers, albeit five days late, and hurried off. It was this one last story that was holding off the latest issue, after all.
"Of course I saw last night's episode, Yamada-sensei!" Kisa said into his phone. He was referring to the anime adaptation of Yamada's manga. He laughed lightly. "No, I'm not upset about the changes—Natsumi looks better with the short hair! No, I wouldn't say the studio had no reason for this change—"
Ritsu read each storyboard very carefully, from start to finish. He didn't voice any opinions out loud during his examination, wanting to save them for the end. His knitted brow and pained expression were the only indicators of his reaction to the manga adaptation.
When he finished looking at the obligatory cliffhanger ending, Ritsu looked up. "Takano-san!"
"What is it?" Takano stood up from his desk and walked over to him.
Ritsu held up the storyboard he'd been looking at. "I-Is this really 25th Century Nostalgia?"
"Why do you ask?" Takano took a seat beside his desk.
"I-It…" Ritsu shook his head, feeling a strong headache forming. "This doesn't read like 25th Century Nostalgia at all."
"How so?" Takano asked. "It follows the plot and character structure of the novel very closely."
"It doesn't, Takano-san!" Ritsu insisted. "Ichinose-sensei has changed a lot, and all in the first chapter!"
"Well…her contract stipulates that she does have creative liberty with the manga—"
"What about the novel, though?" Ritsu snapped. "We're supposed to maintain the integrity of the novel, but she's practically rewritten everything!"
Takano narrowed his eyes at Ritsu. "I wouldn't go that far, Onodera. But you're free to call her to air your complaints about the chapter."
Ritsu grumbled to himself and snatched up his office phone. Takano calmly reached out to pick up Be My Butterfly.
"I-Ichinose-sensei?" Ritsu greeted. Despite his irritation with the changes she had made, he felt slightly intimidated speaking with the Ichinose Erika. "I'm Onodera Ritsu. I'm helping Takano-san assess your manga version of 25th Century Nostalgia."
"Ah, you're the one who edited the book version," Erika said. She sounded rather excited. "So, what do you think of my ideas?"
"Ah…" Ritsu shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "T-That's the reason I'm calling. I couldn't help but notice you took some artistic liberties with the storyline and characters."
"Is that a bad thing?" Erika asked. A little bit of pride began to creep into her voice. "What don't you like, Onodera-san?"
Too much to name in one phone call, Ritsu thought to himself. But he bit back his words and forced himself to be calm and polite. "Well, I'd like to start with the character Blue-kun."
"Don't you like Blue-kun? She's one of my favorite characters from the book, and I wanted to do her justice."
"H-Hai. But Ichinose-sensei…" Ritsu swallowed before he continued. "If you recall from the book, Blue-kun is an elderly man, and not a young woman as you've drawn him."
"So I changed it. What's wrong with that? Blue-kun was an asexual character anyways. Changing her age and gender doesn't impact the story. I think it will invite more viewers to see a young character than a withering old man."
"A-All right." Ritsu knew she couldn't argue with her on that and moved on to the next point. "I-I also couldn't help but notice that you killed the character Sara off in the flashback, when she dies later on in the story in the present."
"Ichinose-sensei, Sara is a main character. By killing her off in the flashback, in the first chapter, you've left a void in the rest of the story from where Sara was supposed to be in." Ritsu laughed very nervously, trying to not let his irritation show. "What are you going to do about the ridge scene, when Sara makes her speech?"
"Oh, Amie is going to be there in her place."
Ritsu forced himself to count to ten before he continued as calmly as he could. "Speaking of Amie, I couldn't help but make an observation in your storyboards. On the seventh one." He pulled out the storyboard in question. "You devote an entire panel of Inari and Amie giving each other a longing look."
"Yes, I did."
"A-And on the thirteenth one." Ritsu pulled this one out. "When Inari gives his speech about not letting go, you have Amie in the monologue frame."
"I'm glad you picked up on it, Onodera-san. I hope my readers pick up on it too."
"Ah…Ichinose-sensei." Ritsu dropped the frame back on his desk. Deep, calming breaths, he told himself. "Inari was making that speech about his dead parents, not Amie."
"So I changed the meaning of the speech a little. What's wrong with that?"
"It sounds like you're setting Inari and Amie up as the main couple." Ritsu rubbed at his forehead. "B-But they don't end up together in the novel."
"I know that," Erika said irritably. "But they should've ended up together."
"But they don't," Ritsu insisted sharply. He couldn't remain calm any longer. "Inari ended up marrying Himeko, and Amie takes a trip on the time machine back to the 20th Century with Franz and Harumi. Do you remember that from the novel?"
"Of course I do!" Erika had the nerve to sound insulted. "But Inari should've chosen Amie! Himeko is such a WEAK character! No offense to Usami-sensei, but he made Himeko such a sniveling waif! Inari shouldn't have been made to stay behind with HER while everyone else was still able to time-travel! Amie was a MUCH better choice for him!"
"Ichinose-sensei, if you read the book then you would understand that Amie was the antithesis of what Inari wanted in a woman!" Ritsu almost snapped at her. Behind him, Takano was idly flipping through Be My Butterfly. "It doesn't matter that Amie was a warrior and Himeko wasn't! Inari makes it clear several times throughout the book that Himeko is the one he loves! He never even gives a second glance to Amie! But you've drawn Himeko unflatteringly as a background character!For you to set Inari up with Amie, just because you like Amie better than Himeko, is the same as giving Inari a personality transplant!"
"How dare you insinuate I didn't read the book!" Erika began to scream at him. "I read the novel cover-to-cover! Don't you think I would need to have SOME knowledge of the book in order to be assigned the task of turning it into a manga?"
"But you can't just change the plot around for your own purposes!" Ritsu snapped back at her.
"Yes, I can! I read my contracts, Onodera, and I have CREATIVE CONTROL over this manga! I could kill Himeko off in the manga and nobody would be able to challenge me! Not even Usami-sensei!"
"Then what's going to happen when fans of the book read your adaptation and see it's nothing like the book?"
Erika only laughed. "Most of the readers of this manga will be MY FANS! And I can tell you they won't give a damn about the changes!"
"Well I'm one of your editors now and I'm telling you I give a damn!" Ritsu screamed, unable to remain calm. "And I'm not going to allow this chapter to go out when it's a RAPE of the original story!"
Erika hung up on him. Ritsu growled and slammed his phone onto the receiver. "Takano-san!"
"Yes?" Takano asked, continuing to idly flip through Be My Butterfly.
"How can you sit there and tell me that this is a faithful adaptation of the book, when Ichinose-sensei clearly made changes?"
Takano reached out and took a blank post-it from Ritsu's desk. "So, you don't like Blue-kun as a woman?"
"I don't give a damn that she made Blue-kun a woman!" Ritsu snapped. "But when she kills off a major character in the first chapter, and changes the main couple, I can't just sit by! Despite what she claims, Usami-sensei's fans will be reading this! And I can tell you they won't like the changes either!"
"Hmm." Takano turned a page and pressed the post-it to mark the page. "Onodera, you must remember that Ichinose Erika does have creative control over this work."
"However, I agree that the changes you've brought up detract too far from the original story, and if we allow this chapter to publish we will most likely have readers who will boycott us over the changes." Takano set Be My Butterfly down and picked up the storyboards as he stood up. "I will call her and tell her to make the changes."
"But you already told her it was perfect!" Ritsu fumed, forgetting that he was speaking to his boss.
Takano smiled. "Well, it brought you on board the project, didn't it?"
Ritsu's whole face became inflamed as he was 'cooed' at by all the women in the department. His head still hurt from the argument. She'd better make the changes. If I allow this to stand, I could never look Usami-sensei in the face again…
He looked at Takano, who was back at his desk and speaking to Ichinose Erika softly on the phone. He found it hard to believe that Takano had an indifferent attitude about the manga just to get Ritsu on board, but he was begrudgingly flattered. It showed that Takano, in his own way, really wanted Ritsu's input on this project.
Ritsu looked away, and saw Be My Butterfly. Takano's yellow post-it was sticking out of the top. Curious as to why Takano marked the book, Ritsu flipped it open to the marked page.
'Omi thrashed about on top of the grass, the stems prickling his naked skin. "T-Tetsuhiro-sama," he moaned throatily, thrusting his hips backwards against Tetsuhiro's groin. "More…fill me—'"
Ritsu snapped the book shut. "TAKANO-SAN!"
The next several days seemed to drag for Ritsu. Though he had nothing new coming from his artists for the month, he still found himself very stressed out.
Takano was on the phone with Ichinose Erika for three hours about her changes to the story. At the end of those three hours, she was still hardly compromising to the changes. However, she reluctantly agreed to stop pushing Inari and Amie as a couple and bring Himeko back into the fold for future chapters.
But, she refused to make any changes to the chapter she had just submitted to them. Ritsu knew it was going to be a lopsided mess once it was released as a tankobon.
"Ugh…" Ritsu fretted over the frame with Inari's monologue coupled with a picture of a "sparkling" Amie. "How the hell am I supposed to work around this? Takano-san, even if she refuses to make changes to the chapter, can't she change this one frame?"
"What's wrong with it?" Takano asked, looking over his shoulder.
"As I've told you, having Amie right here insinuates that Inari's monologue is about HER and not his dead parents! Can't we just tell her to get rid of Amie and draw—I don't know—a silhouetted picture of them?"
Takano shrugged. "You can certainly try, but Ichinose-sensei has told me she refuses to make changes to the first chapter."
"How can she get away with this?" Ritsu yelled in frustration.
Takano smirked. "Because she's one of our top Mangaka."
More back and forth arguing with Ritsu produced no results. Swearing profusely, Ritsu got out some toner material.
"Ricchan, what are you doing?" Kisa asked, looking over his shoulder. He flinched when Ritsu began blackening the frame with Amie's drawing. "A-Ah! What are you—"
"I don't care if she's the top Mangaka and has creative control," Ritsu fumed. "This one frame will ruin the entire story if it's published as is! If she refuses to change it, I will!"
Takano said nothing as Ritsu rubbed the toner right over the picture, creating a black frame with the dialogue box. "Now it's an empty frame. How are we going to explain this, Onodera?"
"At least Inari isn't being misrepresented with a black frame!" Ritsu snapped over his shoulder.
Takano sighed shortly. "Keep in mind, Onodera that we are reaching out to our fan base with this manga. And once Ichinose-sensei sees this frame and if she complains to her readers, that may be enough to hurt sales."
"If that happens, I'll take responsibility for it. But I'm not going to let the manga adaptation of a book I edited be ruined because the artist has an ego problem!" Ritsu looked at the frame and nodded. "This will do. Maybe if she sees this it'll give her an incentive to actually try to follow the book!"
Ichinose Erika definitely wasn't happy about her frame being blackened out, but she didn't raise too much of a ruckus over it. The first chapter was sent to the printers quickly, and she started to work on and submit her material for the second chapter. Because there was a high demand for the manga because of the popularity of the novel, it was decided in advance that Erika would be doing the entire manga over the course of the month to get it out as quickly as possible with each monthly issue.
Two days after they submitted the first chapter, Ritsu got a phone call at eleven at night from Takano.
"You're not listening to me!" Misaki thumped his fists upon Akihito's chest as a suspenseful melody played. "I didn't kiss him, Akihiko-san!"
"His lips were on yours," Akihiko hissed back, grabbing Misaki by his chin. "And his tongue was in your mouth. How is that not a kiss?"
Misaki's green eyes filled with tears and he shook his head. "Just listen to me! I wasn't—"
"You didn't push him away."
"I was so surprised, Akihiko-san! I didn't know—"
"You didn't push him away," Akihiko repeated himself harshly. "You allowed another man to kiss you, Misaki."
"Just stop it!" Misaki wailed, ducking his head and grabbing Akihiko's shirt. "Please just stop it and listen to me, Akihiko-san!"
There was a long pause as Misaki struggled to catch his breath. There was a sudden close up as Akihiko reached up, grabbed Misaki's wrists, and forced the other boy to let him go.
"I'm through," Akihiko said quietly. "Listening to you."
"…Why am I still watching this?" Ritsu asked himself quietly.
It was then that his cell phone rang. Ritsu yelped and grabbed for his phone. "Takano-san?"
"BAKA!" Takano yelled. "Ichinose-sensei sent me the storyboards for the second chapter and you're late getting over here!"
"WAUGH!" Ritsu yelled. He snapped off his television as Misaki began sobbing loudly alone on the ground. "I-I'm sorry! I'm coming right over!"
Ten minutes later, Ritsu was sitting on the floor of Takano's apartment, looking over the frames for what would be the second chapter. He knew he had to keep in mind that the manga-version of the novel was much shorter, and so the plot had to be condensed. He knew he had to keep that in mind.
But it didn't help that he was distracted by other elements.
"You'll see that Himeko was drawn more prominently in this chapter," Takano pointed out.
"Y-Yes," Ritsu stammered, looking at Erika's interpretation of Inari's true love interest. "B-But why does she look like a boy?"
"How does she look like a boy?"
"She has a bowl cut and is flat-chested!" Ritsu pointed out. "She looks like a prepubescent boy!"
Takano shrugged. "At least Inari's looking at her now, right?"
Ritsu grumbled to himself, not wanting to argue on it anymore. "I also noticed that when they go back to the 23rd century and meet Zee, that Zee's a man."
"Uh huh." Takano drank from his cup of coffee.
"Ah…" Ritsu scrubbed a hand over his face. "W-Wasn't Zee a woman? And doesn't Zee have a sex scene with Franz later on?"
"Hmm." Takano set down his coffee mug. "But doesn't Zee get killed by Starkey anyways? What does it matter?"
"Does Ichinose-sensei intend to draw a sex scene between two guys?" Ritsu yelled, his face turning red.
Takano looked at him thoughtfully as he lit up a cigarette. "Why does it bother you? You don't seem to mind when I—"
"ENOUGH!" Ritsu tossed aside the storyboards in frustration. "Why do you want to keep getting my input on Ichinose-sensei's warped interpretation of 25th Century Nostalgia when you're not taking my concerns seriously?"
"Because Isaka-san told you to work with me," Takano said blandly.
"Great." Ritsu stretched out on the floor and shielded his eyes with his arm. "This is turning into a nightmare…"
A hand closed around his wrist. "Do you hate working with me that much, Ritsu?"
Ritsu sat up and tried to pull away, but Takano held fast. "How am I supposed to enjoy working with you when you won't even work with me? I'm telling you what I find wrong with the manga, and you keep shooting my input down! I'm supposed to make this balanced, right? But I'm not finding any balance in this story, and you aren't supporting me!"
Takano slid closer to him until his face was just a breath away from Ritsu. "But I am listening to you, Ritsu. I listen all the time."
Ritsu ducked his head and tried to scoot away once more, but Takano still held onto his wrist. "D-Do you have to be so close to me?"
"If I didn't want your input on this project, I would've refused Isaka-san's offer that we work together. I'm not the type to mince words over something I don't like." He suddenly pushed Ritsu down and pinned him to the floor. "Or something I do like."
Oh, shit. Takano was doing it again. Ritsu recognized the look in his eyes. He grabbed Takano's wrists to try to ease the pressure of his hands, but it didn't work. "Let me up, please."
Takano narrowed his eyes at him. "Why?"
"B-Because we're not finished with the edits for the storyboards!" Ritsu sputtered.
"Yes, we are." Takano leaned down and kissed him. Ritsu squirmed as his insides turned to jelly.
A loud, obnoxious buzz filled the room as Takano's fax machine started spitting out paper. Takano abruptly sat up and went over to the fax with a loud hiss. Ritsu quickly sat up, sighing in relief. Arigato to whoever sent this fax!
"Ichinose-sensei sent us three storyboards for the next chapter," Takano said, taking a seat beside Ritsu. "She's really on a roll with this."
"Ah, let me see!" Ritsu said, crawling over to him. "Since Zee was introduced in the last chapter, that means Starkey is in this one! I can't wait to see what the main villain looks like!"
But if she gender-switched Starkey, I won't stand for it! he fumed.
To Ritsu's immense relief, Starkey remained a man, and even looked the right age (albeit a bit too feminine-looking) as he snuck onto the time machine to go back to the 25th century.
"…Takano-san," Ritsu said, picking up the frame and peering at it. "In this frame, this says Inari and the others are in the 18th century France."
"And?" Takano asked.
"They find Starkey in the TWELFTH CENTURY!" Ritsu yelled, throwing the frame onto the table. "Ugh, how much is she going to change from the book? Usami-sensei invested so much research into France's 12th century to make the timeframe accurate, and she goes and CHANGES IT!"
Takano calmly lit up a cigarette. "…You don't watch a lot of book-to-movie adaptations, do you?"
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"Sometimes, a medium that's based off a book that stands alone in the plot is brilliant. Take that American movie, Last of the Mohicans." Takano blew out a string of smoke. "Outside of character names and plot structure, it's an entirely different story than its book counterpart, and yet it's a brilliant movie. While I appreciate that you want this manga to be as close to its novel-version as possible, I want you to have an open-mind to Ichinose Erika's changes."
"The only reason I've even been assigned to it is to make sure it holds the integrity of the novel!" Ritsu snapped.
"And it does," Takano pointed out. "Ichinose has even compromised on a character she personally doesn't like. But we have to remember that she is working on this and that this is her manga. She's made changes, but the overall story is still the same. Why don't you have a more open-mind to her changes instead of nitpicking little details?"
"But there's a major difference between the 12th century and the 18th century!" Ritsu insisted. "Usami-sensei put everything—"
"And what makes you think Ichinose-sensei isn't working as hard?" Takano asked.
Ritsu stopped. Of course he knew Ichinose Erika was working hard. Despite her many changes to the plot and characters, her artwork was nothing short of beautiful. And she could convey so much in a character's facial expression that words simply couldn't do, which was difficult to do for a manga.
He knew he had a bit of bias about her changes because he had a big hand in 25th Century Nostalgia's success, but he also realized the majority of readers who would read this manga would be Ichinose-sensei's fans and not Usami-sensei's fans.
Maybe…I'm being too hard? Ritsu shook his head and looked at Takano. No, I'm right about the changes! But…but I guess I need to trust in Takano-san in this.
"All right," he said finally, picking up the storyboard. "But, you have to realize how awkward this is going to be. Starkey kills the 12th century monarchy and uses his knowledge of the future to rule Europe, leaving the continent in waste when he is finally able to go home. How is Ichinose-sensei going to pull this off six hundred years into the future?"
"Look." Takano showed Ritsu the third storyboard. "Starkey's reign happens after the French Revolution. He essentially becomes a Napoleon-like dictator."
"…Ah." Such a scenario did fit historically, but it didn't sit well with Ritsu. But Takano had no problem with this change, and he realized he had to be more open-minded to Ichinose Erika's ideas. Even if her ego was out of control.
For the rest of the month, Ritsu was incredibly busy. He was almost relieved to receive Kaitou-sensei's proofs for her story, because that meant he didn't have to dwell on 25th Century Nostalgia as much.
"No, no, these proofs look fantastic!" Ritsu assured her over the phone. "There's very little I would change in this!"
"Saa," Kisa said aloud, reading the newest BL left at Ritsu's desk. "This is very well-written!"
"Hai, arigato." Ritsu smiled as he hung up the phone. "This should be ready for the printers in no time!"
"Good," Takano said, dropping a stack of storyboards on Ritsu's desk. "Here's Ichinose Erika's latest chapter."
Ritsu was already exhausted, but he took up the storyboards, dreading to see her latest "creative changes". Even if he was tolerating her ideology of Usami's work, it was still a pain to go through. "Hai, hai…"
"Ricchan, I think this is one of the best yet!" Kisa said, showing him the book. The cover didn't look as…cute as the other ones Ritsu had seen. For one thing, the two boys on the cover were kissing and their tongues were clearly visible. "And the artwork is fantastic!"
"That's…great," Ritsu said warily.
"I mean, look at the details in this drawing!" Kisa flipped open to a specific page and showed Ritsu a graphic drawing of the two cover-boys having sex.
Ritsu screamed, and fell out of his chair. "K-Kisa-san, what are you DOING?"
Kisa blinked in confusion. "What is it?"
"Let me see," Mino said, coming around to look at the book. He still hung onto his smile. "I see what you mean, Kisa. The shading is nicely done, and the facial expressions are realistic. He certainly looks like he's enjoying himself!"
"Doesn't he?" Kisa laughed.
"Did Takano-san put you guys up to this?" Ritsu snapped, crawling back into his chair. "Distracting me with all of these books!"
"But the storytelling is amazing!" Kisa said. "The artwork is only secondary, but we can't help but admire it!"
"Despite the CONTENT?" Ritsu shouted.
"It's only sex," Mino said, shrugging.
"HEY!" Takano shouted, standing up. "You three aren't being paid to oogle at hentai! Get back to work!"
"How long are they going to leave these damned books on my desk?" Ritsu demanded. "I can't take much more of this!"
Takano scoffed and sat back down. "Stop being such a prude, Onodera, when you aren't one!"
Ritsu gaped in horror at Takano as the women of the department converged upon him once more.
"How can you say you love me when you don't even TRUST ME?" Misaki wailed, shoving hard at Akihiko's arms, but the other boy out-muscled him and yanked him into a hug. A sad piano melody began to play. "I told you it wasn't my fault, but you didn't listen! You broke up with me! You broke up with me, Akihiko-san!"
"I'm sorry." Akihiko's voice was so sad as held on tightly to Misaki. "I acted out in anger and wouldn't listen to you. It was unfair of me. Please forgive me."
"No! I HATE YOU, Akihiko-san! You abandoned me when I needed you, and he…he…he wouldn't have come after me if you hadn't broken up with me!" Misaki slumped against Akihito, crying uncontrollably. Behind Akihiko laying the prone body of the man who had been harassing Misaki, and had nearly assaulted him right then and there, had it not been for Akihiko's intervention.
"I won't leave you again. I won't doubt you again." Akihiko hugged him tighter. "Take me back, Misaki. Please forgive me. I love you so much…"
"I hate you!" Misaki hissed into his chest. He began hitting Akihiko's arms feebly. "I hate you, I hate you, I-hate-you!" all of a sudden, he stopping fighting him and clung to him tightly. "…I love you!"
The scene changed to nighttime, inside of a bedroom. The boys were curled up on the bed, obviously naked, but dark shadows censored their bodies. "I won't allow anyone else to touch you," Akihiko said after he broke the kiss. "And I won't allow bastards like that near you again."
"…Take it away," Misaki whimpered softly. "Take his touch away, Akihiko-san…"
Takano blew out a string of smoke. "…What's the point in animating a sex scene if they're just going to censor it with dark shadows? They don't bother with these shadows when someone animated girl flashes her breasts."
"WHY are we watching this?" Ritsu demanded, hiding his face in the couch pillow.
Takano looked at him in surprise. "You watch this show enough, right? I thought I was doing you a favor. Ah!" he jabbed a finger at the television. "They're even censoring Akihiko sucking on Misaki's nipples!"
Ritsu yelled in disgust and slapped his hands over Takano's mouth. "Just stop it, PLEASE! Can't we focus on the new chapter?"
"You're the one recording these episodes," Takano said, but he shut off the television and picked up the storyboard. "This is the finale. Does it feel rushed to you?"
"O-On the contrary," Ritsu said. "It actually molds well. A lot of characters die, but she only highlights the deaths of the main characters." Which is why I don't understand why this is a shoujo manga! he thought to himself.
"But I do have one question," Ritsu said.
"What is it?"
"I couldn't help but notice that Franz and Zee's goodbye kiss has its own panel." He pointed to the scene in question. "But the kiss between Inari and Himeko is shown from a distance." He pulled out this storyboard in question. "Won't this put off some readers if she only highlights a BL kiss and not a kiss between the main couple?"
Takano looked at him for a long moment. "You do realize our target audience is women, right?"
"Women eat this stuff up, Onodera. This." he pointed to Franz and Zee's kiss. "Is the final kiss between lovers before one dies. Having this close-up will induce a visceral reaction in the readers. The fact that they're two men will make it more appealing to women."
"But Zee's not even suppose to be a man!" Ritsu fumed.
Takano shrugged. "Nobody's going to care about it, Onodera. Anything else you find issue with?"
"…No," Ritsu said after a long moment. "Ichinose-sensei, despite the changes, has kept the integrity of the finale. Inari and Starkey's duel is executed nicely, and she kept Usami-sensei's ending at least."
"Hmm." Takano put out his cigarette. "Anything else?"
"I…think it's okay," Ritsu said reluctantly. "Too much was changed from the original story than what I like, and I'm certain Usami-sensei won't like it either. But, it does feel like 25th Century Nostalgia. And it does feel like a work that Ichinose-sensei did." He shrugged. "The balance is there."
"All right," Takano said. He pulled out a piece of paper and began writing. "Can I borrow your fax machine? I'll let Ichinose Erika know that we approve of the proofs and will be showing them to Usami-sensei tomorrow."
"I'm going to be honest," Ritsu said. "I don't think she should do a book/manga adaptation again. Even though she managed to keep some sort of balance, she made too many changes. It seemed like…I don't know…"
"A fanfic?" Takano asked. He finished the note and walked over to Ritsu's fax machine.
Ritsu stared after him blankly. "What's a fanfic?"
"Fiction written by fans about a pre-existing medium," Takano said blandly. He inserted the note into the fax machine and pressed a few buttons. "It can apply to books, manga, television shows, and movies. Sometimes real people."
Ritsu rubbed at his forehead. "S-So people write stories about a subject that already exists? Do they really do that for Usami-sensei?"
"I would think so. They do it for our manga, too."
"Eh?" Ritsu cried out, jumping from the couch. "What do they write?"
"Sometimes a continuation story to a finished manga or story arc." Takano snorted. "Though, sometimes they'll write stories to pit characters together that otherwise wouldn't be together in canon. Hatori has told me the fanfiction written for Yoshikawa Chiharu's works are quite funny."
"H…Ha…" Ritsu shook his head. "That sounds…very strange."
"Hmm." Takano turned around and walked towards him. "So we're officially done for the night."
Ritsu stiffened. "T-Then you should get back home."
Takano grabbed his wrist. "Do you hate my company that much, Ritsu?"
"I-It's not really that simple." Ritsu flicked his wrist to try and break free of Takano, but it didn't work. "I-I'm tired and I'm not exactly happy with you."
"How come?" Takano asked.
"I was brought onto this project to maintain Usami-sensei's artistic integrity. But you f-fought with me on every issue I brought up, Takano-san." Ritsu tugged on his wrist again. "Even if it's worked out for the best, I feel like you don't trust my judgment."
Takano tugged on his wrist. Ritsu stumbled forward and suddenly found himself nose-to-nose with Takano. "Anything that you say Ritsu…I always listen."
"L-Liar," Ritsu sputtered, though his heart rate accelerated.
"It's like I've been telling you," Takano said softly, reaching up with his free hand to caress Ritsu's cheek. "I wanted to work with you because I value your presence. When you speak, I want to hear you. And because of your efforts, Ichinose Erika's manga will become a major success."
Ritsu's body shook. His instincts told him to step away, but he couldn't. "T-Takano-san…"
Takano smiled, and leaned away. "Come with me."
"Where?" Ritsu asked stupidly.
Takano smiled at him over his shoulder. "You'll see."
The heat from the shower filled the bathroom with fog, misting over the mirror. A window was cracked open, allowing for some of the heat to spill out into the night, and lighten the air in the room.
Ritsu arched his back, and the shower spray of hot water caught his face and his chest. Fingers slid over his wet skin easily and rubbed eagerly at his nipples. His breath hitched and a loud moan escaped his mouth. "Takano-san…"
A wet mouth kissed his ear. "Brace your hands against the wall." A tongue ran along the lobe before it stabbed at the ear canal.
Ritsu let out a whimper, unable to argue or fight with him. Slowly, he leaned forward and braced his hands against the wet tiles.
Takano pumped him quickly in his fist while his other hand rubbed over Ritsu's entrance. "You feel ready for me, Ritsu." Two fingers slid inside. "I know I'm ready for you."
Ritsu felt his face burn by how easily he could open up for Takano now, and how he only felt minimal pain. "Ta…" his forehead pressed hard into the wall between his hands as those fingers worked wonders on his body. He cried out at the sudden jolt inside him and the delicious shiver that crept over his skin. "Takano-san…"
Takano pressed his body against Ritsu's back, grabbing his hips and asking with his touch for Ritsu to spread his legs. Before he could stop himself, Ritsu's feet slid across the wet shower floor. Ritsu dipped his head in embarrassment. I can't fight him anymore…and I don't think I even want to.
"Ritsu…" Takano bit down into the crook of his shoulder, and sucked hard at his skin. "I love you."
Ritsu yelped as Takano thrust deep inside him, but it was more out of shock than pain. Any pain he may have felt was overshadowed by the familiar pleasure humming through his body. He moaned throatily, pressing his body weight into his hands to hold himself up as Takano pounded fast into his body. He closed his eyes, unable to think past anything than the wonderful sensations emitted from where their bodies joined.
A groaning laughter rumbled at his neck. "Louder."
Ritsu realized his own noises were echoing off the bathroom walls. He yelped and ducked his head, biting onto his lower lip.
Takano tsked at him and laughed again. "I can't have that." He licked at the back of Ritsu's neck. "When you can't hide your feelings like that."
"Eh?" Ritsu was startled when Takano adjusted the angle and another sharp jolt shook him. He cried out and shook as an unexpected orgasm shook his body. He clenched his teeth, but that couldn't stop a final, sated moan from coming out of him. Takano moved faster, his own release not far off. His own voice though was more subdued as climaxed.
Ritsu slid down to his knees, unable to hold his body up. Takano held onto his waist as he came down to the floor with him. "You're a bastard," Ritsu hissed at him.
Takano smiled darkly at him and pulled him in for a deep kiss. "But you still love me."
Ritsu jerked back. "I-I didn't say that!"
"But you did tell me once…ten years ago." Takano leaned down to kiss where he'd bitten into his neck. "And you tell me so often with your body. It's only a matter of time." He pressed his thumb to Ritsu's bottom lip. "Before you say it again with your mouth."
Ritsu scoffed, and pulled away from him. "You're acting delusional!" I'll NEVER tell you I love you!
Though, even Ritsu had to admit the thought didn't have the same bite to it anymore.
Takano gave him a sideways glance. "Why are you wearing a scarf when it's not cold?"
Ritsu glared back at him. "Because a certain someone left a huge hickey on my neck that turned purple this morning!"
Takano smirked at him. "Is that a problem?"
"YES!" Ritsu snapped.
"Pipe down. You'll disturb the residents." Takano pressed the button to ring Usami Akihiko's doorbell.
Ritsu grumbled, and tightened the scarf around his neck. "I'd like to see you with a revealing hickey!"
"From you?" Takano asked. "I would be proud of it."
Ritsu sputtered. "W-Wha—"
"Who is it?" Takahashi Misaki's voice answered them.
"Takano Masamune and Onodera Ritsu, here to show Usami-sensei the manga adaptation of his book," Takano introduced them.
"…H-Hai? Yes, please come on in."
Ritsu felt self-conscious as he followed Takano into Usami Akihiko's apartment building. They had the issues of Emerald magazine's publication of the first chapter, plus Ichinose Erika's proofs for the subsequent chapters.
"Takano-san?" Ritsu asked as they boarded the elevator.
"What is it?" Takano asked, counting the storyboards.
"Why is it that we're waiting until the final chapter has been proofed, and after the first chapter has already been published, to get Usami-sensei's input on it?"
"Isaka-san's orders. I guess Usami-sensei isn't a big manga-reader, so Isaka-san wanted to make sure it would be…too late for him to object to the material."
"…Haa?"Ritsu rubbed at his forehead painfully. Then why bother getting his input at all?
Takahashi Misaki let them in cheerfully. "Come on in and get settled! Usagi-san will be right down! Ah, and I'll go get you both some coffee!"
"That would be wonderful, thanks," Takano said, walking straight over to the couch. He sat on one not occupied by a bear and pulled out the storyboards.
Misaki looked between the two of them and laughed feebly. "S-So, Usagi-san's book has been made into a manga? That's incredible!"
"The book is 25th Century Nostalgia," Ritsu told him. "We're the shoujo manga department, after all."
Misaki visibly relaxed and laughed more sincerely. "A-Ah, of course!"
Ritsu knew the younger man was worried that they'd been working on Pure Love Romantica. Since that series was already an anime, Ritsu was confused why Misaki thought they would be working on its manga counterpart.
"Do you want any help?" Ritsu offered, leaning his elbows on the counter.
"Nonsense, you're a guest!" Misaki said, waving a hand. "Go ahead and sit down, and I'll bring your coffee to you shortly."
"Hmm." Ritsu noticed an open manga on the countertop. The spine read The Kan 37 by Ijuuin Kyo. Ritsu didn't read much manga outside of what he edited, but he knew this was Marukawa's bestselling Shounen series. "So you like that manga, Takahashi-san?"
"Like it? It's my Bible!" Misaki's eyes became sparkly. "Sensei is soooooo awesome and intelligent, and, and…he's so COOL!"
"…Uh huh." Ritsu rubbed at his forehead. "I caught an episode of it a while back. It came on before Pure Love Ro—" Ritsu abruptly stopped and laughed weakly. "I-I mean…"
Misaki's good mood deflated and he looked at Ritsu with horror. "S-S-Sensei's anime is in a timeslot before THAT?"
"I-It only happened one day," Ritsu said, raising his hands. "It may have been a fluke!"
"…Ah." Misaki laughed painfully as he started setting up the coffee. "That's a weird coincidence! Sensei's anime running before Usagi-san's anime!"
"Onodera," Takano called from the couch. "Come over here and help me sort these out."
"H-Hai!" Ritsu joined him on the couch and started shuffling through the storyboards.
Usami was snuggling a giant teddy bear to him as he came downstairs. His suit looked perfectly in place, but he otherwise looked like hell. "Ohayo," he grumbled, seemingly unmindful of the company present in his house.
"U-Usami-sensei!" Ritsu said, jumping up and bowing. "How nice to see you again!"
"It's nice to see you too, Onodera-san." Usami's voice sounded sluggish as he gave a short bow to Ritsu, and then to Takano. "So…you two are the ones who worked on this manga?"
"That's correct," Takano said, carefully setting out 25th Century Nostalgia's first issue, and a large stack of storyboards for the subsequent chapters. "I'm Ichinose Erika's chief editor, and since Onodera edited the novel-version, it was felt that our combined efforts would produce a best-selling manga."
Usami looked at the pile of storyboards and the issue of Emerald on the coffee table as he sat down next to the other giant teddy bear. "…Is the manga finished?"
"Yes," Takano said, stacking up the storyboards. "The second chapter will be sent to the printers later on today."
Usami set the bear he held on the opposite side of him and reached into his pocket to get out a pack of cigarettes. "If the manga's done, and a chapter already published, then why is my input necessary?"
Ritsu flinched with embarrassment. It was the exact same thing he was wondering, too.
"We wanted to make sure you were satisfied with the final results," Takano said calmly. "You will be pleased to know that the first issue sold out in just over 24 hours, and has gotten positive reviews."
"Hmm." Usami lit his cigarette. "Was it Isaka-san's idea to ambush me with this at the end, so that I would have no room for complaints?"
Ritsu gulp audibly. He knew that Usami and Isaka had known each other for years, and Usami could sense when Isaka had ulterior motives. He felt bad that Usami had virtually no say in the manga adaptation of his novel, only as a reactionary. "U-Usami-sensei," Ritsu said. "The demand for this manga has been incredibly high, and Ichinose-sensei has been working tirelessly to finish it in one month. We hope that you find some enjoyment in this adaptation, in any case."
Usami took a drag off his cigarette. "So, I was right."
Ritsu flinched. "A-Ah…"
"Here is all of the material for the entire manga, Usami-sensei," Takano said, motioning to the issue and the storyboards. "Even though the first chapter has been published, these storyboards have not been yet. If there's anything that bothers you in these chapters, you have every right to have your voice heard, and we will take your concerns to Ichinose-sensei herself."
Usami calmly blew out cigarette smoke. He looked between Ritsu and Takano with an unreadable expression for one moment before he spoke. "To be honest, I don't really care if this manga adaptation is any different. People have their own ideas for my characters, and since Ichinose-sensei has creative control, as part of her contract, she's within her rights to change whatever she wants."
Ritsu gaped at him. Was Usami honestly insisting that he didn't give a damn about ANY potential changes?
"Regardless," Takano said. "We value your input, Usami-sensei, and we want your opinion on this adaptation."
Usami nodded and put out his cigarette. "Misaki!" he called over his shoulder. "Can you make teddy-bear pancakes?"
Misaki almost dropped the coffee pot he held. "T-T-T-Teddy bear pancakes? Why teddy bear pancakes, Usagi-san?"
"So they look like Suzuki-san." Usami picked up the issue of Emerald and flipped it open.
Misaki's face turned red, and he laughed feebly. "A-All right." He looked at Takano and Ritsu. "C-Can I prepare anything for you two besides coffee?"
"Arigato, but we're fine," Takano said.
"Make sure you don't use that to help you cook," Usami said coldly, picking up the issue of Emerald.
"What?" Misaki demanded. "The Kan? Why not? I use this for all of my recipes!"
"I don't want HIS influence in my house," Usami said darkly.
"B-But then I can't cook at all!" Misaki wailed.
Usami relaxed somewhat. "…Fine. But keep those books away from me."
"A-All right." Misaki grabbed the manga from the countertop and dropped it into a drawer.
Ritsu's brow rose. Usami did absolutely nothing to hide his relationship with Misaki in front of Takano and him. Was it because he trusted them or something, or because he wasn't self-conscious about being in a relationship with another man? A relationship that manifested itself in a popular BL book?
"Thanks to the company's mistake, Onodera and I got to spend the night in a hotel together sharing a single, double-sized bed."
Ritsu flushed at that horrible memory and ducked his head. Speaking of lacking self-consciousness, Takano had OUTED them to their entire department! And thanks to that, he was constantly hounded by the women in the department about his sex-life!
These two can be TOO MUCH alike. Ritsu glared between Takano and Usami.
Usami read the issue and the storyboards very carefully, his expression unreadable. Ritsu fidgeted where he sat, awaiting Usami's reaction to the many changes made from the book. Takano was visibly calmer, though he also watched Usami closely.
Suddenly, Usami shot to his feet, startling all three of them. He looked angry as he glared at the page.
"W-What's wrong, Sensei?" Ritsu asked, jumping up as well. Though, he was fully aware of what caused Usami's anger.
Usami looked up after a moment to glare at them. "Inari…" he flipped the storyboard over to show them the specific frame. "Is right-handed here."
"Uh…yes?" Ritsu said feebly, seeing Inari holding a futuristic gun in his right hand. "What about it?"
"As you'll recall Onodera-san, I made him left-handed in my book," Usami finished coldly.
"…Haa?" Ritsu wheezed out, gaping at him. Usami was upset about a little detail that Ritsu himself hadn't even noticed?
Not because Blue-kun's gender was swapped? Or because Sara was killed too early in the story? Or that Amie, a secondary character, was given more attention than the main heroine Himeko? Or even that Franz and Zee were made into a gay couple, or that they found Starkey in the wrong century? Just that Inari was depicted with the wrong primary hand?
"Is there anything else that you have issue with?" Takano asked.
"…No," Usami said, setting the storyboard on the table. "Not right now."
Ritsu groaned and rubbed at his stomach as he sat down. It seemed unbelievable that Usami honestly didn't care about any of the changes other than Inari's portrayal of being right-handed. My stomach…
Takano noticed his motion. "What's wrong with your stomach?"
Ritsu jerked his arm to his side. "N-Nothing!"
"You know," Misaki said as he flipped a pancake. "They say your soul is located inside your stomach. Nii-chan always said that if you have a stomach-ache, then you have problems you aren't facing!"
Ritsu turned frigid, and he gaped at Misaki. "W-What are you implying?"
Misaki looked startled by his reaction. "I-I'm sorry if I offended you, Onodera-san."
Takano snorted. "I think he knows exactly what you're talking about."
"Ta—" Ritsu sputtered.
"It's just a matter of personal reflection of past events. Like, say, high school ten years ago—"
"TAKANO-SAN!" Ritsu shrieked, grabbing him by his collar. "Don't you EVER bring that up again!"
Usami's brow twitched very slightly, and he smirked as he took a drag off his cigarette. "Let's get back to the manga, okay?"
Takano removed Ritsu's hands from his collar. "Forgive my employee for his lack of manners, Usami-sensei."
Ritsu gritted his teeth. "I apologize, Usami-sensei, for my unprofessionalism. And I ask that you disregard anything that my boss may have implied a few minutes ago."
Misaki looked between all three of them as he brought over their coffee. "I-Is something wrong?"
"…Okay." Usami turned back to the manga. "So who gives Sara's speech since she was killed at the beginning?"
"A-Amie, as you will see," Ritsu said reluctantly.
Usami's eyebrow lifted slightly. "This is your work and I have very little say, but that's very out-of-character for Amie to do. She'd rather communicate with her fists than with words…as she herself says right here." he pointed out the frame in question in the book.
"Ichinose-sensei saw Amie as a stronger character than Sara and felt she was better suited for the speech," Takano lied smoothly.
Ritsu gritted his teeth. Usami-sensei won't stand for such a blatant change!
"All right," Usami said, setting aside the storyboard.
Ritsu felt like he was in bizarro world. Usami genuinely didn't give a damn about the MANY changes to his book! "S-Sensei?" he asked feebly.
"What is it?" Usami asked.
"A-Ah…" Ritsu swallowed thickly. "Ichinose-sensei made many changes from your novel-to-manga. More than what would be warranted to be classified as condensing the story. She's changed characters, swapped genders, and even timeframes in your story. And you're okay with this? I was there with you when you worked on this book, and the amount of effort that you put into it! And…forgive me for saying, but it seems like you don't care about the changes made. The only issue you raised was the fact that Inari is right-handed in the manga and not left-handed."
Usami stared at Ritsu for a long moment. Takano said nothing as well, just calmly sipping his coffee.
Finally, Usami shrugged. "Like I said, this is all based on her ideas. Most of my fan base doesn't read manga, and I'm certain some of them who do read this adaptation will feel the same way you do. But I feel that the overall storytelling is the same as what I was trying to convey, even with all of these changes. It will be a bestselling manga, that's for certain."
"A-Ah…" Ritsu sighed very quietly. It was a disappointment that Usami didn't care as much about the changes as he would've liked, but that was just like Usami to feel that way. "I-I see…"
"On another hand," Usami said suddenly. "I'm more upset with other changes."
"Haa?" Ritsu asked.
"What other changes?" Takano asked.
"This whole 'break-up, get-back-together' stunt they pulled with the anime. Akihiko would never abandon Misaki over an idiotic misunder—"
"USAGI-SAN!" Misaki slammed the plate of Teddy bear pancakes down in front of Usami. "B-Breakfast is ready!"
Usami looked down at the plate and smiled. "Arigato, Misaki. But that idiotic device—"
"No, don't talk about it!" Misaki interrupted, waving his hands.
"The censorship, too," Takano added, drinking more coffee.
"EH?" Misaki and Ritsu yelled.
"Aa, the censorship too," Usami agreed. "What was the point of animating the sex scenes if they just censor them for television? They show the anime at a late-hour, anyways!"
"THEY PUT SEX SCENES IN THE ANIME?" Misaki shrieked. He covered his face with both hands and dropped to his knees. "Oh, my God. Oh, my God…what if Nii-chan sees that by accident while channel-surfing?"
"It's just an anime," Usami said bluntly.
"But the UKE is named Misaki, and he LOOKS LIKE ME!" Misaki wailed.
"C-Come now," Ritsu tried to reassure him. "What are the chances your brother will see the anime? Or even make the connection?"
"That's easy for you to say!" Misaki cried, his head sinking lower. "I can never show my face at work again! W-What if Sensei saw that while looking for HIS show?"
"The better for me, I guess," Usami said. He began eating his bear pancakes. "These are good, Misaki."
"Ah…uh…" Ritsu looked between the two, feeling incredibly awkward. He'd never seen Usami act like this before. He'd always been so calm and professional.
Then again, that was before Takahashi-san was in his life, Ritsu reasoned.
"Let's get back to the task at hand," Takano interjected. "Even if you don't mind the changes, we would like to have your input on all of the chapters."
"I see." Usami picked up another stack of storyboards and continued to read them.
Ritsu looked at Misaki, who was still kneeling on the floor. "Ah…are you okay, Takahashi-san?"
"…Hai." Misaki morosely stood up. "I need to clean up…and go to work…"
"Oi," Takano said, tugging on Ritsu's sleeve. "I'm not working on this alone. Focus on your work."
"B-But Takahashi-san—" Ritsu said.
"He'll be fine," Usami said, setting aside a storyboard. "He'll bounce back from this quickly."
"Hmm." Ritsu didn't say anything more, because he didn't know what else to say.
A few months later…
25th Century Nostalgia, the manga finished on time and quickly went on to be a bestseller. To Ritsu's utter shock, only a small fan base echoed his complaints about the changes to the story. The majority of readers fell in love with the storytelling. And, to his growing shock, the Emerald Department received a lot of fan mail from readers requesting that Ichinose Erika do a one-shot story about Zee and Franz's BL relationship…even though Zee died in the story, and they were never intended to be a BL relationship.
But life went on. And so did work.
One day, Ritsu bristled when he saw yet another unfamiliar book sitting on his desk. He stormed over and snatched it up. "I thought I told the BL department I don't want these anymore!"
"Aikawa-san just dropped it off," Kisa said, smiling at Ritsu. "I guess it's another 'thank-you' for helping her edit Akikawa-sensei's book, Ricchan."
Ritsu bit back a few swear words as he glared at Pure Love Romantica Volume 22.The cover art showed Akihiko licking at Misaki's ear. How did he get this one out so fast? And how many books is Usami-sensei going to write in this series?
Probably as many as long as he's with Takahashi-san, he realized.
Something in the bottom-corner of the cover caught Ritsu's eye. It was a small message. With extra one-shot story: 'World's Greatest First Love'!
"World's Greatest First Love'?" Ritsu read aloud. Curious against his will, Ritsu flipped open the book. He tried to ignore Akihiko and Misaki's latest exploits as he found the cover page at the end. 'World's Greatest First Love'; An extra standalone story by Akikawa Yayoi.
Ritsu swallowed thickly and turned the first page. 'Suki desu. I love you. It was a declaration of love, and no sweeter words that could be spoken. Especially when the words had full meaning, and were not spoken with ill-intentions.
'Ritsu could feel eyes on him—'
Ritsu screamed, and dropped the book. "What's wrong?" Kisa asked sweetly. "Don't tell me you're still shy about BL books!"
"Ga ga hu uh um—" Ritsu sputtered nonsense, his face turning red as he felt every eye on him. Mino laughed lightly across from him, and Hatori shook his head at him.
But…maybe he'd misread it? Yes, of course! It wasn't his name on the page! Ritsu picked up the book and flipped to a random page in World's Greatest First Love.
'He splashed water over his face and looked up to see his reflection staring back at him. Ritsu could see the shame in his green eyes—'
"NO!" Ritsu wailed, slamming the book shut. It WAS his name! The character's name was Ritsu! His name was even written with the same kanji as his own name!
Takano stormed into the department, tapping his shoulder with a clipboard. "The printers are on my ass again—"
"WHO'S THE OTHER?" Ritsu shouted, frantically flipping the pages in this story. "WHO'S THE PARTNER?" he ignored the weird looks he got as he read from a random page in the book.
'Ritsu kept his breathing steady and focused on his own reflection in the train window as that warm hand cupped and slid over his firm backside. His body began to tingle with warm, uncomfortable feelings, but he couldn't deny that horrible extra sensation. The want inside of him. The need to have his body possessed.
'Unable to help himself, Ritsu lifted his gaze and met his groper's eyes in the reflection. He couldn't stop himself from looking at Masamune—'
Ritsu began shaking violently, and several short whimpers were ripped from his throat. Masamune? Seriously? Did Usami Akihiko really write a short-story about TAKANO AND HIMSELF? And the kanji in the name matched Takano's name!
"ONODERA!" Takano smacked Ritsu hard on the head with the clipboard. "Stop reading books on company time and get to work!"
"TAKANO-SAN!" Ritsu wailed, not even noticing the hit. Takano ignored him as he sat down at his desk. "Takano-san, READ THIS!" he shoved the book into Takano's hands.
Takano looked at the cover and sighed heavily. "If you have some sort of fantasy you want to act out, Onodera, just say it out loud!"
"IT'S NOT THAT!" Ritsu shrieked, trying desperately to ignore the screams of delight from the women around him. "Look at the short story at the back! It's horrifying!"
Takano looked at Ritsu for a long moment, then flipped to World's Greatest First Love. He read it in silence for several minutes, revealing nothing on his face. Ritsu's breathing grew haggard as he awaited Takano's reaction to the short-story Usami had written.
That he had written about them!
Takano abruptly closed the book. "I don't see what the problem is."
"You don't see?" Ritsu yelled. "Did you read the story AT ALL?"
Takano smirked, and leaned his chin into his hand. "Why don't you elaborate for me what you don't like about the story?"
"No, I'd rather you tell me, Onodera."
Ritsu snapped his teeth together as rage and horror swept his body. He now knew what Misaki felt every time a new volume of Pure Love Romantica was published, and this was just as short story. "What did you tell him?" he shouted, almost launching himself over the desk at Takano. "What did you say to him about me? How did he get these ideas?"
Takano handed the book back to him. "We must be pretty obvious, Onodera."
But Ritsu once again was hounded by the women in the department.
"What does Takano-san mean, Onodera?"
"Tell us the details!"
"I HATE THIS PLACE!" Ritsu wailed.
"Ricchan really fits right in!" Kisa laughed.
"WHAT DO YOU MEAN IT'S BEEN PICKED UP FOR SERIAL?" Ritsu shrieked in horror.
Aikawa Eri laughed haughtily as she shoved the book into Ritsu's hands. "It was such a hit with readers that they begged for more! And so Akikawa-sensei delivered!"
Ritsu gaped after Aikawa as she left the department laughing. He looked down at the book she had given him with two boys cuddling on the cover: 'World's Greatest First Love' by Akikawa Yayoi. Beneath the title read: 'The sensational short story, now its own series!'
Someone familiar walked by the department. "TAKAHASHI-SAN!" Ritsu yelled, waving the book as he ran after Misaki. "Takahashi-san, WAIT!"
Misaki stopped, and turned around. "Ah, Onodera-san—"
"Stop him!" Ritsu pleaded, showing Misaki the book. "You must stop him from writing more of this!"
Misaki looked down at the book for a long moment, then looked at Ritsu. He suddenly laughed and hurried back by about twenty feet. "F-Forgive me, Onodera-san, but it's not my place to interrupt Sensei's work!"
"Besides, so long as he works on that, he won't write Pure Love Romantica!" that said, Misaki took off running.
"Wa—TAKAHASHI-SAN!" Ritsu wailed. His shoulders slumped as he trudged back into the Emerald Department. This is hell. I'm living in HELL! I will never, EVER acknowledge Usami-sensei again!
"Another BL book, Ricchan?" Kisa asked, hurrying over to him. He looked down at the corner closely. "Hey! The smaller boy looks like you, Ricchan!"
Ritsu screamed as he was once again hounded by the entire department. "N-No! No, he doesn't! It—just STOP IT!"
"Wow, he does look like you!" Mino laughed. "What about the other boy?"
Ritsu crushed the book against his chest to hide the fact that the boys looked like Takano and him. "Leave me alone! PLEASE LEAVE ME ALONE!"
From his desk, Takano laughed to himself. "We must be very obvious…"