Prologue: Rings

In which our heroine is given jewelry by our hero



(December 1994, Philadelphia)

In a nice neighborhood, in the nice bedroom of a nice house, something nice was happening. No, not sex! Something different and not as enjoyable, but still fun. It was the night before Christmas Eve, and that meant a get-together, at least to the occupants of the room. So they were getting ready, dressing up to show the world, "Hey, look how good-looking we are! See how much pride we take in our appearances?" Yes, being dashing and gorgeous was nice, especially when accompanied by those little, intimate gestures couples perform when they get ready together.

The woman placed the pendant on its chain around her neck, admiring herself in the mirror and proclaiming, "You know, Reginald, I do like green. It goes well with my coloring."

"And it would complement your dress tonight, for that perfect Christmas color scheme," the man murmured, fixing one of the red straps. "Don't you have anything green, jewelry-wise?" he asked, his hand lingering on the bare skin of her upper arm.

She shook her head, glossy dark hair caressing her shoulders with the movement, and answered, "No. Well, I mean, yes, but a mint, almost aqua green, very pale. The dress needs something vibrant, like emerald. Something so green it almost grabs the eye."

"Hmm." He considered, then snapped his fingers and smiled, "I have just the thing. Wait right there, don't go away."

As she turned to watch him curiously, he crossed to his dresser and opened a small box with a smug, "After all, this is an important business party. I can't have my girlfriend showing up without appropriate accessories," he chuckled, and she smiled as well.

"Oh, did you get me a gift?" she asked rather hopefully. She adored gifts, especially gifts of jewelry. He'd already bought her a number of bracelets and necklaces, all of which she treasured.

"Well," he murmured, pulling something out, "I didn't get it for you, but it's a gift anyway. You can keep it, I want you to." He hid it in his hand and came forwards, telling her, "All right… this is for you."

He opened his hand, and she gasped. A thick, gold class ring with a round green cabochon sparked in the light, and yes indeed, the color of the stone almost did grab the eye. On one side, "RCB." On the other, "1991," and set in the middle of the stone, the crest of Saint Lazarus College. This was a prized possession of his, one he often wore to impress people, but not tonight.

"But," she protested, "Reginald, that's your –"

"I know," he shrugged carelessly. "But I want you to have it." He smiled down at her and continued, "It would look lovely on a wide chain, I don't think it would fit any of your fingers besides your thumb."

"I'm not into wearing chunky rings anyway," she murmured absently, reaching her hand over the ring but not picking it up. "But I can't take an emerald –"

"It's not emerald, it's green onyx," he told her quickly. "A beautiful stone, but harder and not as rare. It's often mistaken by the naked eye for emerald or jade, though. It is often dyed, but this one is untreated."

She considered this, and admitted, "It is beautiful… but I mean it, do you really want to give me –?"

"Yes," he assured her, taking hold of her hand and gently dropping the ring into it. "Wear it tonight. Wear it whenever you want. I love you. So it's yours," he informed her, and kissed her forehead.

She smiled and kissed his cheek, and then agreed, "Well, all right then. I'll have to change my earrings to match the gold, but I have just the ones."

As he watched her rummage around in her own jewelry box, he smiled as well and thought, Soon… I'll get you a different ring, with a diamond and sized perfectly for you.


(Eight years later, in the city of Zenmi)

He decided, as he slipped the wedding ring onto his bride's finger, that life was an exquisite thing. A gorgeous summer day, an archbishop officiating, and Kisshouten Megan Okami would any second now be Kisshouten Megan Bishamonten. God was good, he'd been blessed, hallelujah. He barely heard the "And do you, Reginald Clarence, take this woman to be your wife…" speech, he was grinning so hard.

And Xavier Koumokuten could tell. "Hey Aaron," he whispered to the big man next to him as his daughter Tamara yawned, "he's in la-la-land."

Aaron Zouchouten gave him a look. It was a wedding, guests shouldn't be whispering to each other during this most important day of the bride and groom's lives. He privately agreed that their friend was dorkily happy and no doubt flying with the angels right now, but c'mon.

"…As long as you both shall live?"

Bishamonten grinned even harder. His cheeks were starting to hurt, but who cared?

"I do," he informed the archbishop, Kisshouten, and the world. Oh, I think I may cry with joy.

Kisshouten grinned just as hard as His Eminence Martin "Old One" Wheedleton bestowed his final matrimonial command: "I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride."

And Bishamonten did. He did it so hard and for so long that Koumokuten's eyes widened.

"Aaron… do you think they can breathe?" he whispered, one eyebrow raised in skepticism.

Zouchouten whapped him on the arm, the equivalent of a regular man's punch. As Koumokuten winced and held himself back from yelping in pain, Mr. and Mrs. Bishamonten finally broke apart to exuberant cheers from the assembled guests.

The wedding party headed down the aisle in pairs, the strains of "Pachelbel's Canon" rang in the air, the doves were set free, the rose petals were thrown, and Zouchouten watched his friend practically float. Surely this beat the day Bishamonten had made second-in-command of Tenkai Corporation.

The minute he could, Zouchouten stood up. Towering over everybody else in the church, he moved down the aisle to shake Bishamonten's hand as Koumokuten glared at his suit-clad back. Unaware that by rights he should be a tiny pile of ash, Tenkai Corporation's Senior Vice President of Research and Development halted at the back of the line.

Weddings brighten everything up, he mused. The office will be so drab in comparison.

At the front of the line, the best man watched his loyal subordinate get kissed on both cheeks by Kisshouten's mother. Arthur Taishakuten thought that was sweet. Annoying, but sweet, as he was well aware that Bishamonten generally hated physical contact. But today, the redheaded overlord of the expansion division just beamed at his new mother-in-law, who was happily crying. A couple tears in his eyes as well, he turned to his father-in-law.

"Tentei," he smiled, "thank you. You don't know how much this means to me."

Tentei Okami, the descendent of samurai, beamed at Reginald Bishamonten, the descendent of British aristocrats, and told him, "Congratulations, both of you. I feel a little teary-eyed myself," he admitted, patting his daughter's hand.

Back in the front of the church, the seven-year-old Tamara tugged her father's sleeve and whined, "Daddy, I want a white dress! I want a bouquet! I want a husband like she has!"

She pointed at Kisshouten, beaming and accepting congratulations as Bishamonten refused to let her hand go. Why, it wasn't fair that that tall lady with the pretty hair got all that and Tamara, the best little girl in the world, didn't!

Koumokuten went down to his daughter's level and soothed, "Sweetiepie, you have to be a grown-up to get married. Someday you'll –"

"Xavier, don't crush our daughter's dreams!" his wife Melissa snapped. "Tamara honey, your daddy will buy you a white dress and flowers tomorrow," she promised, making her daughter smile broadly.

Koumokuten managed a reply of "I… will?"

Melissa glared at him, her eyes smoldering, and insisted, "Yes. You will. Now move along, I want to congratulate them too. Don't hold us all up!"

Oblivious to the drama of henpecked Koumokuten, Kisshouten kissed her husband on the cheek. Oh, this was the happiest day of her life! She grinned as she accepted the same thanks and trite sentiments over and over. She grinned as she posed for what seemed like a thousand pictures. She grinned as Bishamonten helped her into the limo. She even grinned as they got delayed by a funeral procession from a different church.

The reception was held in the Landmark Center, an extravagant Victorian building with a three ballrooms (they'd gotten the biggest and fanciest) and catered by a gourmet chef. It was hung with wreaths of flowers, the goblets were crystal, and the chandeliers were like something out of "Titanic."

Except our ending will be perfect, Bishamonten thought smugly as he took his seat. None of that angsty "My heart will go on" foolishness. My wife and I will love each other until we're old and infirm, and have three children who'll listen in rapt attention when I tell them how wonderful their mother is.

Taishakuten noted his subordinate's gleeful expression, then scanned the room. Yes, most people had taken their seats, and when he stood up the stragglers would too because nobody wanted to annoy Arthur Taishakuten, President and CEO of Tenkai Corporation. Why, people on the street inclined their heads as he walked past, and they had no idea who he was.

So they dined on filet mignon, and drank excellent champagne, and smiled at the bride and groom, who were feeding each other every bite. And finally Taishakuten stood up a second time, raising his glass, and there was immediate, respectful silence.

"Well," he proclaimed, "you've all observed how very much in love the beautiful bride and the handsome groom are…"

As Taishakuten began his spiel, Bishamonten absentmindedly fiddled with his wedding band. It felt so odd, wearing a ring on his left hand and not his right. But really, he hadn't habitually worn a ring on his right hand for almost ten years, not since he'd had that alma mater one.

Wherever it is, I hope she's treating it well, he thought rather sadly, then shook it off. One shouldn't be thinking of old lovers when one was listening to one's wedding toasts. So he grinned some more, and laughed along, and held his new wife's hand.

"Hey Aaron," Koumokuten whispered as the cake was cut, "what kind is that cake?"

Zouchouten turned a look of pure exasperation to him and grumbled, "I don't know, shut up. …Looks like chocolate, huh. How odd for a wedding cake to be –"

"CHOCOLATE!" Tamara's happy shriek rang in the air. "Daddy, I want chocolate cake!"

Every head turned to stare at their table. Zouchouten grinned in embarrassment, Melissa hissed, "Xavier, do something!" and Koumokuten grinned nervously. Tamara just looked Kisshouten in the eye and asked, "Can I have some?" in her "little angel" voice.

Kisshouten and her husband started to laugh, and the entire room joined in. Sometimes kids said the darndest things!

"Yes honey," the bride said finally, "you can have some in a little bit." What a cutie. She would later learn that Koumokuten's daughter was a holy terror, but today the kid was a doll.

Tamara smiled in contentment. "Daddy, she said I can have some," she informed her father proudly. She'd triumphed again!

Koumokuten patted her head and whispered, "Yes, Princess. Now, be quiet until – ouch!" he hissed, wincing in pain as Zouchouten winced in commiseration. Melissa had grabbed her husband's ponytail and yanked, glaring like this was all his fault.

"Xavier, that was humiliating!" she snapped in a whisper. "That was obviously your genes at work. Tamara honey, tell your daddy to stop setting such a bad example."

Zouchouten sighed and drank some more champagne. Oh well, at least the office didn't have Melissa.


Chapter One: Boardroom Generals

In which Koumokuten wastes company time



(February 7th, 2012)

Arthur Taishakuten threw open the doors to his favorite conference room and strode in, a conqueror all set to conquer some more. The three men inside all looked up, nodded in obedient greeting, and waited for him to speak, shutting down their laptop, hanging up their phone, and putting down their coffee, respectively.

Taishakuten gave them a paternal smile. Ah, his main players, his "Generals," the men who had stood by him as he took over this company years ago. There had been one more, but he had resigned his position and now lived in Nepal as a Buddhist monk, silly man. The remaining trio were the Senior Vice Presidents, the most powerful executives in the company… under him, of course. He nodded to them as a whole.

Taishakuten, it must be said, was quite possibly the best CEO the world had ever seen. He took risks, he had a sixth sense for profit and danger, and he ruled it all. He commanded his company to attack markets, sack the city-states of rival corporations, and build fortresses of profit and stock options (Taishakuten liked war metaphors). His underlings obeyed without question, because no one wanted to annoy him. He didn't like being failed because he never failed himself, and could not comprehend why other people managed to do so all the time. They just must not have applied themselves, he was sure.

While he sicced his "warlords of the boardroom" on rival companies, they did not destroy them in a personally vindictive way. Sure, they would slash the sails, gut with cannon balls, and board, plunder, and set fire to the sinking ship of any other conglomerate that got in their way, but they would do it smiling in a "So sorry to hear about your mother's death, let's do have lunch sometime" manner.

Nothing personal, Bishamonten would often assure a company president whose stock had just dropped to so little value that he couldn't give it away. Just business, you know.

Taishakuten beamed at them. Loyal, driven, and wealthy themselves, his three Senior VPs were the closest things he had to personal friends, save his best buddy Karl Ashuraou. Why, they played golf with him (they made sure to let him win). They sent him lavish gifts on his birthday (he had quite liked last year's Mercedes). They even skipped family events to work on proposals (he tried not to make them do that too much, because it was bad for morale).

He smiled some more and said, "Good morning, Reginald."

Bishamonten smiled back, folding his hands and replying, "Good morning, sir."

His life was good. He was the man with the most power next to Taishakuten, he and his gorgeous artist wife were about to adopt a child, and his wealthy uncle had just died, leaving him even more money.

Taishakuten nodded to Koumokuten and asked, "And Xavier, how are you?"

Koumokuten grinned, fiddling with a stud earring, and nearly chortled, "Why just fine, thank you sir."

He was indeed just fine. Marketing, his division, was going like a maniac, his daughter was getting good grades in her exclusive private high school, and he'd just bought himself a new sports car.

The CEO turned to the final Senior Vice President. "And Aaron… you look –" he frowned suddenly, "down."

Zouchouten sighed, taking off his reading glasses, and muttered, "Just the weather, sir."

This was indeed a factor, as it was sleeting this February morning. However, while Zouchouten's slice of the company pie was also doing well, his dog had just died, leaving him with an empty mansion. He brightened up as something occurred to him, and smiled, "Sir, I know what it is. I just need more coffee." He called over his shoulder, "Ellen, can you make me some espresso please?"

A white-haired woman with pale skin and blue eyes nodded seriously, and replied, "Yes. Right away, sir."

As she walked off, Taishakuten chided, "Aaron, it's nine-thirty in the morning and you've already had almost an entire thermos. I thought you were cutting down. Remember? Just the other day you vowed to end your dependence on caffeine."

Zouchouten started to give him a weird look before he caught himself. "I am cutting down, that's why I'm so tired," he said in a studiously neutral tone.

Bishamonten sighed. Zouchouten's coffee addiction was notorious, and he privately thought the man's assistant should be reprimanded for enabling him. My assistant cuts me off.

Said assistant passed him a file and murmured, "Mr. Bishamonten sir, I've found the info on Sweden you wanted."

James Yasha was a quiet man, very dedicated, with hardly any social life. Bishamonten felt rather sorry for him, and Kisshouten kept trying to set him up with this or that woman. It never worked, for reasons she and her husband couldn't figure out.

As Bishamonten read the file, Koumokuten turned to his own assistant and barked, "Edward, I told you, I want caramel macchiatos, not English toffee! You incompetent lackey, you've had two whole years to get this right."

Edward Varuna quavered, "I'm sorry sir. They were out of caramel syrup, so I thought –"

"You thought wrong," Koumokuten snapped imperiously. "I demand caramel. My last assistant also thought the caramel wasn't important, and he's on another job now."

Bishamonten sighed again. Poor Percy Rudra, he'd tried so hard. Same with his predecessor Walter Deva, and his predecessor, and her predecessor, down the line. Koumokuten had a habit of "executing my assistants for failing their overlord."

He was not a nice man. He made underlings cry as a hobby, saw no problem with turning his daughter into a spoiled brat, and had enthusiastically internalized all of Taishakuten's war metaphors and kept coming up with new ones himself. Not to mention that he used language sometimes that would make a granny have a heart attack. His daughter was almost as nasty as he was, his wife was downright scary, and Bishamonten privately thought the entire family was crazy, what with their rabid devotion to putting down and climbing over anyone who got in their way. And Koumokuten had the dumbest slogans sometimes, like "We're here, so shut up and give us what we want."

Zouchouten was better, but one would still have to be stupid to want to annoy him. Leaving aside physical strength, he matter-of-factly destroyed any company that attempted to make use of his ideas, and had his lawyers legally eviscerate patent infringers. He also had a habit of looking at an opponent in a way that made them really realize how big and muscular he was compared to them, yikes.

He had no wife and never dated, and while rumors swirled that he was probably gay, anyone who knew him well and watched him with his assistant could see that those rumors were inaccurate. He adored Ellen Karura, but unfortunately for him, no matter how he fervently complimented her coffee-making skills, she seemed completely clueless.

But despite all their faults, Bishamonten liked Koumokuten and Zouchouten. The three Generals got along well, and each of them was dedicated to crushing the opposition. So when Taishakuten said, "Take out this or that company," they all grinned and replied, "Okay."

And indeed, they got to say that this morning. An enjoyable chance to exercise their corporate might! What a wonderful day.

As they got up to leave, Zouchouten asked Bishamonten, "So did the flowers work?"

Bishamonten nodded, "Yes, thank you Aaron. We kissed and made up."

He and Kisshouten had had a spat, but that was normal. Spats were a part of sharing your life with another person, after all. No relationship was smooth sailing all the time, that would be just freakish. He went on, "We're still a tiny bit on edge, but I'm sure it'll pass."

"The burning flames of my wife's passion for me will never go out," Koumokuten bragged as they walked down the hallway, and Bishamonten almost groaned aloud. Koumokuten's wife liked lighting things on fire, and he thought it was cute. Before Bishamonten's brain could wonder if candles were ever used in bed, his mouth snapped, "Fascinating, Xavier. But we're talking about my marriage, not yours."

Zouchouten seized this idea and ran with it to escape more declarations of love involving ignition, and agreed, "Reginald, I'm sure it will pass. I mean, you love Kisshouten so damn much, and I know she loves you too."

Bishamonten smiled almost blissfully, a man whose life was a-okay. "Yes indeed, we –"

"Hi gorgeous, it's me," Koumokuten grinned into the phone he'd just put to his ear. "We were just talking about you so I thought I'd call and say hi."

Zouchouten quickly ducked into his office, muttering, "Have fun, Reginald."

Bishamonten looked around for an escape, but except for hiding behind that potted palm there was none. He walked faster to escape Koumokuten, who just matched his pace, Varuna trailing behind and juggling three caramel macchiatos as Yasha kept up with his boss. And Koumokuten was still talking:

"Oh, I know you have a class. I just wanted to hear your voice. …Oh yeah? Make the obese little whiners cry, honey." His wife was a gym teacher, and Bishamonten felt sorry for anyone unfortunate enough to have her as their instructor.

Yasha was practically jogging now. "Mr. Bishamonten, do you want me to trip him?" he offered, so deadpan Bishamonten had to wonder if he was really joking. Then again, Yasha never joked.

"Hold on. Reginald, slow down," Koumokuten snapped. "Babe, Reginald's running like he's trying to escape something." He shot Bishamonten a glare and power-walked as best he could to keep up.

Bishamonten gritted his teeth at such doggedness. Why was this hallway so long? Fifteen more feet…

"I dunno. He gets like that sometimes," Koumokuten grumbled, then beamed and said, "Anyway sweetheart, I'm thinking of you in your gym shorts now… yeah. …Oh? Hey, that's hot…"

Thank you God, Bishamonten had just reached his office. He swung inside and barely avoided hitting Yasha with the door. Yasha glowered at the wall and grumbled, "Sir, I think Mr. Koumokuten's phone should be taken away."

"I agree," a cheerful voice came from the receptionist's desk. "We should drop it into a blender!"

Despite being very enamored of that idea, Bishamonten shook his head and replied, "No. Now Victor," he told the man sitting with his feet on the desk, "I'll be in a video conference most of the morning."

He reached out, and put the placard that said "Mr. Victor Kujaku" with "Secretary GOD" taped onto the edge back in its rightful place (AKA not on top of Kujaku's head). Sheesh. The man was such an incorrigible child sometimes.

"Stop balancing things like that, we're not an African village," Bishamonten ordered in a bit of an annoyed tone. "Honestly."

Yasha went into lecture mode with a grouchy, "Victor, please attempt to at least act like you're taking this seriously."

Kujaku just handed Bishamonten a disc, smiling, "Sir, I typed up all the minutes from your last meeting with these people. They're cross-referenced by subject. And I put a few suggestions that might be useful at the bottom, just to be extra helpful."

Bishamonten nodded wearily and sighed, "Thank you. Now please hold my calls."

Kujaku was both a stunning asset and a thorn in Bishamonten's side. He was the best secretary the Expansion VP had ever had or even dreamed of having, but he was so damned happy-go-lucky all the time. He'd been hired eleven years ago, by virtue of being the son of the former CEO, as an executive (nepotism had been alive and well then), but he'd gotten bored with it.

Apparently he'd told his father, a year before Taishakuten's takeover, "Dad, I hate meetings and pie charts. I'm going to Miami!" He'd cheerfully resigned, driven his Mercedes down to Florida, and partied like it was 1999.

And he'd gotten bored with that too. So, after the "rebellion against the king of Tenkai Corporation," he'd showed up at Taishakuten's office. No appointment, no phone call, nothing, he'd just waltzed right in because security knew him, and talked his way past the receptionist.

"Hi," he'd grinned as he came face-to-face with the very surprised CEO. "I'm Victor Kujaku. I used to work here, and I think I can be of help."

Taishakuten had stared; he knew very well who Kujaku was. "You… you want an executive position?" he'd asked, reaching for his "security" button in fear that Kujaku had come back for revenge. "If so, I'm afraid I must deny your request."

Kujaku had shaken his head vehemently and assured him, "Absolutely not. I wanna be a secretary.

"You see Artie," he'd continued as Taishakuten stared even harder in shock, "being an executive is so awful. Cutthroat and taking advantage of people… that's not me. But I'm good at business, and I like this building, and I get the sense you guys might need a bit of a friendlier image. I mean, your new head of Marketing was laughing like a psycho as he kicked old Bertram out of his office."

He'd held up his hands, palms out, and gone on, "I'd be 'a bridge to the days of yore,' or however Tall Dark and Creepy wants to spin it. And I love talking to people, and dealing with little details. And as far as I know," he'd smiled sunnily, "one of your buddies needs a secretary anyway."

And Taishakuten had been impressed with Kujaku's irreverent boldness and good points, and hired him. He'd assigned him to Bishamonten, and it was working out very well… usually.

Bishamonten did rather hate Kujaku's excessive cheerfulness some days. The man was on it all the time, but when he had finished all his work and had nothing to do he started to think up ways to entertain himself, and that was a problem. He bent paper clips and made them into three-dimensional sculptures any art museum would pay money for, he answered the phone with exaggerated silly accents, and he typed treatises on the most random things. He was an oddball. So smart he was easily bored, but lacking the need to step on other people on the way up, he took his secretary's salary without complaint and resisted all attempts at promotion.

"I like Reginald," he'd beam as Zouchouten tried to get him transferred to his department.

"But with your insight and drive," Zouchouten would attempt, "I'm sure we could come up with –"

Kujaku would then answer the phone in an even stupider accent, or page someone with a made-up silly name, or bounce a rubber band ball off Zouchouten's chest, and stress, "I like it here. Now run off and tell Ellen she needs to give you less espresso, you look upset."

Indeed, as Bishamonten came out of his office for lunch today, Zouchouten stomped off and slammed the door so hard all the pictures fell off that wall. Clearly his latest attempt to gain a genius engineer had failed as well, and Bishamonten had to wonder what Kujaku had done to say "no" this time.

"Ooh, he's pissy again," Kujaku said gleefully as Yasha hastened to re-hang the framed prints. "It's a new pastime: Aaron-baiting, instead of bear-baiting."

Bishamonten just sighed once more. He'd ordered Zouchouten to knock it off, but apparently the lure of Kujaku's brilliant mind was too shiny and tempting to ignore. Like a magpie or a ferret, Zouchouten just couldn't leave it alone.

"Victor," Bishamonten told his secretary, "I think you could be a little less passive-aggressive with him."

Kujaku twirled in his chair as Yasha hung up the last picture, and laughed, "But it's so much more fun this way. And speaking of fun, I need next Tuesday off. Oh, next Tuesday will be just so enjoyable!"

As Yasha turned ever so slightly pink behind his back, Bishamonten frowned and answered, "Absolutely not. James is already taking that day off work. It's been on the calendar for months."

Kujaku gave him a wide-eyed, deceptively innocent look. "Yup. I know that," he replied. "I wrote it on the calendar, after all."

"Victor," Yasha snapped, "Mr. Bishamonten said 'no,' and he meant 'no.' How do you expect the man to cope with things here minus both his secretary and assistant? That's just not fair."

Kujaku almost pouted as he shot back, "But James, there are so many secretaries who can fill in! It won't matter if you and I –"

"The matter is closed," Bishamonten snapped imperiously. "Victor, put down that Transformer action figure. James, that picture is fine, you don't need to adjust it anymore. Now, I am heading to lunch. If anyone important calls, tell them I'll call them back as soon as possible."

With that, he walked out and shut the door carefully. If any more pictures fell down, Yasha would no doubt spend an hour making sure they were perfectly straight.

The door opened again, and Kujaku grabbed Bishamonten's arm with an urgent, "Look, it's important! I need to spend time with my baby." He threw himself to his knees, held up his clasped hands, and begged, "Pleeease?"

Bishamonten glowered down at him, and commanded, "Get up, you're making a scene. This is not drama club, and why can't you be normal?"

Ignoring his command, Kujaku grabbed his leg this time and wheedled, "Hey Reginald, if you give me next Tuesday off I promise not to play around until then. I'll even sit quietly at my desk and read, I dunno, A Separate Peace or something so I won't laugh. That book sucks major mold."

Bishamonten's resolve was starting to waver, but… "I can't give you that day off, because it's James' birthday. Making him work on his birthday when I've promised him he could stay home would be cruel."

Kujaku gave him a "duh" look and sighed, "I'm aware of that." He grinned suddenly and informed the world, "Boy, I sure hope James spends his day off being catered to and being given sexy gifts. Like Frederick's of Hollywood undergarments."

The rather startled Bishamonten blinked down at his secretary. "How… nice that would be," he said somewhat faintly, a bit perturbed by the idea of Yasha wearing such things.

Kujaku gave him a shining smile so white and perfect it was nearly blinding, and went on, "But sir, you know, if –"

"Victor," Yasha snarled, yanking Kujaku up by his shirt collar, "don't bother him anymore. Accept it gracefully and move on!" He glared at the shorter man, his teeth gritted and his face red. Clearly, he'd heard the sexy gifts bit.

But Bishamonten had decided that a quiet, meek, wallflower of a secretary couldn't be passed up, even if it only was for a week, and generously said, "You may have next Tuesday off as well, Victor. Now, I expect our deal to be effective immediately."

He walked off down to the cafeteria, leaving Yasha to glare at Kujaku and fold his arms.

Poor James… he finally takes a day off, and Victor wants the same one off as well. What a great friend, Bishamonten thought sarcastically.


After an excellent lunch, most of which was spent fantasizing on how lovely it would be to have a normal secretary, Bishamonten paid a visit to his beloved boss. Taishakuten's office was a massive chamber, guarded by a secretary and with a desk almost as big as a bed. Before he could enter this "throne room," though, he needed to alert his "king" to his presence, because no one just dropped in on Taishakuten unannounced.

Bishamonten studied the secretary. Taishakuten actually had two: twin sisters, Kuyou and Hanranya. They looked exactly alike, with thick glasses (in another time and place they would have been blind), long white hair, and the same almost otherworldly air. They even sounded alike.

But there was one surefire way to tell them apart. This way was to watch them with their boss, because while Hanranya thought Taishakuten was God, Kuyou hated him and gave him poisonous glares whenever he wasn't looking. She was passive-aggressive and once "forgot" to tell him that a Presidential candidate was visiting, and there was a pool on when she'd be fired.

People often wondered why she was still in Taishakuten's employ, but nobody ever asked her or her sister. Maybe she really needed the money. Maybe she secretly enjoyed her job. Or maybe she only stayed because Hanranya was here, even though they argued a lot too.

"Hello, Ms. Seering," Bishamonten hedged, unable to tell who he was talking to. "May I see Taishakuten?"

No one ever called him by his first name. While the Senior VPs, their assistants, and his own assistant could drop the "Mr.", "Mr. Taishakuten" or "sir" was the normal mode of address. Save for Kujaku, who for some inexplicable reason got away with calling him "Artie."

"Yes Mr. Bishamonten, you may," she smiled, then pressed a button. "Sir," she trilled into the intercom, "Mr. Bishamonten is here." Her tone was respectful and pleasant, and she said the word "sir" as if it meant "my reason for living."

Ah, this was Hanranya then. "Thank you, Hanranya," Bishamonten murmured, then asked, "Did you have a nice weekend?"

"Oh yes sir," she replied demurely. "And you?"

"Wonderful, thank you."

They smiled at each other somewhat awkwardly, because he found her slightly unnerving and she was scared of him. Her almost manic subservience to her boss had earned her the office nickname of "Scary Seering," because she'd once announced that she would cut off her own head if Taishakuten had wanted it. For her part, Hanranya thought Bishamonten was a ruthless bastard. After all, he was the one who attacked the most opposing companies and kept tabs on this one. Although he hadn't gone so far as to use surveillance in the skyscraper (yet), he had a network of spies both in Tenkai Corporation and out.

"Hanranya?" Taishakuten's voice said over the intercom. "Tell him he's allowed in."

"Yes sir!" she replied fervently, and nodded at Bishamonten. "He's allowing you in, sir," she paraphrased, waving her hand grandly like a conductor. "Go ahead."

He nodded as well and strode past Hanranya's desk to the imposing oak doors, which had little crowns in brass on them. Pushing them open, he was greeted by the sight of two people studying a computer screen on the giant desk, in front of a wall of windows with a view urban photographers would sell their mothers for.

One of these people was of course Taishakuten, the other was his assistant, one Nina Souma. Her dad had been the CEO's assistant before her, and when he'd retired Souma had stepped into the breach. It was a sense of duty more than anything else, as she kind of despised her boss personally. But then, very few people liked that man personally. Souma often amused herself by imagining an anvil falling on his long-haired head, but she was able to smile and obey and be a great assistant. She was excellent at what she did.

"Nina," Taishakuten once told her, "if I am the king, you are my alchemist, turning the dross of data and appointments into business gold. Now get me another flash drive."

"Ah, Reginald," he said now, looking up. "Right on time, as usual."

Bishamonten was always on time. He was a perfectionist with a smattering of OCD tendencies, and if he were ever late Taishakuten knew something dreadful had happened. In fact, that had only happened twice: when his former assistant had set his desk on fire, and when his father had had a heart attack. But today, as usual, Yasha was dutifully engaging in hard work and staying away from lighters, and Bishamonten's father was already dead, from a second heart attack. So he was free to stick to his beloved routine, and excel at it. And he foresaw no more problems, thankfully.

"Nina," Taishakuten decreed, "you may go. Tell Xavier I want the new ad campaign on my desk by Monday, or heads will roll. Our products are only as good as our ads make them out to be, and his last offering was sub-par. Inform him that if he doesn't come up with a better idea, I will give him a pay cut."

Tenkai Corporation made electronic devices, from computers to smartphones to video games. It was a sprawling conglomerate that necessitated its own advertising division; usually production companies hired an outside firm for that. And it kept expanding into other ventures too. It acquired smaller, lesser companies that dealt in things from mining to books, so when Taishakuten proclaimed, "I'm the king of the business world," he almost really was.

And was he satisfied? What a silly question! He wanted more, and more, and more, and he was getting it.

Souma nodded as Bishamonten sat down in front Taishakuten's desk, walking off with a rather relieved gait. These little meetings invariably centered on "snipping off buds of disloyalty before they blossom," AKA what Bishamonten had found out about internal dissent and how to crush it. Or what he thought might lead to dissent, anyway. She was glad she wasn't forced to sit through them, because who cared if Zouchouten gave his employees a higher holiday bonus than what was recommended? Or if a low-level manager from Real Estate was palling around with a secretary from a rival department? Or even if a mailboy called his immediate boss a bitch?

As Souma closed the door behind her, Bishamonten was saying, "It's been quiet, sir. No one seems to be selling secrets, there are no conspiracies to unseat you, and ever since we humiliated and sued that embezzler from Accounting six months ago, no one's even skimming funds that I know of."

"Good," Taishakuten said happily. "A Tenkai Corporation under an iron fist is a safe Tenkai Corporation, wouldn't you agree? Far better for them to fear me than to love me, I think."

"Yes sir," Bishamonten assented obediently. "We can't have people defecting to other companies or plotting against you."

Taishakuten's worst fear was that he'd be unseated by a "rebellion." After all, he'd risen to power through just such a thing, and he refused to give up his lovely perks, obscenely huge paycheck, and intoxicating control. And since everyone in his company and most other ones was terrified of him, that was exceedingly unlikely.

Still, better safe than sorry, he thought as Bishamonten informed him of the cafeteria's shocking decision to switch from Pepsi to Coke products without his say-so. And dear Bishamonten was so enthusiastic about snooping around and carrying tales. He was excellent at toppling other companies too, and Taishakuten wanted to pat his head and give him a biscuit for his usefulness.

Instead, he smiled proudly and murmured, "Good work, Reginald. Oh, and I like Coke better anyway. You may go," he decided, waving an elegant hand. "I think today's the day we cut that annoying Blizzard Entertainment off at the knees."

Alas, Blizzard managed to survive, but Bishamonten did deal a deathblow to an upstart tech company that had muscled in on Tenkai Corporation's territory. Ah, it was good to be the General of Expansion.


"Lotus, I'm home!" Bishamonten called cheerfully, taking off his overcoat and setting down his briefcase. It had been a good day, with a deal to make Kujaku be somewhat normal, a lovely lunch of his favorite stir fry, and an elegant coup de grace to a tottering rival company.

"I'm in the living room!" Kisshouten's voice called. He immediately walked over to that room, beaming.

He called her "lotus" because, as he'd once proclaimed, "The lotus is the symbol of enlightenment, and you have illuminated my life. You're a flower, delicate and beautiful, and I want so badly to have you." After which he'd pulled out an engagement ring, dropped to one knee, and asked for her hand as the hired violinist played a romantic little melody in the background.

"How was work?" he asked her now, giving her a kiss on the cheek. "Did you finish the sketching yet?"

Kisshouten was a painter, and a very talented one at that. She could bring things to life with oils and acrylic, and watercolor and even pencils. She usually worked in oils, and her work won awards on top of more awards. He thought she rivaled Leonardo da Vinci, because her skill and ability to inspire an emotional response with her paintings was astounding. Perhaps this was because her art was almost classical, with the human form and animal form painted as, well, realistically as they could be, not seen through an abstract lens.

He thought this was good, because a lot of modern art gave him a headache. Privately, he thought a three-year-old could do some of it. Kisshouten depicted backgrounds, props, and so many folds of cloth he marveled at it, and she never, ever splashed paint around and insisted, "It's art! Sure it looks like I spilled it by accident, but it's actually very deep and has a message!"

Anyway, she was good at painting. She was a good person, period. She tried not to hurt people if she could help it, loved her husband very much, and had been the perfect daughter (her dad's friends had often wanted to yell, "Give it a rest, Tentei! I don't want to hear about her anymore!").

Other people, having just been metaphorically cut off at the neck in the business world, thought Bishamonten and Kisshouten were a good example of "opposites attract." However, they did have many similar interests, such as opera, romantic dinners, and talking about all sorts of weighty subjects. She often thought he was a bit too clingy, but never mentioned it to him. Had she known about the way he looked through her emails, once hired a PI to tail her when she went on a business trip, and threatened a man he thought was moving in on her, she would have definitely mentioned it. And yelled at him for being smothering.

Still, most of that had been five years ago. Yes he scanned her emails for signs of would-be lovers trying to hit on her, but hey, she was his lotus, and he had to protect her, right? Right, of course she couldn't protect herself, being a fragile flower and all.

And there was a reason for such madness, oh yes there was. Bishamonten still remembered an old lover who'd skipped town on him with no warning beforehand, and had subconsciously decided that Kisshouten wouldn't be doing that. That woman had been quite a different person than Kisshouten, however, and the artist was much less hotheaded.

The artist and her husband had a lovely dinner, a lovely evening, watched a lovely movie and drank a lovely nightcap, and went upstairs to their lovely bedroom, the one with the giant bathroom some people would have happily lived in. Wasn't it nice to be rich?

Bishamonten found himself humming a pleased little tune as he completed his evening toilette, and admired his hair in the mirror as he brushed it. He had such unique hair, with the front and sides that somehow defied gravity, those exotic strands over his ears, and the rest of it long enough that he could twist up into some sort of bun had he wanted to. He didn't, he just put it into a high ponytail.

Oh, wasn't he a lucky man? He was ever so handsome, and rolling in cash, and married to a wonderful woman who often got asked, "Are you a model?" And had a job he adored, crushing dissent and opponents and finding out everybody's little secrets. Yes, his life was so very good.

It was the American corporate dream: a mansion and an executive position and a beautiful wife. Gobs of money, two good friends who once bought him an all-expenses-paid vacation to Costa Rica (for two, but of course), and a boss who left him alone to help run his empire.

And then, a thought crept into his mind. And this thought was, Am I really happy?

He shook his head vehemently, as if to dislodge such blasphemy from it. Why, of course he was happy! He had all the aforementioned assets and the loving wife. He'd soon be able to hear a little voice calling him "Daddy."

And yet… and yet…

"Reginald," his great-aunt said in his head, "you're one of those people who don't understand what they have until it leaves them. Now that she ran away you realize what she meant to you."

He frowned at his reflection. Eugenia Bishamonten had been one of those wise old women whose younger relatives thought she was a crackpot. But she was right, because he'd eventually realized after her death that she'd been somewhat of a social genius.

Well, he sniffed as he brushed his hair some more, things would of course have been quite different if she had stayed, but surely he couldn't have been any happier, right? And for heavens' sake, no one could change the past. She was probably married herself right now, with a loving husband and three children, having put on weight and let herself go.

And truly, she hadn't run,she'd bailed. With a phone call, no less. Clearly it hadn't been meant to be.

So Bishamonten put down his hairbrush, turned out the light, and went to bed with Kisshouten next to him.



(Author's Notes: No, the mysterious ex-girlfriend is not a fan character, don't worry. I actually dislike FC/canon character pairings. If you think hard, you can probably figure out who she is, but if not, you'll find out in the next chapter.

I should warn you that a few relationships here are AU. For example, Kisshouten and Kujaku are not half-siblings and Rasetsu and Yasha are not brothers. So no, Tentei isn't the former CEO, honestly because I couldn't find a good way to work the Tentei/Sonsei thing in believably.

Also, this is the second time I've tried to post the words "A Separate Peace" with an underline. I hope it worked, because the first time the site didn't accept it. I was told by a site worker to manually underline the words in Doc Manager and hit "save," so if anyone else has this problem, maybe that will work. That's kind of annoying, that just a week ago the site accepted such things for another posting, but now I have to do it myself. Sigh.

Oh, one more thing. This is a loose songfic. Now, I don't write the lyrics out and base scenes off of them, but all the lines from Adele's "Someone Like You" make an appearance, just not in order.

I know what you're thinking: "But MsLyoness, that's a sad song, and this is filed under 'Humor'!" Yes, but while there is some angsty soul-searching, much of this is funny. Really. Stick with me and it'll be explained eventually, I promise. I don't own that song, any characters except some random background ones, or "RG Veda," but I'd like some reviews please!

In the next chapter, you'll see: Vahyu! That man is hilariously flaming and thinks he's the most beautiful thing ever. And you'll also see Taishakuten bash on children, and Zouchouten remind Bishamonten of a Disney movie with the song "Be Our Guest."