Chapter One: Let's Play a Lovegame

Yasha thinks Kujaku's a little… odd, yet quite desirable. Kujaku thinks Yasha needs to have fun, and it's his solemn duty to show him a good time.

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(Author's Notes: Here it is, the tale of Yasha the grumpy assistant and Kujaku the off-the-wall secretary! Welcome to the first installment of the prequel/behind-the-scenes/sequel of "Adele." It'll all make sense later, really.

I'd really recommend reading that one first, because although this first installment takes place before Shashi shows back up, most later chapters will take place during and after the events of that fic, and there are lots of spoilers in this one. You don't have to read it first until chapter 7 here, but it would sure help. And each installment has different main characters, but of course everybody shows up in others where they're not the protagonists.

Oh, just so you know, Kujaku's dad isn't Tentei, because I couldn't work that in believably. Mr. Vern Kujaku is the CEO of Tenkai Corporation [for now], but we don't see him very much so it's not a big deal.

Warnings: homosexuality [duh], mention of self-pleasure, alcohol consumption, violent flights of fancy, Kujaku dating women and hopping into bed with at least one of them, and Yasha being somewhat pervy. And adult language, and un-explicit mansex, and Vahyu abuse. Oh, and no Ashura as Yasha's ward/adopted son/whatever creepy sort of love interest CLAMP made him into by the end. Plus shameless utilization of Lady Gaga's "Lovegame."

If you can handle all those warnings, prepare for paperclip sculptures, unsuspecting Bishamonten, and fangirls attacking poor Yasha. Plus a number of Monty Python references. Also, since this site refuses to let you type email or web addresses even if they're part of the story as they are here, you'll just have to deal with some nonsense to make sense of such things. Silly site.)

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(July 16th, 2001, in a club called "Caliente")

"Why sure you can buy me a drink," Victor Kujaku smiled at the babe on his right, his shirt completely open and his sunglasses on top of his head. "That's very progressive of you."

It was Miami during the summer, and the club was jumpin'. Sexiness abounded, dirty dancing was the order of the day, and the deejay wouldn't stop scratching the discs and yelling things like, "Hootie-hooo!" It was quite a change from the skyscraper of Tenkai Corporation, Kujaku knew. He'd hated ties, his CEO dad had insisted that he refrain from jokes, and all the other executives had politely declined his heartfelt invitations to a dance party. Stick-in-the-muds, all of them.

Why, the head of Expansion, one Arthur Taishakuten, had given him a downright scathing look before he returned to his email, the one whose heading said "Revolution." Kujaku had managed to see who it was going to be sent to before Taishakuten had minimized the thing: rbishamonten at northland (period) (nettle), azouchouten at castlesouth (period) (comma), djikokuten at namaste (period) (nettle), and xkoumokuten at battlefield (period) (comma).

Kujaku had gotten the distinct sense that maybe his dad should be alerted, but heck, it wasn't his problem, because that very week he'd resigned and hopped into his Mercedes for Florida. So what if Taishie (no one ever called that man "Arthur") was planning a takeover? Kujaku was going to Miami, baby, where every day was a party and he'd never have to see a pie chart again!

That had been a year ago, and while there had been no pie charts, he was getting a little tired of all the partying. It had been fun at first, but really, how many wet t-shirt contests could you watch before you got tired of fake boobs? How many piña coladas could you imbibe before you started to shudder at the sight of a pineapple?

Oh well. Maybe Progressive Babe would actually have an intelligent conversation with him instead of trying to get into his pants. She grinned at him and waved the bartender over, asking, "What would you like?"

He thought for a moment. So far this year he'd had every kind of drink known to man (or close enough), and only half of them had been good. So…

"I'd like a mimosa, please," he smiled, fiddling with his necklace. It was a slender chain with an enameled crow pendant in stainless steel, and he liked it better than the giant platinum "YO" neck bling he'd started out with. It was much more true to his character.

"A mimosa it is," she cooed, and the bartender obediently went to make it. "So, my name's Yvonne. What's yours?"

"Fred," he lied cheerfully, because her name probably wasn't Yvonne and there was no sense leaving clues for a stalker to follow. He'd just gotten rid of one, and it sucked. Why did some women think a nice guy with a nice body could be ignored when he said he wasn't interested?

"So, Fred… do you come here a lot?" she asked, pushing a strand of bright pink hair behind her ear. Clearly this one was a rebel as well as progressive, which Kujaku took to be a good sign. He liked rebels.

"Oh, just about every night," he replied, which was true. Being a wealthy CEO's son meant he hadn't had to work, which he now was thinking had been a bad move. After all, he was getting so damn bored, and a job would provide structure, for real.

"You must be a real partier," she smiled. "I guess you must deal with the inevitable hangovers well, because otherwise you'd lose your job!"

Kujaku considered saying, "I don't have a job, I don't need one," but that would probably make little dollar signs pop up in her eyes, and she'd try to make him fall in love with her. Or just sire a child with her, which would mean hefty child support payments. What an awful thing to do, but it happened, no one could deny that.

So he chuckled, "Oh, I can hold my liquor. Lots of practice! But yeah, at first it was an uphill struggle. So, do you come here a lot?"

"Every so often," she told him, still smiling. "You know, I'm honestly not one for partying day in, day out. It's certainly fun, but y'know, it kinda gets stale after a while. I do enjoy it every now and again, but doing it constantly is something I'd rather not do."

Kujaku lit up. A kindred soul!

"That is so true," he told her fervently. "Yvonne, I was just thinking that it gets boring! It's getting to the point where I want to just hang out at home, and that would be more fun."

"So why do you keep doing it?" she asked him, patting his shoulder almost maternally. "Is it because you don't know what else to do? People can get addicted to partying, you know, leaving aside all the alcohol and the occasional drugs. Maybe it's time to take a step back and think about what's most important to you."

"That's the thing," he sighed as the bartender set his drink in front of him. "I don't know what I want. It's like I'm just kinda… loose from my moorings, and I need something or somebody to tie me down again, in a beneficial way."

"Hmm."

She thought for a moment as he sipped his drink. It was good, he'd always liked mimosas, but he'd had so many lately that they too were becoming passé to his needing-to-be-stimulated self. He honestly could hold his liquor very well, but he tended not to get smashed just for the sake of getting smashed.

But maybe, just maybe, this woman might provide that mental stimulation. She seemed nice, and intelligent, and insightful, and she didn't like the clubs too much either. Unless of course she was just lying, but he had the sense she wasn't. Maybe the universe had decided that Victor Vernal Kujaku had been lonely and bored long enough, and had sent him a pal who might become something more.

"Listen, Fred," she finally sighed, "you seem like a nice guy. I think what you need to do is find a purpose. Doesn't have to be a woman, doesn't have to be a friend, doesn't even have to be a job, but maybe you should consider giving something back. Volunteering, perhaps. I volunteer at the homeless shelter, and it's very rewarding. Trying at times, but ultimately rewarding."

"Did you come over here just to give me a direction?" he asked seriously. "Did you see how I'm not really having fun, and wanted to help? If so…"

"Well, no," she told him with a smile. "But I mean it anyway. I came over for a different reason, actually, one you probably don't suspect. See, my boyfriend and I recently decided that we'd –"

"Break up?" Kujaku asked a bit desperately, because a woman with a boyfriend was not someone he wanted to get involved with. Nuh-uh, no chance, sorry pal.

"Add someone else," she said quickly, and before he could respond she rushed on, "Now, you wouldn't have to do anything with him, and –"

"Absolutely, positively, over my dead body no," he snapped. Not only had she only come over here to try to get him to have sex with her, she wanted to involve him in a ménage a trois! Which he had no desire to do, and so much for liking this rebel.

She sighed, looking very disappointed, but backed off with much more grace than he'd expected: "Oh, all right. Too bad, I like you. Well, anyway, I hope you find something worthwhile soon, Fred," she smiled, and with a wave she stood up and left.

Kujaku glared at her retreating back, which had a neat tattoo of a koi, and drained his mimosa grumpily. See, clubs were not the place to look for a life partner, or even an honest heart-to-heart conversation. Starting tomorrow, he'd…

Hmm. He'd hang out at the beach all by himself? He'd go to a museum? He'd try to get back into working? He'd shut all his shades and watch a marathon of every "Rocky" movie ever made, and give up on doing something with his life? Well, not that last one, but it was time to face the fact that he was adrift in a sea of meaningless sex and shallow relationships. And (he glowered at the deejay) really dumb hip-hop music.

So he set his glass down with more force than was necessary, stood up, and walked out the door with a frown still on his face. His car, his lovely black Mercedes with the license plate holder of a tribal design, gleamed in the light of the parking lot when he reached it. He took good care of that car, it had gotten him all the way down here, and he sometimes talked to it like it was a pet or a baby.

"Car," he grumbled as he unlocked it, "we are never coming back to Caliente again. Instead, we're going to find a new scene. She had a point about the worthwhile thing, so maybe I will look into volunteering. And there's one nice thing to come out of this: I'll never have to hear a bad mix of a good song again if I don't want to."

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The next morning was a laid-back one. Instead of partying on the beach for the zillionth time, Kujaku spent it reading the paper and brainstorming ideas for what he could do with his life. At eleven-thirty in the morning he put his pen down and sighed, because he hadn't gotten anything really jumping out at him, and he had something to do anyway.

It was time to water the plants. Kujaku liked his plants, because they all had names and listened very attentively whenever he talked about his problems. There were five of them: Milo the spider plant, Binkley the orchid, Opus the potted fern, Bill the cactus, and Oliver the potted palm. Bill rarely needed water, and Kujaku had marked on his calendar the days when he did, but Opus needed water near-constantly and everybody else needed it daily. Kujaku kept a special watering can near Oliver, and a spray bottle near Opus because ferns liked to be misted. He got watered too, but the misting was a ritual.

Just as he was raising the spray bottle, his phone rang. He rolled his eyes, pulled his cell out, and blinked in surprise at the number displayed. That was his parents' number. For the first few months he'd been down here they'd called constantly, but they'd then figured out that he wasn't coming back. His father, Vern, had made a lot of "prodigal son" speeches, and his mother Sonya had begged and wheedled and cajoled, but nada. He loved them and all, but they were annoying, honestly.

But they hadn't called for weeks, and then it was always in the evening. What was so important that they'd call in the late morning? Had someone died? He sure hoped not. Or maybe Vern's blood pressure had finally gotten too high and he'd had a stroke? Ditto.

"Hello?" Kujaku said warily. "Mom? Dad? What's up?"

"Victor," Vern bawled, "that bastard Taishakuten from Expansion toppled me! He got four heads of smaller companies to band together and buy a majority share, and he persuaded all the executives from ours to vote me off the board!"

"Bummer," Kujaku shrugged, spritzing Opus.

"No son, this goes beyond 'bummer'!" Vern snarled, and Kujaku could picture his dad banging his fist down onto the kitchen table. "I barely escaped with my golden parachute! I'm left with mere millions!" he said dramatically, with no concept whatsoever of how incredibly spoiled and lucky he sounded.

"That sucks," Kujaku replied breezily, pinching off a stray bud. "What're you gonna do now?"

Silence, then Sonya's voice could be heard, wailing, "Victor, what did you say to your father?! He's crying into his hands!" she snapped, and he could picture her shaking a finger at the phone like he could see her.

"Mom, he needs to lighten up," Kujaku sighed as he went back into the kitchen to refill the spritzer. "He always said working so hard elevated his blood pressure, so now he can concentrate on his hobbies! Give him another model airplane kit, it'll make him feel better."

"It's the principle of the thing," she hissed. "His own underling overthrew him! And promoted outsiders into the positions of Senior Vice Presidents!"

"They must be so proud of their clever little ploy," Kujaku smiled. "Do you think they're wearing party hats right now and singing 'Hail to the Chief' while Taishakuten goes through Dad's desk?" That was an exceedingly amusing mental image, and he barely refrained from snickering.

"Victor!" Sonya downright howled. "This is not funny! Your father was betrayed by the board and tossed out on his ear! Taishakuten even took his parking spot after having his car towed!"

"What a bastard," Kujaku said solemnly, then ruined it with, "Do you think he'll keep Casual Fridays?"

Angry silence, then Sonya gritted, "Be serious for once in your life. Just think what would have happened to you if you hadn't bailed on your poor father and run off to Miami! You would have been fired too, and Taishakuten would have given your position to one of those cutthroat minions of his! They're walking around the office like they own it, and one of the executive secretaries did the brave thing and quit before she had to work for this new regime! I want to send each and every one of them a mail bomb."

Kujaku was about to point out that if the minions had a majority share they did, in fact, own Tenkai Corporation, but he desisted. Instead, an idea had been planted in his mind.

Being an executive had sucked, but being a secretary… that would provide a challenge, and this way no one would bow and scrape as he walked past, because Vern was old hat anyway! Yes, he could continue at business, which he was brilliant at, but have a life outside of the office. Plus he wouldn't have to feel bad about stepping on the little people, because he wouldn't have that power.

So after he hung up, he turned on his computer and researched the new regime at Tenkai Corporation. It was a small story in the business news community, as Tenkai Corporation wasn't a giant in the industry, but it was enough to tell him that his parents had been accurate. Good ol' Arthur Taishakuten had allied himself with four cronies, all of which were former CEOs or high-ranking executives in even smaller companies prior to this. Kujaku sure hoped they knew what they'd gotten themselves into, because Taishakuten was bordering on a sociopath.

But it was true: they were now the new heads of Expansion, Marketing, Research and Development, and Real Estate. Kujaku crossed his fingers that the R & D guy would treat his people well, because he had fond memories of many of them.

Kujaku had been hired straight out of college as an executive, overwhelmingly because he was Vern's only child. He was very good at business, but everyone else had to start out small and work their ways up, as was the logical course of action. Many of them had resented him, but a greater number had actually come to like him a lot, they just thought he shouldn't be the Senior Vice President of Research and Development.

So he spent hours pulling up info on all the minions, and especially on Taishakuten, and drew up his plan of attack. It would be bold, full-frontal, and he wouldn't take "no" for an answer! He would walk into that CEO's office and demand a meeting, and his charm and intelligence would take care of the rest.

And he would call the guy "Artie," he decided. Such an irreverent nickname might very well knock Taishakuten for a loop, thus giving Kujaku an advantage. If there was one thing he'd learned, it was that when people got flustered, they agreed to things they wouldn't have otherwise.

Singing an inspiring song ("All or Nothing" by Cher), he got himself a plane ticket back to Zenmi for tomorrow, and a hotel room, because staying in Vern's house while he was trying to get a job with Taishakuten would be a recipe for disaster. If he got the job he'd get an apartment or maybe a house, but first he needed to convince "Artie" to hire him.

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At ten o'clock the next morning, Kujaku strolled on into the lobby of the Tenkai Corporation skyscraper like he had every right to be there. The two security guards on duty looked at him, did a double take, and gasped aloud. Yes, the prodigal son had returned!

"Hey guys!" he greeted with a wave. "It's been a while, huh?"

The security, whose names were Tanya and Tony, waved back, and Tony said incredulously, "Well look who's here! I thought you swore you'd never set foot in this skyscraper ever again, Victor."

Kujaku had made a habit of being nice to the low-level cogs in the Tenkai Corporation machinery, unlike most executives. He'd known them by name for one, and asked how they were doing, and given them little gift baskets when it was their birthdays. They'd remembered this, and more than one of the security force had been sad to see him go.

"So, I'd like to go through please," he said, as matter-of-factly as he could. "Important business, doncha know. I'm back here to throw myself into this company again, and this time, I'll stay with it."

"Oh, has Mr. Taishakuten offered you a position?" Tony asked hopefully.

"He sure has!" Kujaku lied, so well no one would suspect it. "But it's all hush-hush, which is why it's probably not on your security list. Can't say any more, you know how these deals work," he finished, giving them a conspiratorial wink.

And they bought it. They handed him a visitor's pass, and waved as he headed to the elevators. He waved back, a cheery smile on his face, and couldn't help but hope that if things went wrong, Taishakuten would believe them when they said he'd used his silver tongue to get past them, and they weren't at fault.

But before he headed to Taishakuten's floor, he stopped at the one below it: his old stomping grounds, the Senior VP level. He was curious as to what the new guys were like, and so he strolled down the hallway alert for any new faces throwing their weight around.

"HA-ha-ha-ha-HAA!"

At this diabolical laugh, Kujaku turned around, intrigued. Bertram Hiddleby, the old head of Marketing, was cowering and scuttling out of the door to his office, his elderly face set in a mask of what looked like terror. The reason for this apprehension? A tall man clad all in black, no suit jacket and a tie that had little red skulls on it, grinning and shoving a box into Bertram's hands. His eyes were incredibly creepy, his face was long and had prominent cheekbones, and the almost gleefully evil smile he wore clinched Kujaku's appraisal: bad guy.

"So Bertie," he chortled nastily, flicking a low ponytail back over his shoulder, "enjoy your forced retirement. This is the dawn of a new era in Marketing, that of Xavier Koumokuten! HA-ha-ha-HA!"

Bertram quavered, "Please… please, treat my assistants well! They're good people! And Charles has a sick mother, and –"

"Sucks to be that broad," Koumokuten said breezily. "Don't tell me how to treat my underlings, Bertie. Oh, and here's your grandkid's picture."

He dumped a framed photo into the box, sneering, "I don't need it. And by the way, my daughter was much cuter than that! She could've won one of those 'Beautiful Baby' photo contests, and this kid has a pig-snout nose and weird hair."

Kujaku wondered if he should step in and defend Bertram here. The old man was a kindly gent who doted on his young grandson and gave his employees generous holiday bonuses, something Kujaku could already tell this Koumokuten character wouldn't do. Not to mention that Bertram kept getting awards from his church for "Kindness in Business."

He was just opening his mouth to say something, but Bertram was already sighing, "Good luck to you then," and hurrying down the hallway. Koumokuten went back into his new office with a triumphant expression on his face, humming "Bad to the Bone." Kujaku blinked, and filled in the "Marketing VP" mental box with the word "villain."

"Xavier is a very… belligerent man," a calm male voice came from behind Kujaku. He turned to see another tall man, this one with his low ponytail half gathered and a tie with the "OHM" symbol. He looked almost serene, and was smiling like he knew everything would all work out in the end.

"Hi," Kujaku greeted, fully prepared to launch into a lie about how he was from the government, here to make sure things were legal. "My name's Victor Johnson. What's yours?"

"I'm Darrel Jikokuten," the other man replied, "and I do believe your last name is 'Kujaku,' not 'Johnson.' The former CEO's son, if I'm not mistaken. How lovely to meet you."

Hmm, this one was more observant than Koumokuten. Kujaku wondered if he should try to lie, but Jikokuten was looking him right in the eye, smiling a bit and with one eyebrow raised. Clearly, he knew what he was talking about, and a lie would just mean trouble sooner rather than later. So Kujaku shrugged, held his palms up, and nervously grinned, "Guilty as charged, Darrel."

"So what brings you back here, Victor Kujaku?" Jikokuten asked solemnly. "I hope it's not revenge of some sort, as you will not only fail and be punished, it will come back to haunt you. It's best to accept the things we cannot change, and I can assure you, you cannot change Taishakuten's control over this company."

"No, not revenge," Kujaku told him firmly. "I actually wanna be part of this. I'm not here to engage in corporate espionage, just to ask for a job."

"Life moves in cycles," Jikokuten murmured, a slight, knowing smile on his face. "We keep coming back to places, people, and situations we or people associated with us know. The rhythm of our lives ebbs and flows, and if we just pay attention to it, it will tell us where we need to be."

Most businesspeople would have snorted, "Um, Darrel? This isn't philosophy class, and you sound like a New-Age wacko, not an executive. Go back to your office and help crush Tenkai Corporation's enemies, you loony." But Kujaku was impressed. Finally, a businessman with a spiritual side! Maybe he'd found a friend here. So he complimented, "That's very insightful. Sounds rather Eastern in philosophy."

"Well, I am a Buddhist," Jikokuten informed him. "You will see that I incorporate many teachings of Siddhartha Gautama into my life, and my work. Would you like some tea? I always have some green tea ready," he offered with a broader smile.

"I'd love to have some, but I have to be going. I need to talk to Taishakuten, that's why I'm here," Kujaku regretfully replied. "But listen, if I succeed here and get hired, I'll take you up on that offer, Darrel ol' pal. Er, new pal, but you get the drift, I hope," he said gaily, turning to go with a wave.

And Kujaku did get his secretary's position. Taishakuten assigned him to the second-most powerful man in the company, Reginald Bishamonten, the new Senior Vice President of Expansion. Bishamonten was pleased with his new underling's intelligence, dedication, and hard work, but not so pleased by his ways of occupying himself when he'd finished what he'd been ordered to do.

Kujaku was very good at business. One might even say he was exceptional at it, and as such was able to fly through his tasks and fool around. Bishamonten was reluctant to give up the best secretary he'd ever had, and decided that surely, surely Kujaku would soon settle down into normalcy.

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(January 21st, 2008)

James Yasha took a deep breath and centered himself as the elevator climbed ever higher. Oh, interviews were never fun, and this one was kind of his "stretching it" interview, the one for his dream position. His current job wasn't challenging at all, but this one would be, very much so.

Assistant to a Senior Vice President, in the company dubbed "The corporation to keep an eye on for the next ten years, and certainly the biggest climber we've ever seen" by "Business Weekly": Tenkai Corporation, purveyor of electronic gadgets that was starting to rival Microsoft. Its CEO had taken a merely okay company and turned it into a phenomenal, worldwide company, in only seven years. Amazing.

He stepped out of the elevator, asked a passing woman in the halls which way to Mr. Bishamonten's office, and found it in no time at all. Opening the outer door, he was greeted with the sight of a handsome man with purple eyes and purplish-black hair typing furiously, humming a little tune to himself. Before Yasha could introduce himself, the man spoke.

"Ah, you must be the next contestant! Welcome, welcome. You are here for the interview, yes?" he asked, smiling a brilliant smile.

"I am. I'm James Yasha."

"Great," the apparent secretary grinned. "Just so you know, you're number seven. Lucky number seven, hopefully! And there's no less than eight more after you, and most of the applicants didn't make it to the interview stage."

"The position opened up suddenly," Yasha said cautiously. "I was just lucky to have refreshed the page, because it was there from one second to the next, and I'm sure there were a lot of applicants. Do you know why his last assistant left?"

"Klaus set his desk on fire," the secretary said cheerfully. "It was hilarious! Reginald had been ripping into him for all his mistakes, and he just snapped. He pulled out his lighter, and before Reginald could do anything he ignited the pile of papers on the desk, screaming about sticking it to the man. Then the smoke detector went off and the sprinklers came on, soaking both of them and putting the fire out, but not before the desk caught fire too. I'd come in to see what all the screaming was about, and I saw Reginald vault the desk and start to strangle him!

"So needless to say," he finished with a grin, "Klaus doesn't work here anymore."

Yasha simply stared for a moment, a sudden seed of hope sprouting in his soul. He would never set anyone's desk on fire, and he was good at taking abuse and never saying a word in return. Maybe this executive was a terror, which would work to Yasha's advantage. He could deal with terrors, a lot better than most people could.

"Anyway, go ahead and take a seat," the secretary said cheerfully. "He'll be out soon, he's good about being punctual. But he likes to make interviewees wait, y'know, just to make 'em sweat. To see if they'll crack under pressure, although I somehow have the sense it would take a major disaster to make you crack."

"Yes, I'm very calm," Yasha assured him, sitting down and folding his hands in his lap. "It's one of my strengths, being able to handle stress."

The secretary nodded, smiled some more, and went back to his typing. For a few minutes there was near-silence as Yasha visualized himself doing well and the other man rapidly compiled a table of contents… and then the phone rang.

With an evil grin, the secretary picked the phone up and sang, " 'Allo, you 'ave reached zee offeece of Rezzinald Beeshamontahn! I am Veector, 'ow may I 'elp you today?"

If Yasha hadn't just been talking to him in regular English, he would have sworn that man was French. As it was, his jaw dropped at this insane method of communication. What the heck was going on here? Was the guy bipolar, or something?

"Oh no, 'e is bizee right now! But eef you leave your contact eenformation, I shall make sure 'e calls you back, very fast! …Paul Zohnsen? …Zat eez what I zaid! Paul Zohnsen! …J-O-H-N-S-O-N, my good man. …Oh-ho-ho-ho, no, I am French! Why do you theenk I 'ave zees outrageous accént?"

Yasha was just wondering if the guy had recently watched "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" when the door slammed open, and a new voice barked, "Victor! You are not French! Stop this idiocy, I mean it!"

Yasha stared at the man he hoped to work for. Reginald Bishamonten had, to be blunt, the silliest hair he'd ever seen. It was bright red, bordering on fuchsia, and the style was insane: short front and sides, long strands in front of his ears, and the rest in a long, high ponytail. He did have a very handsome face and very lovely eyes, but sheesh.

He caught sight of Yasha and smiled, "Ah. Mr. Yasha. Please ignore the dolt of a secretary and come back to my office."

Yasha obeyed, and as he closed the door behind him, he heard the dolt of a secretary say seriously, "Oh, no no no! I am from Lyons, not Paree! But Monsieur Zohnsen, I am sure 'e weel call you back soon…"

The interview went well. Very well, in fact. Yasha began to have the sense that just maybe, he might get this dream job. Well, he was exceptional at what he did, and he poured a lot of time and effort into staying that way. He kept abreast of any developments there might be the remotest chance of him having to know about, and he was good with technology too.

"Your application mentions that you're a double black belt in taekwondo," Bishamonten murmured, after much discussion of what Yasha would do in a number of hypothetical situations. "That to me demonstrates that you're dedicated, because one doesn't get to be that advanced without an awful lot of hard work. Do you compete, or do you simply teach?"

"I do both, sir," Yasha responded, feeling a bit proud. "I've won numerous awards, and I think it's important to pass on to others what I've learned."

"That's a good attitude to have," Bishamonten complimented with a slight smile. "Applying your talents is something everyone should do. For example, my wife is a painter, and she recently finished a piece she's donating to a charity auction for battered women. But in the business sense, application of one's talents is even more important."

The rest of the interview went just as well, maybe even better, so when Yasha found a message on his phone only six days later, he had good reason to believe he'd gotten the job. And when he promptly returned the call in the men's room of his current office for cover, he was offered the position.

Ha! No more would he have to work for a boss who would hit on him in between demanding stupid things, and relying on him to do her work for her. So goodbye, Sharon Smith, because now he would be working for a straight man, one who had the reputation of being very hardworking and dedicated.

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When he showed up extra early the next day, he was correct that this would make a good impression. In fact, he got the same elevator as Bishamonten. After much shaking of hands and thanks for hiring Yasha, and assurances that he'd work incredibly hard, they entered the reception area to find the not-French secretary already there, hanging up his coat and humming.

"And this," Bishamonten nodded to him, "is Victor Kujaku, my secretary. I'm sure you two will get on famously."

"We'll be fast friends," Kujaku said exuberantly, seizing Yasha's hand and pumping it up and down. "I had a hunch this one would get the job, Reginald! He'll be a good fit, I can tell already, and he won't set your desk on fire, I'll bet you my entire comic book collection.

"I wanna sing him a song of welcome," he continued, bright as could be. "Something like, oh… 'Welcome James – You'll learn our names – We like making gobs of money – Reginald's hairstyle's really funny!' "

"Right, stop that. Silly," Bishamonten snapped, just like a British colonel who brooked no silliness. All he needed were the uniform, the hat, the accent, and a Graham Chapman mustache, Yasha couldn't help but think. And the riding crop, for good measure.

Bishamonten continued, "Now, James, for the first few days I expect you to make some mistakes, it's only natural. For the first few weeks, I will forgive you any, because there's a lot to learn. However, I have the expectation that you will endeavor to learn as much and as fast as you can, and try to minimize those slip-ups whenever possible."

But Yasha made very few mistakes, considering. Bishamonten said a lot, but Yasha had an exceptional memory and picked things up fast. So finally Bishamonten smiled, "Well, take a lunch break, James. You've earned it. The cafeteria's on the same floor as the lobby, clearly labeled and on the left from the elevators."

When Yasha exited Bishamonten's office, he found a startling sight. Kujaku was adding paperclips to some sort of sculpture, which could have been the bare bones of an Eastern dragon. It was long and thin, and had four legs, a thin tail, and a triangular head. The paperclips had all been twisted out of their normal shape and re-twisted into a myriad of others, and Kujaku was obviously having fun with this.

"Why are you doing that instead of working?" Yasha asked snappishly. "And what is it?"

"It's gonna be a ferret," Kujaku said proudly. "When I get to the outer part, I'll use silver paperclips for most of it and black and white paperclips for the appropriate coloration, like on its feet and head and tail. Cool, huh? It's gonna be a happy ferret, frozen in the act of bouncing around."

Yasha was nonplussed. What kind of secretary was this? Maybe this was all some sort of elaborate prank, just to see what he'd do.

"You should be working," he lectured, his hands on his hips. "Or I'm going to tell Mr. Bishamonten. This is an office, not an art studio, and if you were trying to make me say something like, 'I want to slack off too, don't tell him,' you're doomed to disappointment."

"Oh no, this is no trap!" Kujaku laughed. "And I finished all my assignments for now. This is just for when I'm bored! Reginald hasn't written me up or fired me for it yet, so it's okay. You heading to lunch? I'd go with you but I've already eaten, so tomorrow maybe."

"All right," Yasha said over his shoulder. "But I'm still mentioning this to Mr. Bishamonten."

When he reached the cafeteria, he was confronted with a smorgasbord of choices. He decided to go with spaghetti and meatballs, he liked that. He was just thanking the cafeteria worker for his plate of it when someone purred, "Well well. I haven't seen you here before."

He turned around to see a man with wavy, blond hair; a face that rivaled some women's in beauty; and pants that were far too tight to be normal business attire. He was standing a little too close for comfort, and Yasha warily replied, "This is my first day. I'm Mr. Bishamonten's new assistant, James Yasha."

"I," the other man said proudly, "am Charles Vahyu, head of the Advertising division. You will find that without me, we'd be making a lot less money. I am a creative genius, and as such am given the leeway to do what I want in this company. Xavie – Mr. Koumokuten to everyone else – often says I'm indispensable," he bragged, tossing that gorgeous head of hair.

Yasha hadn't met Koumokuten yet, but Kujaku had described him as "the violent-minded mutha to end all violent-minded muthas, and ugly enough to make small children cry for their mommies. Everybody here hates him, except for Taishakuten and his fellow Senior VPs. But you didn't hear that from me."

"Anyway, I noticed you from my spot and decided to introduce myself," Vahyu continued. "You seem to be a fine figure of a man, with such long hair."

"I'm, um, nothing special," Yasha cautiously returned. Was the guy setting him up for some sort of cutting comment?

"I just love men with long hair," Vahyu purred, reaching a hand out to toy with a dark brown strand as Yasha stared in shock. "James… you want to join me for lunch? I can show you my tongue trick with a hotdog."

As people either gasped at this audacity or started giggling in the background, Yasha was suddenly furious. What kind of perv was this?! Didn't the man realize that was killer ammo for a lawsuit? And nobody touched him without his say-so unless he was sparring! So without a word, he lifted up his lunch tray and dumped the spaghetti over Vahyu's well-conditioned, perfectly styled, and very pretty head.

"NO!" he snarled as the cafeteria workers started cheering. "Leave me alone!"

Vahyu gasped in furious shock, a meatball falling onto the floor as he did so, and Yasha wondered if he were about to attack him while screeching something like, "Tomato sauce is bad for my follicles!"

A sudden bass guffaw and applause from behind him made Yasha turn, his face still red in anger, as Vahyu clenched his hands into trembling fists but resisted any bitchslapping. A tall man with incredibly broad shoulders and a barrel chest grinned at Yasha, and he blinked in surprise at his (blue) facial hair.

Sideburns? Technically, but I've never seen sideburns that long. What is with this company and its odd hairstyles? Yasha couldn't help but wonder.

"I think you just hit on the wrong man, Charles," the big guy drawled, his voice a deep bass. "Maybe that'll teach you a lesson, but somehow I doubt you'll learn anything from this. So, who might you be?" he directed at Yasha.

"James. James Yasha," he answered, smirking nastily without realizing what he was doing. "I'm –"

"Ah, Reginald's new assistant. Welcome. My name's Aaron Zouchouten. I'm the Senior Vice President of Research and Development, and we'll be seeing a lot of each other. Almost every morning, Taishakuten and his 'Generals of the Boardroom' have a briefing, but today we didn't since Reginald was training you in," Zouchouten smiled.

"That's an, um, interesting nickname for the three of you," Yasha pointed out as he got some more spaghetti, and Vahyu stomped off to the bathroom to try to salvage his shirt.

"There used to be four of us," Zouchouten responded, sounding rather amused. "But Darrel, the head of Real Estate, decided he wanted to be a Buddhist monk in Nepal instead. We've got a Vice President of Real Estate now, but not a Senior Vice President of Real Estate. Personally, I wish him well, but Xavier and Reginald think he's insane and probably on something.

"Anyway, Taishakuten likes war metaphors. You'll learn that very quickly, I think. Here's some advice, James: treat the man as a god, and you'll be all right."

Yasha remembered that when it was a couple hours later, as he and Bishamonten headed to a conference room for a meeting with Taishakuten. On the way, they passed a beautiful woman with thick glasses, white hair worn in an elaborate and exotic style (two twists and a low ponytail), and a resigned expression.

"He's running a little late today, sir," she informed Bishamonten, then noticed Yasha and smiled, "And who's this?"

For what had to have been the tenth time today, Yasha introduced himself. He was starting to wish he had one of those "Hello, my name is: James Yasha" stickers, and a shirt that said "Reginald Bishamonten's New Assistant." It would save so much time, and he was really getting sick of telling people all that info.

"I'm Kuyou. Kuyou Seering," the woman smiled, holding out a hand to shake. "You seem nice, I can tell that already."

"Thank you," he smiled back. "You seem very nice too. How long have you worked for Mr. Taishakuten?" he queried politely, expecting some sort of reply like, "I've worked for our beloved CEO for ten years, and I serve him faithfully."

But what he got was, "Seven long, painful years, James. I'm his secretary. My sister and I split the duties, her name's Hanranya. We're identical twins, and people often get us confused. But we do wear different glasses, which no one else ever picks up on, and I switch my earrings up while she only ever wears pearls. I never wear pearls, for just that reason."

Unfortunately Bishamonten had just answered his phone, so he missed these identifying characteristics. He, like almost everyone else, could only tell Kuyou and Hanranya apart by watching them interact with Taishakuten. Hanranya adored and in fact romantically loved the man, but Kuyou fervently hated him, and it showed on both counts.

"That seems like a sensible way to handle it," Yasha complimented, making her smile. "I have to go now, but I'd certainly like to talk to you again."

"Yes, so would I. Well, have a nice day, and beware of Taishakuten," she cautioned. "That man is, without a doubt, the single most unbalanced CEO I've ever heard of. I often feel like people should count their fingers after shaking his hand."

With such a warning, Yasha was somewhat prepared for Taishakuten. And yes, Kuyou was right, he was a sociopath. But such a thing made him a genius at business, because not caring about anyone else translated to piles of moolah. Yasha resolved to smile at the man's face, and save all his complaints and well-deserved insults for the privacy of his own home, or with Kuyou.

.

One Sunday afternoon about a week later, Yasha came home from taekwondo class to find the message light blinking on his answering machine. Since he only gave his home phone number out to close friends and his family, it was likely that this was an important call. Of course, occasionally telemarketers and scammers tracked him down, and left messages about how he should refinance his mortgage and/or give them his bank account number and PIN.

Still, he crossed over to it and sighed, still wearing his uniform with his hair tied back. Hopefully this was someone he actually loved, not someone who wanted to take his money one way or another.

And indeed, it was his mother. "Hi, sweetheart. How's your new job going? Your father and I are very proud of you for landing such an important position in such a major company. I mean, James dear, we've actually heard of Tenkai Corporation! And you know how we tend not to pay attention to business news, or much of anything besides what immediately affects us."

That was true. Yasha's parents were a pair of kind-hearted but rather dim souls, although his dad was a former taekwondo champion. His mom mostly sat around and looked pretty, but her health was bad so she could be forgiven.

"So sweetheart, give us a call! We want to hear if you've made any friends there. Bye-bye, James honey!" she warbled, and the message ended. Yasha was picking up the phone as she finished, but before he could dial their number, a ring came from his doorbell.

He set the phone down a bit grouchily, stalked over to his door, and peered out the peephole. Then he started and gasped, because a purple eye with long lashes was peering right back at him! Yikes!

"Hi James!" an exuberant voice called. "It's me, Victor! I found your address in Reginald's files, and I was in the neighborhood so I thought I'd drop by. And I have some fudge to share! Everybody likes fudge, right?"

Yasha swung his door open, a bit shocked. Kujaku waved at him and held up a pan of what looked like the most luscious, pecan-studded fudge in existence. Half of it was missing, so maybe he'd given the rest to whoever he'd been visiting. But oh boy, there was still a lot left, and Yasha was a sucker for fudge.

"That was incredibly nice of you," he said quickly. "Come on in, Victor. Although I have to say I'm a bit perturbed that you looked up my address…"

"Oh, I'm incorrigibly nosy," Kujaku said unabashedly as he walked in. "Don't worry, I'm not stalking you! I just like finding things out about people. For example, did you know Reginald's family used to own a friggin' castle over in England? There's a story there how they lost it, but I don't know it."

"How interesting," Yasha said politely, suddenly envisioning Bishamonten dressed in medieval king's garb and commanding, "Off with 'is 'ead, old chap! I say!" Then he'd demand that the peasants work harder, just like he demanded that all his underlings slave away.

"Did I interrupt something?" Kujaku asked, sounding a little worried. "I know I just dropped in unexpectedly."

"I was about to call my parents," Yasha awkwardly informed him. "I'm sorry, I really do think this was very kind of you to –"

"Oh. Then gee, sorry for popping on over without calling," Kujaku apologized, turning to go. "You can keep the fudge, just bring the pan back to work when you've finished it. And now, out back into the cold. Tally-ho, as exuberant British people say!"

And with a wave, he let himself out before Yasha could say, "No, you can stay! It's all right."

James, oh James Jamesie James… poor guy never smiles, Kujaku thought to himself as he returned to his car. He must be one of those unfortunate people who don't have much fun, and his life must be filled with boring, stuffy… stuff. Too bad, I like him. I'd like to see him grin, really.

Kujaku decided then that one of his purposes in life was to make Yasha smile. He could do fun, friendly things with him! They were work friends already, and Kujaku liked him a lot, despite how serious he was. So, as he started his car, he vowed to begin Operation Giggles.

Back in his house, Yasha stared open-mouthed at the door, then down at the fudge. "Tally-ho"? Boy, that man said and did the strangest things.

Yasha thought Kujaku was a very odd bird, to use another British term. A competent, hard-working one yes, but really, a paperclip sculpture of a ferret? Why a ferret? And why didn't the secretary spend his excess time quietly reading a book? Yasha could suggest some very good ones, like The Way of the Samurai: Bringing Bushido into Your Daily Life. Or, in a lighter vein, The Monty Python Joke Tome, which made him laugh each time he read it.

But back to Kujaku's oddities. Why was the man allowed to be so subversive to the driven business culture? Why did Bishamonten allow him to practice his silly accents with important clients, underlings, and rivals? Why did Yasha want to strip him down and have him –

He immediately crashed that train of thought, but it rose from the wreckage and tootled on. Well, because Kujaku was very attractive, Yasha was queerer than a three-dollar bill, and he hadn't had any for years, as life as an executive assistant tended to entail a lot of stress and work, and left little time for a relationship. In fact, his last relationship had ended precisely because he spent so much time working, and Clive had finally had enough. Kujaku, though, worked the same hours, so that problem was probably nullified right there.

And he made him laugh. Yasha didn't laugh often, but he'd found himself doing so much more with Kujaku around (they ate lunch together now). He'd probably laughed more in one week than he had in the past three months, wow. Maybe Kujaku had missed his calling as a comedian.

Yes he could be annoying, and Yasha had also growled a lot more in the past week, but he was… compelling. And very, very sexy, with his gorgeous face and mesmerizing eyes and near-perfect body, from what Yasha could tell. He was willing to bet the man had chiseled musculature under those shirts and pants, just judging from the way his shirts fit him.

So…

Yasha stood stock-still, thinking. It was certainly very possible that Kujaku was straighter than an arrow, although he had to imagine he wasn't homophobic. He was just too nice, and not religious at all from what Yasha could see, and religion was almost always the reasoning for "It's unnatural! It's sick! It's a perversion, even if two men or two women are fully committed and chaste!"

Yet if he wasn't straight, he might be just what the doctor ordered for loneliness: "Kiss Victor Kujaku twice a day, more if needed. Side effects may include sexiness, more enjoyment of life, someone to depend on, fun things to do together, and laughter."

But the thing was, Yasha wasn't really out, except to his parents, and he'd only told them last year. He'd figured out he was gay in his junior year of high school, but he'd grown up in a pretty conservative community and that had left serious marks. His parents were actually very understanding and had also known what was up for years, but they too remembered the widespread homophobia of that town.

He no longer bought the hysterical tirades on "Homosexuality is a crime against nature! God hates gays! Marriage should only be between a man and a woman, because that's what society is based off and it's all about the kids!" Nowadays, those just made him mad.

Yes, Yasha was an intelligent man, one who'd seen male dogs doing stuff, female chimps doing stuff, male bunnies doing stuff, and actually listened to science and psychology. He'd also figured out that if God were a loving deity who could forgive a felon, God could forgive a man in love with another man, if God even cared at all.

As for marriage: if children out of wedlock, divorce, annulments, cheating, cohabitation, domestic violence, and casual straight sex hadn't killed it, letting committed same-sex couples marry wouldn't be a deathblow. No one was going to force straight people to marry someone of their own gender, after all. And as for the kid thing, did that mean that straight couples who'd made the decision not to add to the overflow of humanity on this planet shouldn't be allowed to marry either? Gawd, these people needed to get their minds out of the Dark Ages. Not to mention, oh yeah, gay couples could and did have kids anyway.

But Yasha was also a cautious man. Just because he knew that such attitudes were antiquated didn't mean they did. And you could never really tell who was secretly a fundie in this. After all, a lot of fundies cohabited and had illegitimate children, then turned their hypocritical rage onto some innocent teenager who'd had the guts to tell society, "I'm a lesbian."

More than once, he'd thought someone was okay, and then they'd verbalized a casual comment about homosexuality that had made him so glad he was in the closet. Thing was, they could be genuinely kind people in everything but this, a friend sometimes, and losing a friendship over that was something he'd rather not do.

So Yasha decided that he'd have to be careful. If Kujaku could indeed be made to show interest in him, then they could just sweep it under the rug whenever they weren't alone! Surely he'd agree that the world was made up of homophobes, and while it was enjoyable to fantasize about going nuts on them, that would land them in jail.

.

By the next week, Yasha had found that his thoughts wandered to Kujaku with increasing frequency. And he could be doing things as varied as lying in bed listening to romantic violin music, talking to Bishamonten, changing his tire, or cooking himself his favorite meal.

I wish Victor were here, he'd think in bed.

Victor did the funniest impression of you, he'd think with Bishamonten.

I'll bet Victor would have some crack to make this better, he'd think while changing the tire.

I wonder if Victor likes Parmesan chicken, he'd think as he prepared such delicious food.

And it just kept growing. Soon it passed the mark of "I like him and I want him" to "I love him and I need him." By April, Yasha was hopelessly in love with Kujaku, and had started to have dreams about a little cottage with a white picket fence, matching wedding rings, and Kujaku making him breakfast wearing nothing but a little apron that said "Kiss the Cook."

Every time he did friendship-y things with Kujaku, he found himself fantasizing about confessing his feelings. When they'd gone out for coffee? He'd wanted to pluck Kujaku's overly sugary drink out of his hand and plant one on him. When they'd seen an exhibit on Egyptian mummies at the Science Museum? He'd wanted to back him against a display case and tell him, "I'm all wrapped up in you."

When they'd gone to a park to toss a Frisbee? He'd wanted to say, "When I'm here with you, my heart flies too." When they'd met up for a movie, "The Adventures of Dachshund Boy"? He'd wanted to whine, "This film is abysmal, and unless we change our seats and make out in the back of the theater, I want my money back." When they'd gone out to lunch at a Chinese place? He'd wanted to pretend his fortune said, "You will find love sitting right in front of you," instead of "You will be wealthy and successful."

Yes, it was feeding on itself, and Kujaku was completely oblivious. He was just happy that Yasha was having fun. They were getting to be firm friends, and he was tickled pink about that, because Yasha was great!

One day in late April, Yasha found himself preparing a different conference room for that daily briefing of the giants of Tenkai Corporation. The regular one was under construction, and hammering could faintly be heard. He could only hope poor Kuyou wouldn't be tempted to take a hammer to her boss's head, which would not only get her fired, it would land her in prison.

Yasha adored Kuyou. She was principled, kind, calm, and very nice, and he agreed with her that Taishakuten had to somehow be punished. They were great pals by now, and she even liked Kujaku.

All that aside, Yasha was not alone in his preparations. There were two women with him, also executive assistants: a dark-skinned beauty with green eyes and black hair, and a plump not-beauty with frizzy red hair, freckles, and brown eyes. Usually there would be another man with them, but Zouchouten had fired Ramone just yesterday, and there were rumors it was because he'd found a better assistant.

Nina Souma, Yasha often thought, deserved some sort of award. She'd once confided to him that she had fantasies about stabbing Taishakuten with a pair of steak knives until he was dead, and long after he'd stopped breathing too. But unless she'd told you that, you wouldn't be able to tell unless you knew her well. She was an extremely good assistant, and had apparently taken over from her dad after Taishakuten had driven him to a breakdown.

Yasha liked her a lot. Taishakuten's assistant often sat with Kujaku and him for lunch, and they did things outside of work together too. When it was lunchtime, the trio was often joined by the second woman.

Mara Wilkins was Koumokuten's assistant. She was bouncy and always ready with a joke, and her boss seemed to be annoyed by that. Never mind that he cracked jokes too, although his were invariably really mean and at someone's expense. Although yes, sometimes they were very witty and hilarious, Yasha thought they were in bad taste.

And then the door opened, and someone else walked in with a purposeful gait, on low heels and wearing a sky-blue pantsuit. Her skin was pale, her eyes matched her outfit, and her hair was white and in an odd style: a long, gathered ponytail over a long bob, with bangs parted in the center of her forehead.

"Hello," she said politely, but with no smile on her face. "This is the temporary conference room for the morning briefing, yes?"

"It is," Souma smiled. "And who might you be?"

"My name's Ellen Karura. I'm Mr. Zouchouten's new assistant. Let's see… you must be James," she nodded at Yasha, "you must be Mara," she nodded at Koumokuten's assistant, "and you must be Nina," she nodded at Souma.

"Yes, you're completely correct on all counts," Yasha smiled, as Souma mirrored his expression. And then, as they were so far alone, he went on, "What do you think of your boss so far?"

"I like him," Karura said cautiously. Uh-oh, a question like that usually meant that one's boss was bad in some way. Or maybe Yasha was just some sort of tattletale backstabber, who wanted her to say she hated Zouchouten so he could look better by comparison? She hoped it was the latter, because she could handle people like that.

But no. "I like Aaron too," he grinned. "And his last assistant was a total jerk. You seem like such an improvement, I can tell that already."

Before Karura could reply, the three Senior VPs swept into the room like a conquering trio of warlords, the ultimate god-emperor right behind them, as if this were some sort of ceremonial business procession. Everyone else immediately turned their attention to Taishakuten, and the meeting was on.

That lunch break, Yasha caught sight of Karura scanning the cafeteria for a place to sit. Before he could put up a hand and wave her over, Mara called, "Ellen! Come sit with us over here!" and waved both arms like a spectator at a football game.

"Yeah!" Kujaku agreed, imitating her. "I wanna meet you!"

A potential new friend was never turned down, he thought as she walked over. This one looked like a female Yasha in temperament, though. What was with the lack of a friendly expression? Would it kill that woman to crack a smile, even a little one? Or maybe she'd recently been bereaved or something, and was actually a nice, peppy person normally.

Introductions were made, small talk was talked, and Kujaku and Co. learned that Karura had a little sister, and there was a smile! A nice proud one, and it made her look even prettier. But then the topic moved onto Mara's idiot big brother, and it was gone again. Even when the conversation changed to Kujaku's funny story about an old girlfriend, she was all business again.

"Do you have a boyfriend?" Mara asked her eagerly. She was one of those people who demanded intimate details whenever possible, but oh well, at least she didn't spread them around.

"Yes, I do," Karura replied, sounding happy even though she wasn't smiling. "His name is Mark, and we've been together for three years, ever since I was in my second year of college. He's a nurse, a chiropractic nurse to be precise, and I love him very much."

"Cute," Kujaku chirped. "We should all have love! Love is the thing I personally crave more than anything else in the world, and I think if society had more of it we'd all be so much better off. Like poor James… he has nobody, and he gets so grumpy all the time. Right James?" he grinned, slapping Yasha on the back.

Yasha mumbled, "Right. Stop it, Victor," and fought the urge to yell, "If you'd be mine, I'd have lots of love, and I could satisfy that craving of yours! Victor, come here, let's go find a deserted room and smooch."

"I recently met this great woman," Kujaku continued, making Yasha want to bellow, "NOOOO!" "At a coffee shop! We're going out for dinner this weekend."

Yasha wanted to find that restaurant and burn it down. Didn't the man realize that Yasha wanted him?! And that slut had better turn out to be a bitch, or he'd… he'd have to… um, have a polite yet firm discussion with her about how he loved Kujaku more. Being violent wasn't a nice thing to do to some innocent woman.

So when, next week, Kujaku suggested that they do something big together, Yasha was relieved to see that he hadn't added, "And my girlfriend's coming too." Good, maybe it hadn't actually worked out.

"Well," Yasha asked, "what did you have in mind for us hanging out this time?" He was rooting for some sort of "Dinner and a movie, then some necking in a backseat" suggestion, but he wasn't holding his breath.

"We should go to Wuddles World," Kujaku said seriously. "You know, the theme park down in Kusumapura, about twenty miles to the west? I haven't been there yet this year, and you, James, could use a little fun."

Wuddles World… it was like Disneyland on steroids. Its mascot, Wuddles, was a baby walrus so fat he might roll down the slightest inclined plane. The theme park actually had a walrus exhibit, and yes, every few years they got a new, living Wuddles to heap devotion upon.

If you thought Mickey Mouse was an object of slavish affection, you hadn't seen Wuddles World's personnel. They were rabid. Anything that could bear Wuddles's likeness did, and they pushed the merchandise like it was a hard drug and they needed to meet their quota for the day. From the roller coaster cars to the bathroom soap dispensers, that obese baby walrus was omnipresent.

Yasha had heard horror stories about Wuddles World. If you were an introverted person, it was like a giant torture complex. And if you didn't have the ability to say "no" to people who wanted to sell you something, you came home with tons of stuff you didn't need, and a bill so high you could have bought yourself a meal at Le Maison Jeanne-Claudette, the most expensive restaurant in the city of Zenmi. But he had the ability to say "no," so hopefully he'd be okay.

And maybe there was some sort of "Tunnel of Love" thing he could drag Kujaku on. And even if there wasn't, they could sit close together in the roller coaster cars! So he smiled and replied, "That sounds like a lovely idea. I'm free all day Sunday."

And that was that. They were going to Wuddles World, and Yasha made sure to withdraw extra cash, as theme park food was ridiculously pricy. But he sure as heck wasn't about to buy any merchandise, thanks.

They'd decided to carpool, Yasha picking Kujaku up because he lived farther away. When Kujaku bounded down his front walk that day wearing an open shirt, a tank top, swim trunks with purple geckos on them, good shoes for walking, and sunglasses as well, Yasha couldn't help but wonder how this would go.

Because Kujaku looked very exuberant. Very, very exuberant. He would probably be bouncing off the walls all the way there, or maybe singing along to the stereo or insisting that Yasha listen to "Weird Al" Yankovic instead of Journey. But nope, Yasha assured himself, they would hear "Don't Stop Believin' " instead of "Yoda."

But by the time they got there, Kujaku had managed to make Yasha turn his radio to a '70s station, and hollered "Boogie Wonderland" for the entirety of the song. Yasha had never been so glad to pay a ludicrous fee for parking in his life.

"Say goodbye to Earth Wind & Fire, Victor," he snapped, turning the radio off with a violent punch of a button. "We're here."

"Bah Earth Wind & Fahre!" Kujaku obediently farewelled, in a singsong, breathy, falsetto voice like the background vocals. Yasha gritted his teeth, but said nothing else.

A man in a Wuddles mascot costume waved and made walrus noises as they joined the line, and Kujaku waved back and imitated him. Yasha himself, who thought mascot costumes were a bit too close to fursuits and all the sick fuckery those entailed, averted his eyes and pretended to be deaf. This was a bad sign.

The line was long, another bad sign. He wondered how packed it was inside, but that line of thought was lost when Kujaku told him rather sheepishly, "Um, it's kinda pricy here. Fifty-five bucks for a ticket. I'm sorry I didn't tell you that earlier."

"No, I knew it would be. As for the tickets, I'll just buy them both, and you can pay me back later," Yasha said gallantly. "No sense taking any more time than we have to in the line."

"Hey, that'll work," Kujaku agreed. "Heck, I'll pay you back once we get into the park, so I don't forget. Thanks."

Finally they reached the booth, and Kujaku had been wrong: the price had been raised, and it was now sixty-seven dollars, plus tax. But Yasha handed his dough over, and wondered if he'd end up needing his credit card to buy food after all. This was a third bad sign, and he had to wonder what else he'd have to deal with today.

"Would you like to upgrade your Wuddles World experience with a membership to the Wuddles Fan Club?" the teller asked, with a disturbingly enthusiastic look in her eyes. "Members get the chance to watch Wuddles eat from a mere five feet away! Behind Plexiglas of course, we wouldn't want anyone upsetting him!"

Before Kujaku could say, "No thanks, but maybe we'll pop by and see him from the stands," Yasha snapped, "No, I do not." And then, making a grave mistake, he went on, "What's so great about that thing anyway?"

The teller stared at him, gaping like a fish out of water, and he had time to wonder if he'd just stuck his foot in his mouth before she nearly screamed, "Wuddles is our beloved mascot, and he's the most wonderful animal in the world! He is not a thing, he is the cutest baby walrus in history! You, sir, are obviously unfamiliar with his awesomeness."

Kujaku cringed, regretting not mentioning how careful you had to be around these people. Poor Yasha, he was now dealing with a fanatic, one who was about to try to convert him to her personality cult… for an animal without much personality.

"Sir," she said fervently, picking up a huge brochure, "this is background info on Wuddles that you should know. For the infinitesimal price of twenty dollars, you can –"

"Please, just give me my tickets," he groaned. "I don't want that brochure. I don't want to know your mascot's story, and I think either you're paid exceptionally well to be so loyal, or there must be something in the water here," he muttered, rolling his eyes.

Now she glared at him, almost like she was trying to kill him with her gaze, and said stiffly, "Here are your tickets, mister. Move along, you're holding up the line!"

Yasha snatched his tickets and moved along, Kujaku trotting after him with a sigh. It was only when they'd managed to get twenty feet away that Yasha realized they hadn't picked up a map. Well, he was not going back to get one! He'd just ask people which way to go to find the rides they wanted to go on.

"So, Victor," he queried, putting sunglasses up, "is there anything you really want to do here, or would recommend?"

"Oooh, I'm glad you asked!" Kujaku nearly squealed. "The Giant Squid Ride! See, it's like an animatronic theater-slash-ride thing, where you board a pirate ship and get attacked by a giant squid robot. I can't go to Wuddles World and not do that!"

Yasha, who was interested in historical piracy and thought "Pirates of the Caribbean" should be shot for its inaccuracies, didn't want to go on the Giant Squid Ride, where no doubt you would walk the plank to get off the ship (real pirates had just thrown people overboard) and get told a wild tale about buried treasure (real pirates hadn't usually buried it, they'd split it up and spent it). Still, Kujaku seemed excited about the thing, so he could handle it.

"Sure, that sounds like fun," he lied. "Now personally, I want to go on the roller coasters. Do you like them, or do they make you sick?"

"Don't worry, I love 'em," Kujaku assured him. "And they've got some great ones! Six Flags has nothing on Wuddles World, lemme tell ya. Just make sure we eat after we do the Wuddles Corkscrew Collider, because that thing is mostly loops, and they twist so close around other ones you think you're gonna hit the tracks. It's great."

They went on the Giant Squid Ride first, and yes, it was awful. The conductor not only mentioned buried, cursed pirate treasure, he called a small child "little dude" in a pirate accent. And Yasha got soaked when the giant squid's tentacles rose up out of the water and grabbed the mast, shaking the ship back and forth. But Kujaku had fun with it, and gleefully yelled things like, "ARRGGHHH!" and, "Avast ye!" and, "Shiver me timbers, James, look at those suckers!"

In fact, the conductor said, at the end of the ride, "By Blackbeard's bones, ye could be a pirate t'rival me own self!"

The roller coasters were better, and the Wuddles Corkscrew Collider was excellent. But they had trouble finding the last one they wanted to go on, the Wuddles Arctic Screamer. The signs directed them to the Wuddles Blubber Bouncy Castle, and when they looked around, they couldn't see anything that looked like a roller coaster.

"They must have gotten rid of it," Kujaku muttered, his hands on his hips. "Let's ask some worker if they know what happened to the Screamer."

Yasha was reluctant to ask any of Wuddles World's personnel for help, because the more he saw of them, the more convinced he was that they were all mental asylum escapees. But when Kujaku pointed out a vending cart and its proprietor, Yasha took a deep breath and strode over. The vendor was leaning back in his chair, his hands folded, and looking rather sleepy. Good, this one probably wouldn't be so fanatical. Yasha hoped so, anyway.

"Hi," he said cautiously, coming up to the cart. "We're looking for the –"

"Would you like to buy some Wuddles merchandise?!" the guy screamed, shoving a tray of Wuddles watches into Yasha's face. "We have tote bags, t-shirts, plushies, keychains, jewelry, watches, temporary tattoos, purses, coffee mugs, and hats! All for the love of WUDDLES!"

Yasha was honestly frightened, but Kujaku beamed, "Why sure I would! I'll take… lessee, I'll take two tote bags and a coffee mug," he decided, pulling his wallet out as Yasha made himself not hide behind him.

"Everyone should have something with Wuddles on it," the vendor said seriously, unhooking two tote bags. "My daughter has a Wuddles backpack, which is available in the gift shop for the low, low price of one hundred and forty-nine-ninety-nine. Plus tax," he muttered, hastily and under his breath.

"We were, um, looking for the Wuddles Arctic Screamer," Yasha said faintly. "Do you know where it is? The signs said it was right here, and I don't see it."

"Oh, we got rid of that one. Some dork got killed when one of the tow-cables snapped a year ago, and we've all been so busy I guess they forgot to change the signs. They did change the map, though," the vendor stressed, giving Yasha a disapproving look. "If you'd just use it, you'd have known that."

Yasha glared and held his tongue, despite wanting to bitch about the nutty teller. It would do no good, and would actually be harmful, because this one would just lay into him about being blasphemous to their god too. He made the vow that when he got home, he would take his ticket stub with the Wuddles graphic and burn it, just to prove a point.

"So what do you want to do now?" he asked Kujaku as they walked away, Kujaku's net worth having dropped by a hundred and seventy-six dollars. "Do you want to see the walrus exhibit?"

He prayed Kujaku didn't. He liked watching animals and loved zoos, but this one would be surrounded by a cadre of loyal dingbats, which would take away from the fun. If it had been just a regular walrus exhibit with a young one, Yasha would have been more than happy to go see it, but it wasn't. No, it wasn't in the least.

"Well, right now," Kujaku replied seriously, "I want to get something to eat. I see a food station over there! See? The one with the cotton candy and the lollipops?"

Yes indeed, Yasha did see. The whole thing was shaped like Wuddles' head, and the window was the mouth. Two stubs of fiberglass tusks were above the window, and as he watched, a worker hugged the side of it in spontaneous stupidity.

"Here, hold my gear," Kujaku said as he passed the tote bag containing the other tote bag and coffee mug to Yasha. "I'll go get us some food. What would you like? Personally, I can't get enough of cotton candy."

"I want a hotdog, not pure sugar," Yasha sighed in reply. "I'll wait until we hit a food stand with actual food, thanks. Victor, really, you should do that as well, it's healthier and you won't have to deal with a crash."

"Oh, I'll be getting a hotdog too," Kujaku told him seriously. "Maybe two. This is just to hold me over! I'm starving, you have no idea."

As Kujaku walked off with a whistle and pulled his wallet out again, Yasha stood there, holding the tote bag full of merchandise he hated. Oh, he hoped nobody thought he'd bought this junk, but they probably did. He resisted the urge to hurl it down and stomp on it, but that would be mean to Kujaku, and he didn't want to be mean to Kujaku.

For a few minutes he just stayed in that position and tried not to look at Wuddles, but his picture was everywhere, in multiple forms. There was the standard graphic for the logo, but there were also realistic Wuddles, caricature Wuddles, and anime Wuddles. Anime Wuddles's eyes were so big, there must not have been much room left in his skull for a brain, which somehow didn't surprise Yasha.

And suddenly, from the left, a horrible sound: "Oh my GOD! Carrie, look at that guy! I'm gonna go hug him!"

Yasha had time to think that whichever poor target the teenybopper girls had picked should run, before two fourteen-year-olds wearing slut clothes and more makeup than clowns ran over and made unwanted physical contact. They were also in those chunky sandals for a day of walking, which just demonstrated how the teenage brain isn't fully mature yet, no matter what they insist.

One put a hand on his arm. The other put a hand on his shoulder, and he snapped, "Young ladies, it's not at all polite to –"

"He's sooo hot!" the first girl giggled, glomping him before he could get away. "I want to take him home with me!"

Yasha's immediate instinct was to utilize a self-defense move, twist out of her grasp and send her flying into a wall, but that would be using his taekwondo powers for evil. So he had to find a way to get her off of him without –

"Aw, I wanna take him home instead, Nicole!" the second girl whined, glomping him from the other side. "How come you get all the hot ones?!"

Now Yasha's instinct was to scream for help, before they started tugging him in different directions and dislocated his shoulder or something. What was wrong with the youth of today, specifically the females? If he'd done this to a random woman, she would have been completely justified in screaming about sexual harassment and unwanted physical contact, so why did they do this to him?

And then, like that of an angel, Kujaku's voice came from the right. "Hey! What the heck are you girls doing to that poor man?!"

Yasha looked over, never so glad to see another person in his life. Kujaku was laden with three things of Wuddles Fluffy Sea Foam cotton candy, one of those giant, plate-sized lollipops shaped like the walrus, and a dish of "Wuddles-Flavored" ice cream Dots, all of which looked dangerously close to falling out of his grip. As the desperate object of underage affection watched, he handed it all off to a watching pair of mature young women, with a quick, "Hold these please."

"I'm just hugging this super-hot guy, what's it to you?!" Carrie whined, yanking Yasha to her side. "Unless you're gay and he's your boyfriend, you have no claim on –"

"That would be even hotter!" Nicole squealed, tugging Yasha over to her. "There's nothing sexier than two hot guys getting it on!"

As they said this, Kujaku was stomping over with a frown on his face, and Yasha couldn't help but hope that he would proclaim, "I am in love with James! Seeing him attacked by fangirls has made me realize how much I want him, so I'm going to throw you both into the water for the log ride, and take him home for some heartfelt talks and heartfelt sex."

"No, he's not my boyfriend," Kujaku said firmly, dashing Yasha's hopes. "But he is my friend, and as such I'm going to protect him. So let him go before I pull you off, and call security. Security here can be nasty." Only if you lobbed a piece of trash at Wuddles, but they didn't have to know that.

The Yasha fans let him go with a pout, and Carrie whined, "Lighten up! It's not like I kicked him or anything! I was just being friendly."

"No, you were being a stalker," Yasha and Kujaku snapped, in perfect unison. As Kujaku sent him a grin, Yasha continued, "That was completely inappropriate! Have you never heard of personal space? Touching someone like that without their permission is frowned upon in polite society, so please, grow up."

They pouted but backed away, and Kujaku collected his sugar from the smirking pair of mature young women, one of which complimented, "Nice."

"Yes, it was nice, wasn't it," he agreed, then thanked them for their help. After which he tried to make Yasha take a cotton candy, which did not work. But okay, more spun sugar and air for Kujaku then!

Finally Yasha located a food stand that sold hotdogs, burgers, and such, in the nick of time too. Kujaku had gobbled down the Dots and a thing of cotton candy, and had been starting in on the lollipop as well. If he didn't get some regular food, surely he would feel sick, Yasha muttered inside his head.

There was no line for that food stand, because apparently everybody else was like Kujaku and wanted to keep their dentists in business. Yasha bought himself a Wuddles Wiener with Wuddles Frost Sauerkraut, Wuddles Yum-Yum Fries, and a Wuddles Chiller Diet Coke. He did not purchase the souvenir cup, which annoyed the worker who rang him up.

He had had quite enough of the walrus-worshiping zealots, and wanted to go home. NOW! He felt like throwing a tantrum, just like a toddler who'd hit his limit and couldn't comprehend that instant gratification was impossible in this situation. Yes, and then he'd kick a Wuddles World worker in the shin, and insist that Kujaku carry him home and give him a kissy-wissy to calm him down.

But he sat down and ate his food, and then endured the Wuddles Flier Ferris Wheel, in which Kujaku rocked the carriage and said, "Hey, I can see the Corkscrew from here! And the river! And the open-pit mine! You know, if I could fly, I could just glide all the way there from here, don't you think, James?"

Finally, finally Kujaku sighed, "I'm pooped. Can we go home?"

"Yes we can," Yasha fervently replied.

On the way back to the car, which seemed to take much longer than it had to get here, Kujaku said, "James, I could tell you weren't having much fun with all the crowds and the wacky personnel. But it was so nice of you not to bring it up and let me do what I wanted to do! Thanks, so much. I had a great time."

His brilliant smile, directed at his friend, made it incredibly easy for Yasha to reply, "Then I'm happy."

.

The very next Saturday, Yasha found himself at a dinner with Bishamonten and his wife, Kisshouten, hoping that she wouldn't try to set him up with some random woman again.

Kisshouten was a very kind person, and he honestly liked her a lot. He also honestly wondered why she'd chosen to marry a man who liked ruining people's lives in the business sphere, and was pretty arrogant in his daily interactions with lots of people. Yasha did like Bishamonten too, but that didn't mean he couldn't acknowledge the man's bastardliness, if that were even a real word.

Oh well. It was probably an "opposites attract" thing. And he was aware that Kisshouten wanted Taishakuten marooned on a desert island, like much of the rest of the world.

Yasha was impressed by her artistic skills. All the art in Bishamonten's office was by his wife, and it was very good. Usually office art was boring, but these were downright beautiful. Yasha's favorite was the picture of a fabulous castle, which she'd called "Palace of the God-King," but he also liked "The Captive Princess" and "Ninja in the Night," the last of which Souma had modeled for.

"James," Kisshouten said warmly as they all had dessert, "Victor tells me you and he went to the theme park last weekend."

Kujaku and Kisshouten were buddies too. In fact, Kujaku and Kisshouten liked to do doodle projects together. She'd scribble something out, he'd do something in the same theme… it was like pic-chat minus the computers.

"Yes, we went to Wuddles World," Yasha sighed, making Bishamonten smirk. "It was abysmal, but he had fun."

"That's so nice of you to do things like that with him," she smiled. "But listen, James, I have someone who wants to meet you. One of my models, for the painting 'Beautiful Lady with Butterflies.' I mentioned you a couple of times, and she'd really like to be introduced, maybe go out to dinner."

"I, well, um… I try to avoid blind dates," he said cautiously. "You can end up with some very odd people. What's she like?"

"Tracy is a very lovely young lady," Kisshouten replied, clueless to the fact that lovely young ladies did nothing for Yasha. "Tracy Aizenmiyou, she's your age and she's very lonely. She tells me she needs a date with a man who's strong and polite, because her last boyfriend was, to use her term, a 'scummy, wimpy, pushy asshole,' if you'll pardon my profanity."

Yasha wondered how he could get out of this one. Hurting Kisshouten's feelings would make him feel like a cur, and Bishamonten might decided to punish him if that happened. So he said in a martyred tone, "Well, perhaps so. As long as she doesn't expect anything, well, serious."

"James, settling down is a good thing," Bishamonten told him, firm and sounding a bit annoyed. "Sowing one's wild oats –"

"That's not what I meant, Mr. Bishamonten," Yasha hastily replied. "I was just trying to say that I don't get serious on a first date, that's all. I like to get to know someone first, I think that's best."

"Oh. Well, yes. Forget I said anything."

And so, a date was arranged with Aizenmiyou. Yasha had no intention whatsoever of there being a repeat date, but surely he could handle a single dinner. What was the worst that could happen? If she tried to grope him, he'd be justified in complaining to Kisshouten, who would take Aizenmiyou to task.

He'd managed to get out of picking her up, thankfully. This way, if it went bad, he wouldn't have to drive her home anyway and spend more time with her.

He walked into Rachel's, which was a nice but not too fancy restaurant, and immediately heard an excited call of "You must be James! You look just like I imagined you, with that hair and the handsome face. I'm Tracy!"

He appraised the woman who was coming towards him. She was, indeed, a beautiful lady, but her face was childlike, honestly. She had huge purple eyes, and a rosebud mouth that was a glossy red, and long, shiny black hair piled on top of her head and falling in waves down her back. She had probably been the most beautiful little kid ever, he had to imagine.

"Nice to meet you," he said politely, as she turned her cheek towards him and waited for a peck. Uh-oh.

By the time they'd ordered their meals, he knew one thing: this woman scared him. She was desperate for a companion, and kept saying things like, "You seem to be a man who understands that no one person can go it alone. We should be together, I can feel it in my bones."

As Aizenmiyou babbled on about how she needed a good man, one who would end her loneliness and "sate my hunger for a modern-day warrior of love," Yasha ate his gnocchi mechanically and let his thoughts wander to Kujaku. Yes, now there was someone he wouldn't mind "passionately devouring in a frenzy of physicality," not in the least.

What's he doing right now? he was unable to keep from wondering. Is he writing a treatise on telephone poles, or playing some silly video game, or – or maybe he's fantasizing about me?

But nope, Yasha was dead wrong on all of those, because Kujaku was at that moment humming a happy little tune as his girlfriend Mindy snuggled his bare, sweaty torso, having just engaged in adult activities that Yasha might have cried at after witnessing. What a terrible sense of irony the universe had sometimes.

"Victor," she simpered, "I'm so glad we met at the coffeeshop!"

"Me too, Mindy," he beamed, running a hand through glossy hair some women would kill for. "Wasn't that fun? To think, you almost walked off with my coffee, and if I hadn't followed you and grabbed it we'd be… I dunno, doing crossword puzzles and feeding our fish right now."

Mindy giggled and agreed, snuggling closer as he went on, "Funny how life works, isn't it? You go into a coffeeshop for an Oreo mocha frappuccino with extra, extra whipped cream, and you leave with the number of somebody you end up liking an awful lot. Mindy, maybe we were kinda meant to be, huh?"

"Oh, I'm not sure if I want to get that serious yet," she said slowly. "I mean, Victor, this is just the first time we've slept together, our relationship needs time to deepen."

"It was your idea for me to stay the night," he pointed out. "I wanted to wait, for much longer."

"Well c'mon, we've been dating for a while! I wanted to get with you that day in the coffee shop," she told him bluntly. As he started to frown slightly, she rushed on with, "But maybe it was love at first sight! Maybe we are meant to be! Don't pout, I didn't mean to make you mad."

"Okay, my apologies. Hey Mindy, we should totally go out to some super-fancy restaurant!" he suggested. "We had so much fun at Rachel's the other night."

Forty-five minutes later at that selfsame restaurant, Yasha felt like he wanted to bolt from the premises. And invest in body armor, and a really good security system. Aizenmiyou was worse than the teenagers at Wuddles World! She kept rubbing her foot up his shin, and no matter how many times he told her to stop, she'd always do it again. Plus she was convinced that he was playing hard to get, and was not in fact completely uninterested and annoyed.

She wouldn't take any hints, and she wouldn't even take him bluntly telling her, "I'm sorry, but I don't like you. Let me just sign this bill and we can call it a night."

"Can I have your number so I can call you and convince you how perfect for each other we are?" she asked innocently. "I'll give you mine!"

"I don't want your number," Yasha growled, signing the receipt and stowing his credit card. "Not to be rude, but I've made it very clear that you and I are not perfect for each other. I've been polite, but you haven't done the same for me, and I'm barely holding onto my temper."

With that, he stood up and stalked away, leaving her to call after him, "We could have had something wonderful, James!"

.

Two weeks later, Yasha watched with a kind of resigned interest as Kujaku added more paperclips to a sculpture of a frog. So far it was just the bare bones, but Kujaku had told him, "I think I'll spray-paint this one, James! It's for a friend of mine, he adores frogs. His birthday's next month, so if I work really hard on it, I think I'll get it done."

But oh no! He'd run out of paperclips, as he discovered with something approaching horror. He managed to beg a half-full box from Zouchouten's secretary Sandra, but had to put some aside to be used in actual office work.

Yasha watched Kujaku pout, and had a brilliant idea. He would provide the paperclips, and then Kujaku would look into his eyes and suddenly realize that this was no mere friendly gift. Then they'd smooch behind a corner so nobody could see, and live happily ever after. So Yasha asked Bishamonten if he could have a mere hour off of work, for a family emergency. It was only the second major lie he'd ever told his boss; the first was lying by omission and making him think he was straight.

"My cousin's having her baby, and her husband's out of town," he told Bishamonten. "And she needs to get to the hospital, pronto. I won't stay until the baby's born, but just until she gets into the maternity ward. I promise to work two extra hours in payment the next day, but this is important, sir!"

It was a flimsy story, because why couldn't his cousin just call an ambulance? But Bishamonten was on the phone and distracted, and bought it with a clipped, "Fine. We have nothing important going on for today. But I expect you back as soon as possible!"

"Of course, sir," Yasha assured him over his shoulder, heading for the door. "I'll be as quick as I can."

He dashed to his car, a smug and cunning grin on his face. He was so devious, he congratulated himself. He'd just make up a story about the kid by tomorrow, and people would accept it and lose interest soon, he knew how these things worked. Who didn't hate talk of family members and baby pictures?

So he drove to the local Staples – er, the closest Staples to the skyscraper, because there were no less than four in the Zenmi city limits. Yes, it was a business town, and Staples brought in a lot of money. Yasha shopped here often, and took advantage of the paper sales to buy some for his home too.

It wasn't very busy right now, as it was after the lunch hour but before people got off work. Of course there were a few customers, mostly harried office drones who'd come to get emergency supplies of toner and whatnot. There was nothing like a panicking office drone, Yasha mused as one broke into a scream that his particular product was out of stock.

He found the paperclips easily, and boy, was there a good selection! It was kind of silly, really. But he found two boxes that really caught his eye, and put them side by side to compare.

He stared at the boxes, wondering if this was how straight men felt when they picked out engagement rings for their fiancées. Was bigger better? Or was it quality that counted more? Should he go with the slightly smaller box of silver clips in four sizes, or the giant box of multicolored clips in one size? This was a dilemma, and while he was aware that this whole thing was exceedingly silly, he was concentrating hard, weighing his options. Should he buy them both?

Yes! Yes, two boxes of exotic office art supplies would surely make Kujaku notice him! Of course it would be more straightforward to simply ask the guy out, but Yasha was shy in this situation. Despite being a force to be reckoned with at the office and on the taekwondo mat, personal romantic interactions were almost scary to him.

So he nodded firmly, picked up the two gifts, and walked purposefully towards the registers. There was no line, joy of joys, something that always made him feel like he'd won something.

"Just these, sir?" the saleswoman asked, smiling. "My, that's a lot of paperclips!"

"Indeed," Yasha assented, then added rather proudly, "They're for someone special."

Her smile now looked a tad forced, because what kind of weirdo was this? "How… very lovely. Do you have a Staples card, sir?" she asked warily, afraid that he might launch into some sort of fetishistic monologue.

"Yes," he replied, quickly handing it over. "Yes, I shop here all the time."

When he got home, he immediately headed to his gift-wrapping supplies. Now, he wasn't an expert at it, but he'd improved since the days he'd used nearly a full roll of tape and had to stick extra wrapping paper on, because he hadn't thought to check how much he would need when he cut it. And nowadays he used store-bought bows, instead of trying to make nice ones and ending up with a Gordian knot.

He perused his choices of wrapping paper, and decided to go with the starry sky one. Santas or birthday cakes wouldn't work, and neither would the old roll of wedding bells, which he'd had to buy for his cousin Tristan's wedding. Nope, starry skies were good, and he'd forgo a bow because he didn't want to look too desperate.

So, with two wrapped boxes, he went back to his car, determined that this would be the day that Kujaku noticed him in a romantic way. Or, at least, hoping that would be the case, because it was still possible that Kujaku was completely heterosexual.

He bought himself lunch, ate it leisurely to up the time, and returned to the office with ten minutes to spare. He felt slightly guilty, but sacrifices had to be made, right? And he'd be making up for it, plus he'd made sure to clock out.

He clocked in and walked over to Kujaku, bearing his gifts. But Kujaku was on the phone, and using the Bronx accent. Honestly, he sounded a tiny bit like Koumokuten, who called women he didn't like "broads" and such. Still, there was no profanity, so that at least was different, Yasha thought with a sigh.

When Kujaku hung up with a pleasant "Buh-bye nows," Yasha told him, "Victor, I have a little gift for you. Two, actually."

He brought the boxes out from behind his back and handed them to the other man, who immediately sang, "Ooh, presents! Presents! What didja get me?"

As he spoke, Kujaku was ripping the wrapping paper off the smaller box, and he lit up when he saw what it was. Paperclips! Now he could finish the frog. And there were two boxes, so that clinched it: he could definitely finish the frog, and maybe even start a new sculpture too.

"Aw, James, thanks!" he crooned, and stood up for a manhug. "You're such a sweet guy, for real."

Yasha hugged him back, elated that this was working. When they drew apart, he looked into Kujaku's eyes, waited for a gasp of realization and a kiss… and got a cheerful, "James ol' pal, you are a lifesaver. In thanks, I'll make my next sculpture something for you! What would you like?"

Yasha was almost distraught for a split-second, before he recovered and answered, "Oh, I don't know, perhaps a man doing a back-kick, or something."

And that was that. At lunch, he ate his stroganoff a bit more violently than was needed, as Kujaku chattered to Souma. The little group's dynamics had changed, and it was all the more obvious now that Kujaku was the fun one. Koumokuten had fired Mara because she hadn't been fast enough on a couple tasks, and gotten a new assistant who was emotionless and never cracked any jokes. They never ate lunch with him, he was boring anyway. And poor Karura was even grumpier than usual, because she'd broken up with Mark because he'd cheated on her, as she'd growled to Yasha and Kujaku when they'd asked why.

"It hurts, and I'm not going to talk about it," she'd snapped that day. "I dumped that lying snake, but being with someone for three years and thinking it's all fine leaves hefty traces of love, no matter how angry I am at him. I'm not going to take him back, but it's still hard."

Yasha had muttered commiserations and hopes that she'd feel better soon, but Kujaku had soon found a silver lining. For you see, within weeks, one Aaron Zouchouten kept eyeing his assistant and smiling whenever he interacted with her. Kujaku found this both funny and kinda cute: the big scary General of R & D and the elegant beautiful assistant who only reached up to his upper pecs.

"It's like yin and yang," he grinned to Yasha one day. "He's big, she's – well, not little, but a lot shorter than him. He's got the build Rambo wants for Christmas, she's all sleek and slender. He's got really weird hair, she's got… y'know, actually, her hair's kinda weird too, with that shorter part underneath the ponytail thingy."

"Are you serious?" Yasha asked, flabbergasted. "Here's another one: he's old, she's young! I find that slightly disturbing, Victor."

"Age is just a number," Kujaku insisted, and added another paperclip to his sculpture. "And it's not like he's seventy and she's eighteen! That right there is disturbing yeah, but there's… I think less than thirty years between 'em. He's forty-eight. She must be around your age, and you're twenty-five."

"If he's old enough to be her dad, I find it disturbing," Yasha snapped. "Yes he's nice and I like him, but he needs to find someone his own age."

"Don't be so judgmental, Judgy McJudgington," Kujaku sniffed in reply. "Live and let live! He's not hitting on you, after all."

"If he did," Yasha muttered as he turned away to go make a copy, "I'd have to turn him down in no uncertain terms." Because I like men with purple eyes and alluring wavy hair, ones who completely ignore my romantic gestures. Figures.

.

On Tuesday evening the next week, Kujaku was gamboling up Mindy's front walk, grinning a proud grin and twirling the key she'd given him. It was another date night, and while he was early, he had good reason to be.

He was so romantic, he congratulated himself. Wouldn't she be surprised when she answered the door and he burst into the song he'd written? "Mindy Is My Baby" had been written at work, and he'd memorized it and practiced it to the mirror to get the dance moves right. Now, he'd have to make sure he stepped back off the steps for those, but she'd love it! And then –

"Ohh! YES! Oh!" he heard from above him as he neared the steps.

His mouth dropped open in shock. That was his girlfriend's voice! He snapped his head up to look at her bedroom window, and while the shade was drawn it was open. Was she…? He really hoped she was alone, because those sure sounded like sex noises to him.

He pondered what to do, as the noises reached a peak and suddenly halted. Well, gee, maybe he should just call her? But what did he say? "Hey Mindy, were you just getting yourself off a minute ago? You should really remember to close your window when you do things like that," might sound incredibly creepy.

On the flip side, maybe she'd be turned on that he'd heard that. Maybe she'd insist, "Victor, come here! It's not the same doing it by myself!"

Or maybe she was… with somebody?

He decided to check it out. After all, she'd told him to come over. Yeah he was early, but maybe – hey, maybe she'd done it on purpose! And hadn't forgotten the window after all. If so, two things. One: kinky. And Two: he had all sorts of sexy visions running through his head now. So he unlocked the door and strolled upstairs, a pervy grin on his face. He could sing the song some other time.

"Mindy!" he said happily, throwing her bedroom door open. "That was –"

She was not alone, not at all. Instead, she was in the arms of some other guy! Both were buck-naked, the sheets only covering their ankles and feet, and gleaming with sweat. Naked Guy looked Latino, and had that cleft chin that so many women thought was the sexiest thing in the universe. And artfully oiled hair, and a tattoo of a cross on his right bicep.

Kujaku gaped at Mindy, who flushed bright pink and managed a weak, "It's not what it looks like."

He raised a brow as Naked Guy pulled the covers over his head, like that would make him invisible. Idiot, because Kujaku had already seen more of him than he ever wanted to again. He was, in a word, hairy. Clearly he didn't believe in waxing important body parts, for example his back, ew.

"Gee, Mindy, how silly of me. Of course it's not, he's just a federal body inspector performing his duties," Kujaku said sarcastically, very put out.

"Um…"

She expected perhaps a wail of "How could yoouuu?!" or a macho challenge of "Hey dude, I'll fight you for her," but instead she got, "Okay. Bye then. Have fun with Mr. FBI." And with that, Kujaku spun around and closed the door.

"Victor, wait!" he could hear through it. She sounded pretty desperate as she went on, "I'll dump Rafael and make it up to you by –"

" 'Ey! Joo told me joo were 'lookeeng for a man to geeve you what 'e cannot!' I am eensulted! And 'ere I t'ought we were een love, joo lyeeng liar! I must go, before joo lacerate my 'eart anymore!"

Kujaku left them arguing and stomped down the stairs and back out the door, tossing the key at a potted plant before he passed through it. He wouldn't need it anymore. Nope, this just went to show: beware of people who pressure you to hop into bed before you think you should. Well, next time, unless he suggested it, no sex for anyone!

He found himself still incredibly angry by the time he got back home. He'd honestly liked Mindy, an awful lot. He'd been hoping he might come to love her, and maybe he had been starting to.

But not anymore. He spent the rest of his evening seething, a lot of it about how she'd planned to go out with him after doing that. And when he finally went to bed, after composing a song called "Mindy Is a Hooker-Bitch," he was unable to get to sleep. So some sort of tension-releasing activity was needed, something enjoyable that didn't take much brainpower to do.

He had a good idea on that, but who was he to think about? Not Mindy, that was for sure. No more affectionate thoughts about the hooker-bitch for him! Well, who was somebody attractive and kind, someone he thought was sexy and would never betray him like that? Karura?

Nah. She was very pretty and he did like her, but that spark wasn't there. He honestly didn't find her sexy, just beautiful. Not to mention Zouchouten had just popped up in his head, grabbed Karura and slung her over his shoulder, and bellowed, "MINE! Not yours, mine!"

And then, someone else popped up in his head too and shoved Zouchouten aside, bare-chested and striking a pose with his hair blowing in the wind, because long hair was sexier if it blew in the wind. Yes, James Yasha, wearing only a pair of little leather shorts and a tie, winked and purred, "Why, Victor… why don't you think about me?"

Hmm… Yasha in bed. It wasn't like Kujaku hadn't thought about and occasionally fooled around with men before, honestly. He recalled Chase from college with exceedingly fond and romantic memories, for example, and he'd always thought Yasha was a very handsome guy. And nice in his guarded way, and he had such beautiful midnight-blue eyes. And oh boy, that man's body was undoubtedly glorious, judging from what Kujaku had seen when he wore t-shirts and shorts.

So Kujaku fantasized about Yasha and all that that entailed, and decided, as he was drifting off to sleep, that he might have to explore that attraction a bit more.

.

The next morning, he was grumpy. But he did take some time to really study Yasha, because a new target of affection made it easier to drive out the memories of an old target of affection you no longer wanted. And Yasha was, in a word, intriguing.

Still, Kujaku found himself a bit subdued, and when Yasha finally asked, "Are you all right?" he sighed and responded with, "I caught my girlfriend in bed with another guy. I broke it off, but it's still kinda painful. I mean, here I wrote her a song, and she's picking up a Latin lover."

For a moment, Yasha wanted to do a cheerleader impression: jumping up and down with his fists pumping in the air, a manic grin on his face, and chanting, "Victor, Victor, you know what? I'll be better than that slut!" But instead, he fought down his smile and told him, "I'm sorry you're hurt. That must have been a real blow."

"It was," Kujaku agreed, just as Bishamonten came out of his office. "That's something nobody ever really expects to see, and I thought things were going really well too."

"And what, exactly, are you two discussing?" Bishamonten asked, sounding a trifle caustic. "James, I expect slacking off from Victor, but not from you. You'd better not be turning into him."

"I'm not," Yasha said quickly, just as Kujaku replied, "I broke up with my girlfriend because I found her sleeping with someone else."

Bishamonten nodded and murmured, "Oh. Well, you have my sympathy, then. Breaking up with someone is never fun, and being betrayed is even less so. The thing to do is focus on things other than that, and put your energy into parts of your life that you can control," he lectured benevolently, smiling an encouraging little smile.

"It really sucks," Kujaku said forlornly, "when you've got something great going with a woman you like an awful lot, and she throws it all away with no warning whatsoever."

"Yes it does," Bishamonten agreed in a sad growl. "But Victor, I don't think you were about to propose to her, so I'm sure you'll get over it."

Yes, poor Bishamonten had dated, made love to, danced with, sang to, and picked out curtains with one Shashi Lipschnitzski, who'd flown the coop with a phone message. He'd been looking at engagement rings the day before, in a terrible twist of irony. That had been fourteen years ago, and it was still a sore spot. He often dreamed of her and wondered where in the world she was now, and what she was doing.

Yasha wondered about Bishamonten's statement. Well, the man was happily married now, so surely it was no longer a real issue. Yeah it still probably hurt, but really, what kind of straight man wouldn't want to be married to Kisshouten? If he wasn't gay, Yasha might have been a bit jealous, actually, because she was very kind and intelligent in addition to being beautiful.

Kujaku muttered, "Oh, I will get over the hooker-bitch. It's still painful, though. But better for it to end sooner than later, if she was doing things like that. …Hey Reginald, you look sad. What's up?"

Bishamonten blinked, dispelling memories of Shashi ballroom dancing with him, wearing a scandalous red dress and whispering romantic and sexy sentiments into his ear. Whoops, those memories did occasionally make themselves known. Well, he'd never see her again, he thought to himself, so it didn't matter, surely.

He lied, "I was merely contemplating the fact that if my wife did that to me, I'd break down into a sobbing heap on the floor, and murder the other man. Now back to work," he barked, and Kujaku and Yasha obeyed with alacrity.

By August, Kujaku had indeed gotten over Mindy, which made Yasha very thankful. As he came back from an errand, he encouraged himself to make some sort of move on the guy. But what? he thought as he approached the door again. An offer to take him to that terrible Wuddles World once more?

He paused outside the door, suddenly perturbed. Someone was belting a song, one of those pop things from an artist he was sure would disappear in a month or so: "Oooh… let's play a lovegame, play a lovegame – Do ya want love or ya want fame –"

Bishamonten never sang in the office, and if he did it would probably be something along the lines of "I'm an executive with tons of power la-la-la, bow before me." So what man would sing Lady Gaga? With a clear tenor and a smile in his voice, obviously having fun with it?

"I'm on a mission – And it involves some heavy touchin' yeah –"

It was probably that awful Vahyu, Yasha decided. He was no doubt dancing around making gratuitous hip movements, fluttering his eyelashes at –

Wait a minute, why would Vahyu be in Bishamonten's office? He tended to stay on the Marketing floor, for which Yasha was incredibly, incredibly thankful. But who was singing, then? Yasha pondered this for a while as the chorus was repeated, then hesitantly pushed the door open. While he was relieved to see that it wasn't Vahyu…

"I can see you starin' there from across the block," Kujaku sang gleefully, pirouetting with his loose tie in his hand, "With a smile on your mouth, and your hand on your –"

Yasha cleared his throat desperately, because he'd figured out where that rhyme was going.

"Oh hi James," Kujaku smiled, smoothing a lock of hair out of his face. "I was just singing. What a fun song, huh? I just can't get it out of my head! That Lady Gaga will go far, I just know it," he proclaimed, a prophet for the music scene.

"Uh… sure. You have a, er, lovely voice," Yasha said faintly, staring at Kujaku's open shirt. Well, technically, he was staring at the pecs and abs exposed by the open shirt, but who was keeping track? Not him, nosirree.

"Um, if you don't mind my asking," he went on, " why is your shirt unbuttoned?"

"Oh, I got hot," Kujaku said airily, like prancing around in a business office half-shirtless was no big deal and everyone did it. "You should've seen me leap from the desk to the table, it was awesome. I felt like a singing ninja!"

"I don't think Reginald will appreciate you jumping around on the furniture," Yasha muttered, crossing his arms in disapproval. "You might have broken something! And if he comes in and sees you wearing that, he'll probably yell. You should button that shirt back up and be mature."

He wanted to add, "But you know, I don't mind the open shirt, not one bit. Can I nibble on your abs and stroke my hands over your pecs?" But of course he didn't, because that would be Vahyu-inappropriate.

Kujaku, who had noticed the appreciative looks at his manly charms, was a bit taken aback that Yasha was insisting that he hide such things. Shoot. And here he'd displayed them mostly in the hope that Yasha would ogle them! Yeah he'd gotten hot too, but he couldn't just say, "I'm half-topless for you, buddy! I have no idea if you're gay or not, but this is your Victor Kujaku fanservice."

But on the plus side, the sexy assistant had certainly noticed such sculpted torso muscles. That was good! Kujaku honestly hated working out, so it was nice to see that all that boring hefting of weights and pushups had paid off. And this was a sign that Yasha wasn't completely straight! Yaaayyy!

"Well, I guess, if you insist," he sighed, starting to button his shirt back up. "Even though Reginald's at Taishakuten's, for that 'Look what I found out!' meeting. We should get him a trench coat and a fedora, 'cause he's the corporate spymaster," he smirked.

Yes indeed, he was. Bishamonten took his duties of securing Taishakuten's "reign" seriously, and had found out everything from a bomb plot to the engineer Harold Kumaraten's use of company funds for his hand sanitizer obsession. His little army of spies was always digging around, both in Tenkai Corporation and out, and more than one opposing company had been soundly defeated thanks to his information.

"Victor, you need to act your age," Yasha sighed in reply, still staring and unaware that he was doing so. "This is not a playground, this is an office! I'm guessing you were the class clown in school, yes?"

"Oh boy, was I!" Kujaku laughed, as he buttoned the last button and retied his tie. "I had 'em all rolling on the floor laughing, even my teachers! I went to a snooty private school, and they were desperate for some fun. I remember this one time, I sneaked into the principal's office and made an announcement using her voice.

"I think it was… 'Hello students, this is Principal Martins. I'd like to share with you that my butt is so big, you can see it from space. And I'm renaming our school Monkeychuckle Preparatory Academy.' Right about then somebody came in and dragged me away, and had to tell them all that it was a 'mean-spirited prank, pay no attention to what was just said.' "

He said all this with a proud grin, and Yasha couldn't help but snicker. Kujaku performed a little bow and bragged, "People were cracking up in every classroom, and apparently the biology teacher laughed so hard he choked. See, Principal Martins was this really boring, dry lady, who did indeed have a big butt. But I got her voice down. They all knew it had to be a prank, but the voice was what made it. I got detention and a full hour of lecturing, and then my parents grounded me, but it was so worth it," he concluded with a smirk.

"The things I missed being a good, quiet, obedient student," Yasha chuckled. "I went to a private school too, but the funniest thing that ever happened there was when the art teacher said, 'Oh fuck!' when he spilled a jar of paint all over his pants. Kids still did dumb and mean stuff, but they didn't act out nearly as much as some do in public schools."

"That is one nice thing about private schools," Kujaku agreed. "The riffraff are mostly kept out. Unless of course you're a private school that wants to win at sports, so they let the athletes get away with anything. And I gotta say, the cost is ridiculous sometimes."

"Yes. Anyway, Victor, please try to act more mature," Yasha pleaded, fighting the desire to grab Kujaku's shoulders to make him see how serious he was.

"But James," Kujaku whined, "that's against my nature!"

.

"We," Taishakuten said one Friday morning in October, "are making a tremendous profit."

It was another morning briefing. In fact, in all this time since Yasha had been hired, there had only been once that they hadn't had it, which was when Taishakuten had been sick. Even when one of the Senior VPs was on a business trip, this meeting of minds went on without him, and whichever one it was always made sure to read all the notes, or when applicable be present by video conference.

Today, since it was the week of Halloween, more than half of those present were wearing something holiday-themed. Koumokuten's tie was for once red, but it had little black bats on it. Zouchouten's tie was black with white spiderwebs. Souma was wearing little dagger earrings, instead of the little claw earrings she usually wore. Even Karura and Bishamonten had gotten into the spirit, with little ghost stud earrings and a blood-red tie with the graphic of a leafless, gnarled tree, respectively.

Only three had not tried to have a little fun: Taishakuten, Yasha, and Koumokuten's assistant, Walter Deva. Yasha had thought about it, and then decided that Kujaku's fake scar, tie with a skeleton on it, and belt buckle that said "BOO!" yesterday showed that he would be Halloween-y enough for the both of them.

And today, Kujaku was present for this briefing. Why? Because he'd persuaded Taishakuten to let him bake cookies and bring them in, "And I wanna see what you guys do in those secret meetings!"

Taishakuten had decided to humor him. Surprisingly enough to Yasha (and many other people), Taishakuten found Kujaku interesting and amusing. They got along well, although Kujaku would cheerfully admit, "Oh yeah, he's a handsome Ebeneezer Scrooge times ten," to anyone who asked.

And he was wearing that stupid scar again, and the idiotic belt buckle, and this time a tie with a Frankenstein's monster graphic that said "I LIIIVE!" while the monster held a cup of coffee. Yasha thought Zouchouten should be wearing that tie, because the head of R & D was hopelessly addicted to caffeine, and coffee was his delivery method of choice.

"You're telling me we're making a tremendous profit," Koumokuten grinned in response to Taishakuten's statement. "I'm buying myself a limited-edition car next month! I've had the Porsche for three whole years, anyway."

"Ah," Bishamonten sighed, "money. By God, I love it so."

A vision of his boss performing Michael Palin's "The Money Song" while dancing on the conference table arose in Yasha's mind, while Kujaku shook maracas in the background and whipped his shirt off for Yasha's benefit alone. Next to him, Zouchouten sighed and half-halfheartedly dinged a triangle.

"I love money too," Koumokuten enthused, bringing that vision to a terrifying scene of the Marketing VP imitating Kujaku, leaving Yasha clawing his eyes out while Souma screamed, "Oh God, make it stop!" and Bishamonten put his hands on his hips, annoyed at being interrupted in his dance. Koumokuten continued, "It makes the world go 'round. Why, without money, how would we show the lower classes how much better we are? Aaron, don't you think money's fantastic?"

"It is nice," Zouchouten agreed, "but it can't buy happiness, you know."

Koumokuten, Taishakuten, Bishamonten, and Deva all gave him incredulous looks. What kind of insane businessman was this?

"Aaron," Taishakuten scolded, "that's not true at all! Why, just the other day I bought myself a vacation home in the Bahamas with a private beach, and I can assure you, I am very happy indeed."

Yasha felt rather sorry for Zouchouten now, because disagreeing with Taishakuten was never a good idea. And indeed, the big man immediately backed down with a hasty, "Of course sir. How silly of me."

The meeting went on, everybody ate the cookies shaped like little severed heads (Koumokuten and Taishakuten seemed pleased by them, Souma seemed a bit disturbed by them), and it was decided that yes, they should do everything in their power to make even more dough. Yasha performed his duties flawlessly, and by now had earned the nickname "Best Executive Assistant." He wondered who had started that, and then decided that it didn't matter.

Kuyou had started it, actually. Their friendship just grew and grew and grew, and Yasha had once confessed, "Listen, you can never tell anyone this, but… I'm hopelessly in love with Victor."

"Yes, I know," she'd smiled, making him blink in surprise. And here he thought he'd been so good at hiding it!

"James, I think that's a good thing," she'd continued. "I like Victor so much, and I think you'd go well together. All you have to do is tell him how you feel!" she'd said in an encouraging tone, as if that would magically make everything perfect.

"Um, well, you know," he'd floundered, "he might not feel that way in return."

At which point Kuyou had heaved a sigh, knowing exactly how that felt. The poor woman was completely and totally gaga for Karl Ashuraou, Taishakuten's nice-guy best friend, although he was more clueless than a preschooler in a college calculus class. Perhaps if she'd said taken her own advice and said something to him instead of expecting him to pick up on her hints of devotion, but alas, he was a rather unobservant man and never knew.

But Yasha was beginning to wonder if, in some way, Kujaku might actually be attracted to him. After all, he was more physical lately. He kept patting him on the back, or the shoulder, or the arm, or the head; noogying him in sneak attacks; and once tapped a finger against his chest and chirped, "Hard like stone! Taekwondo pays major dividends in fitness, huh?"

And he kept watching him, which Yasha honestly didn't know what to think about. Was he doing so because he was bored, and Yasha was entertaining? You just couldn't tell with that man. But he'd say things like, "Y'know, James, you're fun. I like you a lot, I hope you realize that."

And they'd recently had a conversation on, "Ooh, this 'Defense of Marriage' crap makes me mad, James. Altering state constitutions to enshrine discrimination… I think that's just awful. I mean, say you find some guy you love, and you're gonna live together anyway, and be with him all your life. Seems to me making it legal would only help everybody!"

Unfortunately for the two of them, Bishamonten had then demanded Yasha's attention before his assistant could say, "That's a very progressive viewpoint. Um, I don't mean to pry, but are you, well, a straight man who's accepting or a not-straight man with a bigger stake in this issue?"

And by the time he'd worked up the nerve to try to bring that conversation up again, Kujaku was enthusing about the new "Star Trek" movie previews he'd seen, and it had been apparently forgotten. Things might have gone on like this indefinitely, but today was a day that would live in the opposite of infamy. In-infamy? Famy? Famousity? Whatever, this was that most important and joyous of days, Yasha just didn't know it yet.

When he came back from lunch, there was no Kujaku at his desk. This made perfect sense, because he'd just seen him in the cafeteria, doing a walrus impression with two straws up his nose. Souma had been guffawing, and Karura had been sighing, "That's disgusting and immature," when Yasha had gotten fed up with such childishness and walked out.

But there was something on the desk, besides the "Victor Kujaku: Secretary GOD" nameplate, the phone, and the computer: Kujaku's sketchbook, which Yasha had never had the chance to look at before. Sure Kujaku had offered to show it to him many times, but always when Yasha had been busy.

He approached the sketchbook cautiously, like Indiana Jones going for the idol in the opening scene of "Raiders of the Lost Ark." He didn't expect a giant stone ball to chase him, but given the way his life worked, he'd get his hands on this treasure only to have Bishamonten pop his head out of his office and snarl, "I'm telling Victor you're snooping in his private effects!"

But Dr. Jones was in luck, because Bishamonten was engrossed in a report, humming Queen's "I Want It All" as he plotted the destruction of another innocent company. He had no idea that his assistant had just opened the sketchbook to see a detailed ink drawing of a crow.

Impressed, Yasha turned a page to see a pencil portrait of Kujaku's mom, then dad, then… cartoon childhood pets? Okay, now the paperclip ferret made a bit more sense. Fascinated, he leafed through the book, then gasped at a page about halfway through. This was him!

Multiple hims, actually. Bust drawings mostly, with varying expressions ranging from angry to scarily happy (clearly these were from Kujaku's imagination) to distraught. He saw 3/4ths grinning Yasha, he saw profile pouting Yasha, he saw front-facing Yasha sprawled back on a pillow looking really –

Oh. Holy. God. His expression was one usually seen in porn flicks! His hair was spread out, his face was flushed, and he was probably naked (the image cut off at his upper abs). Many people, having encountered a coworker's artist's interpretation of them in the throes of passion, would have immediately called a lawyer to file a sexual harassment suit. But Yasha wasn't many people, and he was suddenly filled with hope.

So he does fantasize about me! he thought almost giddily. He imagines my sex face!

He was severely tempted to keep paging through this book, and see if Kujaku had drawn any actual nudity. Or if he were really lucky, he'd see a doodle of chibi Yasha being hugged or kissed by chibi Kujaku, or a romantic sketch of the two of them in the moonlight, or cartoon Kujaku daydreaming about him, the thought bubble shaped like a heart. Or maybe he'd see some gay por–

"Hold me and looove me, just wanna touch you for a minute," Kujaku's voice came from outside the door, and before Yasha could put the sketchbook down, the secretary had thrown the door open and walked in, still singing the song Yasha immediately associated with him. "Maybe three seconds –"

He caught sight of his friend then, and proudly asked, "Oh! James, do you like my drawings? I used to wanna be a comic artist. I took classes on it, but then my dad insisted I stop it and focus on business. But I try to keep my hand in, because it's a shame to let such hard-acquired talent fall by the wayside. Did you see the crow? That was a life study."

"Yes, it was very good, and in ink too," Yasha replied, then took the bull by the horns and continued, "Victor, I couldn't help but notice that you drew… me." He held the pictures up, tapping the sex one with an index finger.

"I sure did," Kujaku grinned. "You have a very expressive face, even though usually you have three expressions: grumpy, blank, and smiling slightly. But I've seen you get really mad, and laugh, and be sad when we found that dead baby rabbit on the side of the trail when we were hiking. I added some I haven't seen, like the one where you look sheepishly nervous."

"Yes. Well. I was more noticing the one where I'm having an orgasm," Yasha said bluntly. "Now why did you draw me of all people like that?"

"Oh, I made emotion sheets for everybody," Kujaku informed him matter-of-factly. "And they all have 'orgasmic' as one of 'em. You wanna see Xavier's? I'm really pleased with the way I got his –"

"NO!" Yasha barked, appalled. Seeing even a sketch of climactic Koumokuten would no doubt send him to the restroom to hurl up his lunch. There were people out there who were uglier, but he was willing to bet most of them didn't have such a completely arrogant and downright evil personality, and that was what really made him shudder around the Marketing VP.

"Why is that a standard for your drawings?!" he asked in disgust, suddenly afraid that Kujaku was some sort of nympho who slept with the world.

"Because everybody uses that expression at least once, most of us all the time," Kujaku replied cheerfully. "It certainly beats 'homicidal,' don't you think?"

Yasha had to admit that that was true. Still…

"I thought I was special," he muttered sullenly. To find out that Kujaku drew everybody, with sex faces no less, was a bit of a blow to his ego. So much for the fantasy idea. Clearly, he was just a pal to the person he wanted to kiss-tackle, and –

"Oh but James, you are special," the other man said quietly, with a serious look on his face. "Why do you think I drew you first?"

For a moment Yasha just froze, wondering if this were some sort of dream. Kujaku had just said he was special! And by the tone of his voice and the way he was looking at him, he wasn't talking about "best friend" special. Yasha sure hoped this was real, because if it was, his life had just improved dramatically.

"I spent the most time on you, too," Kujaku continued, slightly nervous at Yasha's lack of response. "I mean, this page has shading, none of the others do. Look, I was kinda, um… see, I was kinda hoping you might…"

He trailed off and they stared at each other, tension nearly palpable in the air. Not confrontational tension, oh no. This was sexual tension, and that was the best kind to have. All they needed for this to be some sort of iconic romance scene was an appropriate soundtrack, although maybe Kujaku's earlier singing of Lady Gaga would fit the bill.

Kujaku took a deep breath and finally concluded, "I was hoping you might, you know, want to go out to dinner sometime."

Yasha's instinct was to bellow, "YES!" and lift Kujaku up and spin him around. Barring that, he wanted to grin like a loon and give him a hug, thus demonstrating his seriousness. After all, he never touched people if he could help it.

As Kujaku nervously awaited Yasha's answer, Bishamonten suddenly slammed the door open and ordered, "James, I want the file for Schmitz immediately."

Kujaku now glared at Bishamonten. The man had interrupted this most important conversation! Just for that, he was going to use the hillbilly accent the rest of today, and write a poem called "Reginald Is a Doofus," and maybe even page someone with the name of "Carla Caramel-Carlton," or something equally silly.

Yasha used his expert poker face, despite wanting to go into a rage and punch Bishamonten in the jaw. Instead, he nodded and replied, "Of course, sir. Oh, Victor? I'm free tonight for that get-together," he said, as casually as he could.

Kujaku's expression changed from near-homicidal to beaming glee, and he laughed, "Sounds great. Six-thirty, my house?"

"I'll be there," Yasha grinned. "You know, I –"

"Socialization time is over now," Bishamonten snapped, for all the world some sort of military commander faced with misbehaving personnel. "Arrange things like that on your breaks, gentlemen. James, go get me that file. Victor, stop smiling like a fool and type up my speech."

Yasha and Kujaku obeyed the work orders, but they were both still smiling like fools.

.

"III… am going on a date with Jaaames!" Kujaku sang to his mirror as he brushed his hair. "We're going to go have some piiie… and I feel like I can flyyy! All the way to the skyyy… um… Oh! Is this what it feels like to be hiiigh?"

They'd decided to just meet at the restaurant, which was halfway between their houses: a Bakers Square, "because I love pie!" Kujaku had said enthusiastically. Yasha liked pie too, so he was down with that.

So Kujaku sang his little song ad nauseum, and Yasha hummed "Lovegame" as he got ready in his own house, and by the time they got to the restaurant, each of them was more stoked than should be legal. Kujaku was grinning, Yasha was grinning, and an older lady grinned too, just seeing such happy young'uns.

Kujaku considered giving him a hug, and then remembered the "Do not touch James Yasha" rule, and so settled for a peppy, "Hey howdy hey! This place is almost deserted! Let's request a table far away from everybody else."

And that was exactly what they did. They ordered their drinks (decaf tea for Yasha, a chocolate shake for Kujaku), and the minute the waitress was gone, Kujaku smirked, "Nobody in hearing range, if we talk really quietly."

He unzipped his jacket, and Yasha could now see that the man was wearing a "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace" t-shirt that said "Meesa Jah-Jah Binks!" with that unforgettable side character waving at Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon in a swamp. Yasha sighed; Kujaku probably found Jar-Jar hilarious.

"Oh, I see you're looking at my shirt," Kujaku grinned. "I found it at a thrift store! On the same trip, I found an old MC Hammer 'Can't Touch This' muscle tee. It was a good haul," he reminisced, also recalling the neon purple bellbottoms he'd tried on just for fun. He hadn't bought those, but every Halloween, he wished he had.

"You certainly have eccentric tastes," Yasha muttered, almost in exasperation. "And it started young. I saw your childhood pets in your sketchbook: a one-eyed cat, a mouse, a lizard, and a ferret. You seem to have spent the most time on the ferret, and am I correct that it was the inspiration for that sculpture you created a while back?"

"Yeah, Biggles was my pal," Kujaku fondly replied. "I took great care of him, and he lived to be really old. Having him put to sleep was the hardest thing I've ever done, but it was the right decision. He was in so much pain. Anyway, I put the sculpture right next to a big framed photo of him, and it brings back some great memories," he finished, smiling slightly.

"That's sweet," Yasha said honestly. "You're a kind person like that."

"To people I like and animals, yeah," Kujaku said seriously, "but James, I can be pretty nasty sometimes. I try not to be, but get me mad enough and I feel like I want to… to melt somebody's face off, or something!"

Yasha blinked, a bit perturbed. Then again, he often felt like getting a katana and slicing his enemies down the middle in one swift stroke, or learning sorcery and turning Koumokuten into goo, for example. And the world would thank him for that last one, he was pretty darn sure. Well, maybe not the jerk's bratty daughter, but the rest of humanity would! …Minus Bishamonten, Taishakuten, Zouchouten, and Vahyu, but they were too close to the situation and weren't objective at all. So there.

Right then the waitress arrived with their drinks, and they hastily ordered their meals, both being familiar with the menu. Once she was gone, bearing their orders back to the kitchen, Kujaku changed the subject with, "So I'm really, really glad this worked out."

"So am I," Yasha said fervently. "So… I'm guessing you must be bisexual, yes?"

"Yeah," Kujaku nodded. "And you? Now I think, just going by the way you got all scared when that pretty sales rep tried to hug you, that you do not, in fact, find women attractive whatsoever. True?"

"Yes. And I don't advertise it," Yasha sighed. "I hide it, really. People can be incredibly hate-filled."

"Well, I'm not flamboyantly out there either, but you shouldn't be ashamed of something that's part of what you are. And it's not the most important thing about you! I mean, c'mon, it's not like," Kujaku did a Yasha impression, " 'Hi, I'm James Yasha, and I'm gaaayyy. The fact that I like men obviously negates everything else I do and think and have earned!' Yeah people can take it too far, Charles is a great example of that, but I honestly think it shouldn't be a huge deal."

Yasha had to chuckle a bit at Kujaku's impression of him as a Vahyu wannabe. The fluttered eyelashes with the grumpy face and tone were what made it, really.

"I guess. But – you know," he said in exasperation, "people like Charles give the rest of us a bad name. Did you see him hit on that janitor the other day?"

"Yeah," Kujaku snickered. "What was his stupid line? Oh yeah: 'You're a man who looks good in overalls and carrying a bucket. You know what's on my bucket list? To do it with a sexy janitor!' That, right there, should really be grounds for him being fired, it's so unprofessional."

"I want to roundhouse-kick that man," Yasha snarled. "I told you about the spaghetti, I think."

"You did. Did I ever tell you about the time he hit on me? It was right after he'd been made Advertising Manager, and it was at the little party thing for him. So I'm eating some cake, right?" Kujaku sighed, rolling his eyes heavenwards in exasperation. "And he comes over, and he steals my fork! I say something like, 'That's my cake I was just about to eat, you flaming fruit basket!' And he just winks and replies, 'I'll feed it to you. You know, you have such sexy eyes.' "

Yasha growled low in his throat as Kujaku went on, "So here's what I did: I grabbed his fork and stabbed his hand. When he screamed, I just told him, 'Don't make me stab your cojones, Charlie.' And when Xavier came over to ask what the fuck was that all about, I told him, 'Charles is gunning for a harassment suit, sir!' And then he yelled at him too," he finished with an evil smile.

"Brilliant," Yasha complimented, with an equally evil smile. "But back to us. I mean, look, I really… for months now, I…"

"James," Kujaku said firmly, going for broke, "I love you, and I want you to kiss me. I've wanted you for months, and ever since I saw you check me out when I sang 'Lovegame,' I've been wondering if you feel the same." As he said this he leaned forwards across the table, his eyes half-lidded and going for as sultry an expression as he could.

Stunned by the fact that Kujaku loved him back, Yasha's "No gay actions in public" walls fell down. Only for a little while, but it was enough. He closed his eyes, leaned forwards too, and kissed him.

BLISS! It was like fireworks, without the burns and loud noises. It was like payday, times a zillion. It was like winning a taekwondo trophy, minus all the hard work and bruises. It was like putting the final paperclip on a sculpture, but even more fun. It was like –

"Daddy?" a tiny voice piped up from the left. "Why is that man kissing that other man?"

The spell was broken, and Yasha's eyes shot open in near-terror, as he jerked away. Oh shit! Now he would be subjected to a furious lecture on sin, and with his luck someone he knew would come in right then, and then they'd –

"Well, Susie," the dad who'd just sat down at a table three away said cheerfully, patting his three-year-old daughter's head, "some men like other men, and not women. It's just how they are. Not every woman likes men, either. It's not a bad thing, it's just part of life."

Kujaku flashed the dad a thumbs-up and a grin as Yasha let out a shaky breath. Safe! Although next time, he might not be so lucky, so best to keep such demonstrations of affection behind closed doors.

"So James," Kujaku said rather breathlessly, "I'll take that as a whacking-great 'yes' to my question, which I'm so happy about I want to break into a song and dance number. We could waltz on the table, except I've mostly forgotten how to waltz, but you get the drift. Maybe I could pick it back up again, and we could wear open romantic shirts or something equally visually arresting."

And so they talked about love. And when the food came, they ate it and talked about more love. And when the pie came, they shared their pies: cherry for Yasha, peanut butter cup for Kujaku. And to use a Biblical phrase, they saw that it was good.

Yasha gallantly paid the bill, feeling extra manly. Not that Kujaku was girly, he could be pretty manly too, but tonight Yasha felt like he could go wrestle a bear and win. It was a nice feeling, being the strong, studly one who paid the check. And he couldn't wait to see Kujaku be manly some other time, as he'd assured him he would be.

"I feel fricking great now," Kujaku told Yasha as they exited the restaurant and began the walk back to their cars. "It's – well, it's…"

And because he felt so happy, Yasha used a Graham Chapman voice and intoned, "Monty Python's Flying Circus."

Kujaku froze and whipped his head towards him, his mouth open. Suddenly afraid that he'd sounded incredibly stupid, Yasha apologized, "Sorry. See, it's this thing in the opening credits: Michael Palin's castaway comes up and says, 'It's…' and then they say – well, you know."

Kujaku was absolutely beaming as he replied, "I… James, I love Monty Python!"

Yasha beamed back at him, as flowers burst overhead, harp music played, and God said, "Lo, James Yasha, this is thy one true love. Thou must bind thyself to this man and his paperclips."

Actually, those were dry old leaves rattling on the sidewalk, the harp music was an obnoxious rap song blasting from that car over there, and God was a grumpy fat man snapping, "You're blockin' the sidewalk, assholes! Move it!"… but neither of Bishamonten's underlings noticed that at all.

As the grumpy fat man shoved past and continued on his bad-tempered way, Yasha looked deep into Kujaku's gorgeous eyes, took a deep breath, and asked, with a British accent, "Want to come back to my place?"

Kujaku linked his arm through Yasha's and replied, "Oh yes indeed. Yes, I do want to come back to your place… and maybe I won't leave for a full two days."

.

It was two days later. All around Yasha's normally pristine house, stuff was scattered. Like clothes, abandoned plates, and a number of used things unsuitable for mention. The sound system was currently playing "I Believe in Miracles," after running through Yasha's "Songs About Victor" mixed CD ("Lovegame" was number one on the disc) no less than twenty-one times in a row. And it was a long CD.

From the pile of blankets and pillows that had at one point been a neatly-made bed, a head popped out. Kujaku blinked sleepy eyes, yawned, and looked at the clock, then frowned like the machine was making an obscene gesture at him.

"Hey, it's ten in the evening," he sighed, sounding rather annoyed about that. "If I don't go home and get some new clothes, Reginald will blow his stack tomorrow morning."

Yasha considered this. He could see it now: Kujaku showing up in wrinkled jeans and "Star Wars" t-shirt, wearing a satisfied grin and showing Bishamonten his new hickey collection. "See Reginald," he'd laugh, lifting up his shirt, "I told you I'd have fun over the weekend! James, show him yours too."

Yasha paled and poked his head out from the blanket nest as well, nervously suggesting, "Victor, um… maybe this shouldn't be mentioned to Reginald. Or anyone at Tenkai Corporation."

Kujaku frowned, shifting to stare Yasha in the eye, and asked, "Oh, you're ashamed of me now?"

Yasha shook his head vehemently and quickly assured him, "Not you! Just, um… the fact that you're, well, male," he finished in a sheepish mumble. It sounded incredibly stupid even to him, but maybe Kujaku wouldn't push it.

Kujaku cocked his own head, and pushed it. "Why James, really? You mean you never noticed?" he asked sarcastically, arching a brow. "See, when most people have their hands on –"

"That's not what I meant!" Yasha snapped, exasperated. "It's just that I've never told them I, er, swing the other way, and judging by Reginald's expression whenever he sees Charles, he might be a tad disturbed by it."

Actually, Bishamonten was only disgusted at the sight of Vahyu because the Ad Manager had once shown up at his hotel room door, wearing leather pants and holding up a bottle of wine while winking suggestively. Bishamonten had no problem with homosexuality, it was just that Vahyu's pants had left little to the imagination, he disliked him anyway, and the head of Expansion was kind of not-gay. At all.

But Yasha and Kujaku had no way of knowing this. All they knew was that Bishamonten always endeavored to have someone between him and Vahyu during meetings, meals, and plane rides. Zouchouten did the same thing, for reasons he had never told anyone else about. (They involved a hot tub, a "lost" Speedo, and a question of "Aaron, why are you leaning away? I don't bite… unless you're into that.")

So Kujaku considered and came up with, "But living in the closet sucks mold. People commit suicide over it! And everyone will wonder why neither of us goes out with women anymore."

Yasha sighed, "In a perfect world where everyone was accepting and no one was disturbed by it, I'd announce it over the company intercom. But my work life is important to me, and do you really think they'll let us work in the same office and sleep together?"

Kujaku thought for a moment, then ventured, "Promise me no cover girlfriends?"

That was the easiest promise Yasha would ever have to make. "I promise, no cover girlfriends. And far from Tenkai Corporation, I'll wear open shirts and ballroom dance with you. I'll write you poems. I'll invite you to my house for elaborate dinners and passionate lovemaking. I'll even – I'll even tattoo your name on my hip!" he proclaimed, flush with the giddiness that comes from requited and consummated love.

Tapping Yasha lightly on the nose, the secretary grinned, "You don't have to do that last one. And in return, I will never come right out and say I'm sleeping with you until you break it to everyone first. Of course," he qualified, "I can't promise I won't make double entendres that go over their heads, or try to make you realize you should confess to the world."

That was fair, and Yasha said as much.

Finally, after much smooching and saying things like, "Oh, I guess I can stay a little longer," Kujaku reluctantly disengaged himself from Yasha's arms, and went in search of his clothes. The smiley-face boxers were easy to find, but it took him a while to locate his Jar-Jar shirt, which had ended up on the lamp in the kitchen. Yasha, robe-clad and smirking, located the jeans, which were draped over the couch.

"Well, Victor," he finally said when Kujaku was fully dressed again, "I've said it before but I'll say it again: I love you, and you've made me very happy. Now, whenever we're completely sure we're alone, we can be passionate in all sorts of ways."

"James," Kujaku replied after he gave him one final kiss, "we are so dirty dancing to 'Lovegame' next time."

.

.

(AN: I've written Kujaku pursuing Yasha before, and while I still think that might be more in line with the manga it was fun to turn it around. Ha, Yasha's gift of paperclips went completely over Kujaku's head, heh-heh. Oh, and as far as I know there is no book called The Monty Python Joke Tome, same with the samurai book. And "Biggles" is the name of one of the cardinals in Monty Python's Spanish Inquisition sketch.

Wuddles World is a creation of my sister and my brother, and is used with their permission. Oh, you comedy genius younger siblings you! I've tweaked it a bit, and it certainly isn't in Kusumapura in their version, but hopefully I've done such a lulzy thing justice.

Ooh, a note about reviews: I appreciate people telling me what I've done wrong. This entire story is finished [and I had pretty much set the characters' personalities in stone earlier with "Adele"], but I certainly take feedback into account for future fics. Don't be afraid to log on and tell me just what you think, as I would thank you if you give constructive criticism, seriously. Obviously I pay attention to guest reviews, but I like to be able to tell someone in person how helpful their feedback was. If you didn't like it, why and what could I do better? If you did like it, why and what should I keep doing? Thanks in advance!

The next chapter is Tamara, Aguni, and Koumokuten, with the adults dancing under a full moon with roses between their teeth and whispering things like, "Take me to Paradise in your loving arms."

Just kidding! That would be downright terrifying, and quite out of character. Here's what it actually contains: two harassed assistants mentioned briefly in "Adele," Tamara giving Shashi a run for her money in conniving, and Koumokuten sneaking out of his mansion by way of the roof. Plus Aguni unwittingly torturing a rodent with her voice. It's actually the funniest installment, I think.)