Thanks again for all the support, lovely reviews, and subscriptions. They make my heart go sha~la~la~la~la.
See end of chapter for author's other notes.
(Read in 3/4 format. I say so. Do it. You know you want to)
"He isn't a piece of meat you sell to the highest bidder!"
Inomata's shrill voice filled the otherwise silent and exclusive study of Taizou Hebihara, the tension still thick and heavy from the moment they all stepped into the room.
Hayato glared at her, stopping her in mid-rant. Her face a blotchy red, infuriated. Taka shifted uncomfortably by his side. It was just them, Inui, and Taizou in the room, none of the more senior Hebihara family members present.
"What do you suggest then, dear sister? The younger one is barely of marrying age though I suppose..." Inui's taunting voice carried, trailing at the end for a moment before another round of shouting exploded, both Taka and Inomata rounding on him before he could draw breath and continue.
"NO! What is wrong with you!? He's just a-"
"You stay away from Kotarou, Inui-nii, or fuck, I'll-"
Taizou's voice rang, silencing anymore of their objections. He waited for all four of his 'children' to turn to him; the glasses perched on his nose making him look even more severe.
"We will have none of this. I called you three aside so we can discuss this like adults." Taizou said in his usual no-nonsense tone.
Hayato fought the urge to snort. Like adults, his father said. When, just moments before, they were coddled around by the clan's elders in the official family conference room a few doors away, and were still being treated like brats. Inui was less controlled, making a sound of disbelief, quieting again when Taizou's eyes turned on him. The three of them stood, Inomata and Inui looking stiff, Taka fidgeting nervously, half-hidden by Hayato who alone looked unfazed by the admonishing look from their father behind the heavy-wood desk.
"If you have not understood the importance of this issue, I shall repeat what we have discussed as a family these last five hours..."
Hayato shot a quick glance at his siblings before returning his attention back to the grey-haired man, who, if Hayato wasn't mistaken, was looking tired for the first time since Hayato realized his father could never talk or act like a normal dad.
"The elders wish to tie the Morinomiya's to the family and, as luck would have it, it has been rumored that Morinomiya Youko is quite willing to broker a marriage or civil partnership on behalf of her official heir, Kashima Ryuuichi, to a good match with an excellent background and connections. You three have been chosen as the best possible candidates by vote of the family-"
"That was the purpose of the 'family dinner' then. To parade us in front of Morinomiya Youko so she could take her pick on who would be best for her grandson. I suppose our family was the first choice." Hayato spat coldly, unable to help it.
"You will not interrupt me when I am speaking."
Hayato shut his mouth instinctively at the cold rebuke, gritting his teeth as he clenched his fists for control, suddenly feeling like 16 all over again when he'd decided to bring up the topic of Taka's illegitimacy to his father.
Taizou heaved a sigh when it was evident that Hayato was obeying, though obviously defiant.
"Essentially, yes, that was the purpose of last month's dinner. An informal presentation of sorts. Kashima-kun has no knowledge of any of this with no official deal on the table just yet though I suppose it will be quite an unpleasant surprise for him and his younger brother who was supposed to be the other option. Youko-san has yet to share her opinion on the matter though she has not gone forward with meeting other prospective families..." Taizou finally admitted, looking straight at Hayato before turning to Inui, continuing, "...It is expected, though the elders have disputed on the option, that Inui be the first choice for the Morinomiya heir, being heir apparent himself, while a good portion of them would prefer Inomata getting married off."
A sort of buzzing filled Hayato's ears at those words, feeling himself go pale in anger. Taka must've sensed something wrong because he took a step back, the three other adults oblivious to the sudden almost-electric crackle of tension in the room while Inui and Inomata protested the proposal.
"Fuck this! Everyone knows I'm only heir by name! I'm not marrying some docile dandy to please you or the family, father!"
"Just because I'm a girl, you're going to marry me off!? This isn't the feudal era! I have rights! I-"
"Nothing has been made final yet but it would be better if you prepared yourself to the inevitability-" Taizou inserted.
All eyes turned to Hayato, everyone feeling a slight chill at the quiet way the objection was made.
"I'll do it." The words left a bitter taste in his mouth. But it had to be said. For Kashima. For his friend.
He felt weary and tired after a long day of listening to geezers fight and squabble over someone else's future. He felt a strange resentment for Morinomiya Youko, as opposed to his initial impression of her which was respect, at the knowledge that she was willing to do something like this behind her loving grandson's back, though he knew nothing of her true intentions.
He hated manipulative people, meddlesome people, but for Kashima, for Ryuuichi, he supposed he could stoop to their level, only to save the kind man from the likes of Inui and his father.
Before anybody else could express their disbelief or protest, he stated his reasoning as objectively as possible.
"I'll do it. Tell those geezers that if they're too chickenshit to believe in the company's own strength that we have to tie Morinomiya to us, I'll marry Kashima."
"What do you think-" Taizou made to interrupt but Hayato just rolled over him, continuing while walking casually to the door.
"I'm sure Morinomiya Youko would object to her heir marrying into the family but if I, a bastard of Hebihara Taizou, were to have a civil partnership with the man, I'm sure the elders would be all too happy to hear it, thinking so highly of themselves that they'd view my marriage as a hidden insult and putting Morinomiya in her place. Morinomiya won't object to me being a possible candidate because, as you said earlier, father, I am a prospective match with a good background and credentials and I won't be much of a threat to the family since I am not the heir."
He didn't wait for his father's reply, stepping out coolly after shooting his usual cold smirk at his siblings' and father's dumbfounded expressions, feeling sick to the gut as an image of Kashima beaming up at him like a kid flashed before his eyes.
"Draw up the papers." He said in parting before shutting the door behind him with a soft click.
He knew his father would bring his proposal to the elders. He'd have to.
This was for Kashima, he told himself resolutely, ignoring the very tiny feeble thought that niggled at the back of his mind, barely heard as it whispered that just maybe, Hayato really did want this just for the sake of having Kashima by his side.
A month before...
Hayato stared, slightly amused. A boy who looked no older than Taka was looking up at him quietly with rusty green eyes, contrasted by the boy's seafoam green hair. He assumed the kid was of the Morinomiya party, maybe even one of the two boys Morinomiya Youko had adopted all those years back when Hayato was finishing middle-school. He heard little of the pair, Morinomiya guarding them from the public eye. Only when the older of two had reached the age of majority did Morinomiya allow the business world to meet him, though even then, Hayato hadn't been interested enough to bother, too busy clawing his way through business school.
Hayato had headed out for one to the many balconies that led from the ballroom upon arriving at the Hebihara household's main estate. He'd decided to spare his aunts and uncles the agony of introducing him to the Morinomiyas by keeping clear though he couldn't very well have not attended. At least now, his father couldn't say anything about him not attending.
What was supposed to be a simple 'family' dinner, a meet-and-greet, had become an ostentatious party attended by the most senior members of the family, some board members who were in the country and a couple of advisers both legal and financial. Morinomiya too had brought a cavalry of sorts. Her right hand man, Saikawa, was present along with a few key members of the Morinomiya Company, and her two adopted grandsons.
Dinner was yet to be served so the guests were all mingling and socializing in the ballroom that was rarely used for such trivial matters. He'd intended to keep to himself, away from the party, with a few glasses of wine to help pass the time before he could excuse himself without being rude.
He hadn't expected for someone to also prefer the quiet of the night though he couldn't blame the kid. A room full of stuffy old people was excruciating, even for him. Taka was most likely causing a scene and he tamped down the urge to search out his younger brother and fish him out of trouble, not without a good smack to the head.
He didn't feel like it tonight though. Taka would have to do without Hayato for the night.
He looked away from the kid dressed in a simple but doubtlessly expensive tux, sipping at his wine while enjoying the cool night's air. The balcony opened up to the view of most of the grounds, classical music floating softly from the inside out the open glass doors. At least the kid knew how to appreciate the silence, though Hayato had to admit the boy seemed a bit strange, being so used to Taka's noise and movement.
He glanced at his companion, noticing that the boy's attention had been taken by a large beetle crawling on the marble banisters. What, was the kid five or something? Though he knew if it had been Taka, the beetle would've most likely have been crushed by too eager hands.
Hayato watched, though, with nothing better to do and, really, it was such a strange thing to see. A most likely high-school kid crouching down to press close against the banisters, watching quietly, enraptured as the bug crawled along the smooth stone.
"Oi, Hayato, what do you think you're doing hiding away out here?"
Hayato turned to the familiar drawl, watching as a man older than Hayato by several years stepped out onto the balcony, his own glass of champagne in hand, hair tied back onto a loose ponytail.
"Usaida. I didn't know you were attending."
"Yeah, well, wasn't planning to but when your grouchy old boss comes up to you and orders you to attend a party, you can't really say no."
Usaida Yoshihito was one of the key legal advisers to the company, a famous lawyer who'd won double the cases of any veteran lawyer twice his age. He was a genius by most people's standards though he was notorious for his bouts of laziness and penchant for sleeping in the most inopportune times, like a board meeting or a particularly long court hearing.
He was Inomata's mentor long before Hebihara Conglomerate was able to rope him into working for them exclusively. Hayato had the misfortune of having one of Usaida's known weaknesses as a mother, Kamitani Shizuka. His mother had been Usaida's sempai in the university and she was one of the very few who could effectively keep him in line.
Usaida's constant complaints against Hayato's father were well-known though he still stayed with the company. When asked why, the older man would put on the dramatics and say that Morinomiya's chairman was a cheapskate so he stuck with Hebihara even if their chairman was a 'bully' in his words.
The quiet boy made an 'oh' sound as the beetle flitted a few feet in the air before descending back onto the marble. Usaida finally noticing the boy looked surprised and approached him, sparing Hayato the effort to converse with him.
"Kotarou! I didn't know you were out here. What are you looking at? What a nice beetle. Though I should advice you not to stay too long away from the party, especially with this creepy old man as a companion." Usaida whispered conspiratorially, jerking a thumb over his shoulder indicating Hayato. The boy just blinked, regarding Usaida then Hayato for a moment before nodding his head and turning back to the beetle which was now spanning its wings though it didn't look like it was about to fly off.
"Ah, you wound me, Kotarou-chan." Usaida exclaimed with an exaggerated faint before chuckling at his own antics.
Huh. So the kid's name was 'Kotarou'. That name was suddenly becoming quite common nowadays. Taka had kept rambling about his new best friend who he'd met in his last year of middle school. A kid named Ko-something. Though it wouldn't be farfetched that the boy Morinomiya adopted was his brother's friend since the school they'd entered was exclusive after all. Kashima had mentioned a younger brother named 'Kotarou' though. The thought caused a nagging feeling to start in the back of Hayato's mind.
Usaida was a man naturally genial but he only ever used someone's first name, sometimes with the 'chan' honorific if he genuinely liked a person, though he'd learned never to call Hayato Hayato-chan. The one time he did earned him a warning, the second, a nice purple shiner on his right eye, and the third and last had him sporting a broken nose for three weeks.
"Leave him be, Usaida." Hayato said. He was considering whether to risk a trip back inside for a refill, his wine glass already empty and he wasn't sure he would be able to keep himself from hitting the older man any longer. It wouldn't do to hit a member of your party in front of another. But he stopped mid-turn as something Usaida said suddenly stopped him in his tracks.
"Ah, but I can't leave any one of the Kashima brothers, they're just too cute, and, unfortunately, I left Ryuu-chan to the mercy of Ino-chan. Speaking of, Kotarou-chan, your older brother has been looking all over for you."
The 'Kotarou' boy had been generally impassive but he visibly perked at the mention of his older brother. Hayato barely noticed, currently focused on one thing.
"Kashima Kotarou? Kashima Ryuuichi is your older brother?"
The boy nodded. Huh. That was a surprise.
Hayato took a while to process the new information, noticing Usaida who was looking at him curiously.
"I forgot that you weren't here for the introductions earlier this evening. You could've at least done a little homework on your guests Hayato."
Hayato frowned at Usaida's bemused look.
"I've already met Kashima Ryuuichi actually. Excuse me, I'll be heading back inside now."
He didn't wait for a reply before turning on is heel, blinking slightly as the dazzling chandelier lights met his vision. He replaced his empty glass with a full one from a passing waiter, intent on finishing it before he excused himself from the party.
He'd only gone a few steps before he felt something tug on the sleeve of his tux. He looked down mid-drink to see Kashima's younger brother had followed him, hand on Hayato's sleeve.
They both stood for a moment before Hayato sighed, waving his glass away at another passing waiter.
"Need help looking for your brother?"
The boy nodded. Well, at least they understood each other. Hayato could appreciate a fellow man of few words. He allowed the boy to follow him, still holding onto Hayato's sleeve. They were generally ignored since most of the Hebihara family saw him and decidedly turned away. The few who noticed the Kashima boy following along like a kid were silenced by Hayato's cold flat eyes that stared back if they tended to gape too long.
They weaved through the edges of the dance floor, Hayato keeping out a sharp eye for his father or Morinomiya Youko. If he were Inomata, who disliked noise and general hubbub so much more than Hayato but attended out of obligation, where would he be? Most likely offending or scaring a couple of people by the refreshments table.
Sure enough, when he steered the Kashima boy and himself to the general direction of the refreshments area, he spotted his half-sister looking flustered though he couldn't make out what she was saying, still a few meters away. Then he saw a familiar looking red-head looking sheepish and rubbing at the back of his head.
"There." He said to the younger of the two Kashimas who in turn tried to see but was hindered by all the other people milling about.
Hayato could not take his eyes off of the pair, already striding forward with the teen in tow. He frowned when apparently Kashima looked to have been saying something before Inomata was dragging the other man off to a hallway that had been closed off for the party.
He brushed away the strange unpleasant feeling starting in his gut though his steps did seem a bit more determined. He entered but the two were nowhere in sight though he could hear Inomata's voice, using the tone she'd perfected as a child when she was trying to keep from blowing her lid and screaming in frustration.
They walked closer to the sound of voices, audible now that the sources were a corner away. Hayato wasn't much of an eavesdropper though wherever a certain redhead was concerned, Hayato found himself in the strangest situations, situations he wouldn't usually find himself in if he were his usual self. He stood, leaning back casually to face the other wall of the corridor, crossing his arms across his chest. He glanced at his shorter companion, quiet as ever with an indiscernible look on his face.
The hallways were dimly lit, impractical chandeliers hanging low casting a soft warm glow that didn't quite light up everything but covered every corner with soft shadows. Hayato didn't like it, the two talking in what were obviously hushed tones in a private area. He tamped down the strange feeling in his gut once again.
"I can't believe this! You're the Morinomiya heir?!"
At least Hayato wasn't the last one to know about Kashima's position in the prestigious family. He shot a look at his companion, feeling a sense of unease coming off from the kid. Hayato gave the boy, what he hoped was an assuring pat on the head, doing it a bit stiffly and awkwardly since he was used to more painful means of getting a message across.
At least the kid looked like he relaxed a bit, giving another soft nod at Hayato.
"Oh, I'm sorry. I don't mention it a lot and I'd thought that Nezu-kun would've mentioned it to you. I didn't know you were Hebihara-san's daughter."
Inomata gave a sharp hiss at the mention of Kashima's weird friend. That was interesting. The shaggy-haired man was the owner of the shop Hayato and Kashima had visited when they'd first met, Kashima telling Hayato about his old university buddy yesterday when they went to take another late night coffee after the movie had ended.
Hayato made a mental note to bring the name up, preferably within Inui's hearing. The older man was better at tormenting people in his obnoxious way anyway.
Inomata hissed something inaudible causing Kashima to apologize more. Hayato could already picture the other man's gentle smiling face, speaking in placating tones.
"I'm sorry. I hadn't known it was a secret."
"It wasn't. It just didn't last long enough for it to actually matter. He's gay."
Inomata gave a short cruel laugh at the end, as if laughing at something she'd said.
"All these years-"
They continued talking but Hayato's attention went back to the younger Kashima brother who was tugging at his sleeve, motioning towards where they'd originally come from. The kid had more sense about privacy than Hayato so he'd let himself be pulled away, loath as he was to leave Kashima and Inomata alone again.
They left the hallway though they stood as if standing on guard to its entrance. Hayato was forced to make small talk with family members whose curiosity overrode their general disapproval of Hayato's mere existence, curious as to why he was standing silently in a corner with the youngest Morinomiya grandson.
Eventually, dinner was called but the couple still hadn't emerged and Hayato was having enough of it. Inomata's secret love life or whatever be damned.
"Kotarou-" Hayato said, testing out the name quietly, "I'm going to go call them. You go on ahead and maybe nobody will notice something's a miss."
The boy looked hesitant, glancing nervously at the doors to the hallway.
"Don't worry. I'll make sure Kashima won't get into trouble."
For a moment, the kid didn't budge, only staring up at Hayato before surprising him by actually talking.
"You're Taka's older brother."
He didn't get why the kid was bringing it up, only nodding in affirmative, wondering if he should repeat his order for the boy to get going to the dining area.
"You're the Kamitani Ryuu-niisan's been talking about."
Hayato shrugged, still not getting it, already turning towards the doors to the hallway where Inomata and Kashima had run off to.
"They were right. Hayato-niisan's pretty cool."
Hayato paused at the younger boy's words, turning to look back but the kid was already walking towards the other end of the ballroom where a few waiters had stayed behind to usher him into the dining area. He had the strangest feeling of passing some sort of test for approval.
The Kashima brothers were a strange pair, Hayato thought dryly before entering the hallway.
Umi-san raised an eyebrow at him as he passed her to enter his office, giving her a curt nod. He wasn't in the mood to talk.
Fuck his father. Fuck those stupid ancient geezers. Fuck Inui acting like Kashima, no, Ryuuichi, was someone beneath him. Fuck Inomata for acting like she knew Ryuuichi.
Ok. He needed to calm the fuck down. He checked his private phone for any messages, suddenly feeling all the anger rush out of him as a familiar face and name blinked up at him from the screen.
Since the almost disastrous 'family' dinner, he'd wondered all month long as to what his father and Morinomiya were plotting. Now that he knew, now that he'd gotten himself involved, he felt an overwhelming sense of unease fill him.
They'd hung-out together a couple more times after the dinner, Ryuuichi and him, the shorter man insisting he call the other by his first name. He'd insisted in turn but Ryuuichi kept stumbling over Hayato's name, blushing like a school girl when Hayato had thought he couldn't get any redder after he'd tried Ryuuichi's name on his tongue.
The days since had seen Hayato in the best of moods and he'd foolishly ignored the nagging thought in his mind questioning the purpose of the dinner other than meeting a rival company. This was worse than a merger or a consolidation, worse than the company being bought out. In Hayato's opinion anyway. Everyone viewed the alliance as the best thing that could happen between two hulking companies whose influence extended globally. At what sacrifice though?
Hayato resisted the urge to call Ryuuichi, satisfying himself with staring at the smiley emoticons that accompanied simple greetings like 'hope you ate well' or nonsensical things like 'just hired a new social worker, teaching them the ropes'.
In less than a week, Hayato'd found himself gravitating toward the shorter man, relishing each message or phone call that were made with no other purpose other than to say hello.
Business had been stressful as usual but he'd catch himself texting back or calling if he could at odd times of the day, people who knew him noticing the change, especially his perceptive mother and even fucking Usaida.
Now though, now, he couldn't read the short messages without feeling a sense of guilt.
His business phone buzzed. He checked it before chucking it at one of the expensive recliners of his office.
Usaida had texted his business phone, where the older man usually texted Hayato's private phone.
"The papers have already been drawn. We have already contacted Morinomiya-sama and negotiations are underway."
Hayato barked out a humorless laugh, reading another message from Usaida, this time on his private phone.
"I'm sorry, kid."
Sorry. Sorry indeed. The only people who were going to be fucking sorry was Ryuuichi and himself. Ryuuichi more so.
In the short time he'd known the man, the most honest person he'd ever known, the first person Hayato had felt a true sense of belonging with, he'd discovered that he'd come to rely on the Ryuuichi's smiles, his laughter, his worried scolding.
They'd gone out as friends, getting closer by the day, maybe even by the hour. He'd met Morinomiya Youko in her own home, had accompanied Ryuuichi to Taka and Kotarou's first high-school festival.
If their schedules weren't so busy, they made it a point to grab lunch together, even dinner if Hayato wasn't off to a different corner of the world and Ryuuichi's coworkers forced him to leave early. And then there were those late night coffee breaks that had become a sort of ritual between the two of them. Hayato had met Nezu Chuukichi and the other Nezu siblings twice already.(One time they were unfortunate to find Yagi Tomoya there to pick up his boyfriend and Ryuuichi had thought the man perfectly nice, albeit a bit strange)
If he had time, he'd accompany Ryuuichi in fetching Kotarou, which ended up with him dropping off Taka at home before heading back to the office which he hadn't done since his high-school days. Shizuka had been unbearably on his case about it. Then she'd met Ryuuichi and learned the reason why the chore of picking up Taka from school(even if he didn't need to be, and so did Kotarou) had been revived and she'd been unbearably ecstatic.
Kotarou had his private number, even Morinomiya's weird right hand man, Saikawa, had his number.
Fuck this, Hayato thought. Slumping himself down onto his chair, giving in to the urge of burying his face in his hands and losing his composure for the first time in years since Taka had been labeled a bastard and the family had refused to accept him officially.
Since meeting Kashima Ryuuichi, Hayato's life was filled with interesting things at every turn. The funny thing was that by maybe binding the guy to him for life, he risked losing all of it, Ryuuichi's kindness, Ryuuichi's understanding, Ryuuichi's friendship, Ryuuichi's trust.
Hayato had only ever truly wanted a few things in his life, and the thing he wanted the most at the moment, a want that suspiciously felt like a need, he was at risk of losing. He would be binding Ryuuichi to him and maybe even betraying a person he'd come to truly care for.
Forgive me, Ryuuichi.
So this was the second half to the previous chapter which I had to cut.
Ryuu's POV is coming next with a couple of others'. Which means fluffy-fluffy. Mostly. I guess. Heh. I promise there won't be a whole lot of drama. Much.
I think this will be the only time-skip-ey thing for this story though in the manga, there's almost always a time-skip in between chapters, months long even.
Keep in mind that these are POV's, points of view of the different characters because I suck at doing the other thing you do with writing a story, so there's some stuff going on that the characters don't know about. Hurhurhur.
I am itching, itching to write something that will make me change the rating into an 'M' but I'll warn you guys if it does eventually happen and it will most likely be contained in a chapter so some can just skip if it isn't your thing.
Reviews make me happy, so, uh, you know...