Disclaimer: Sekaiichi Hatsukoi is owned by Nakamura-sensei.
Warnings: (past) non-con (not explicit, no rape), fairly dark themes, possible angst, but won't be over the top. If you have an issue with BL, then you're in the wrong fandom. Go away.
"Alright. That's it. If Ritsu's not going to help himself, then it's up to me to help him. If he's not actually working to take over his father's company then there's no reason for him to be here anyway. I'm dragging him back with me to England."
Chapter 7: The wind of changes and choice
"I love you Ritsu!"
"Katsu-nii, get off me!" grouched Ritsu, but he didn't struggle as Katsuki gave him a hug. They were so common that Ritsu barely noticed then anymore.
"I'm so glad to see you two getting along!" gushed Suzume happily.
"You two really are just like brothers."
"Yep! I want to grow up and be like Katsu-nii!"
Kai laughed. Morning like these were rare indeed. Too often he would wake up too late to catch Ritsu before he left for school, and he would return home when Ritsu was asleep. Suzume had been helping him more and more while keeping up with her connections with other company boss's wives at the same time. As such, they had been forced to upgrade Katsuki's previous status as a semi-permanent baby sitter to a semi-permanent guardian for Ritsu. However, despite the situation, the two boys seemed to be getting along fine.
"Well, I'm glad to hear that. Katsuki is a good role model for you."
"Thank you Kai Ojii-san."
"Not at all Katsuki. It's true afterall. I'm proud to call you my nephew."
"It's so hot Ritsu! You sure you want to keep that shirt on?"
Katsuki was louging in the sitting room, his shirt already peeled off in the face of the harsh summer weather. Ritsu grimaced. He didn't like walking around the house without his shirt on, but if Katsuki was already doing it…
Nodding his head, Ritsu proceeded to follow Katsuki's example and pulled off his shirt.
"There you go! It feels cooler already doesn't it?"
Ritsu nodded, flushing slightly in embarrassment.
"Well, that's good then. Do you want anything to drink?"
Ritsu shook his head.
Katsuki shrugged and pulled Ritsu down onto the sofa with him. Slinging an arm around his younger cousin he flicked through the channels on the television, forcing himself to calm down at the feel of the smooth, soft skin underneath his hand.
"Nii-san, it's hot." Protested Ritsu as he shifted uncomfortably under the heavy weight of his cousin.
"Oops. Sorry." Grinned Katsuki.
While flicking through the channels, a thought appeared in Katsuki's mind.
"Make sure you don't walk around like this when your parents are home."
"I don't think your mother would like it. She'll probably get angry at you."
Ritsu grimaced at the thought.
"It's alright when it's just us though. I don't mind. Just thought it'd be best to not let your parents know. I can keep a secret afterall."
Ritsu smiled back at his cousin.
"Alright. It's a secret"
"What took you so long?" snapped an irate Takano with a scowl, before burying himself back into paperwork. "So? What did she think?"
Ritsu hesitated before replying.
"The author didn't come. She caught the flu."
"She what?!" Takano's head shot up. "It's not even flu season!"
Ritsu flinched slightly but stood his ground as Takano ranted slightly before settling down.
"Then? What took you so long? You were gone for the better part of an hour."
'He was keeping track?!' thought Ritsu desperately.
"Oh, well, she didn't call until late."
"You waited for her for an hour?!"
"No! Of course not. But I met an author on the way out and…" Ritsu trailed off uncertainly. How was he supposed to explain Jack?
"Who?" frowned Takano. "There shouldn't be any other authors scheduled to come in today. I think."
"It…It wasn't a mangaka. It was just an author that I used to work with…." Mumbled Ritsu, cringing slightly at the glare Takano shot him.
"And you decided to catch up on company time I see." Said Takano dryly.
"I was being polite!"
"You were supposed to be working." Countered Takano flatly. He was about to say something when Hatori gently passed a thick bundle of names.
"Takano-san, I'm sorry to interrupt but I really need you to approve this before I give Kurosawa-sensei the go."
Takano sighed and waved Ritsu off as he grabbed the papers shoved in front of him.
Ritsu took the point and hurried back to his desk.
"Why is he in such a bad mood today?" he muttered to Kisa, who was typing furiously on his computer.
Kisa grimaced. "Awards party."
Ritsu shot Kisa a confused look and was about to ask more, when Takano shot him a dirty look, driving Ritsu to focus on the work in front of him, leaving the question to be forgotten in a dusty corner of his mind.
Jack stepped out of Akihiko's apartment, his sunglasses drawn to shield him from the oncoming sunset. Flipping open his phone, he ran through a list of numbers in his head.
For the first time, he was feeling deeply grateful that his company covered his phone bill.
He had a lot of calls to make.
The day ended with a collective sigh from the tired workers. It was in the middle of the cycle. Not quite the excruciating pace of the end of the cycle, but not exactly the slower paced start either.
"Thank you for your hard work."
"See you guys tomorrow."
Farewells were called out from behind desks between the editors as there was a mass exodus towards the doors.
"Onodera! Stay behind."
"He's been asking you to stay back an awful lot lately." Stated Kisa as he packed up his bag.
Ritsu shrugged non-committally and Kisa sighed before heading for the door.
"See you at the awards party!"
"See you there too. Thanks for your hard work." Ritsu replied distractedly as his eyes scanned the latest name, checking for any last minute changes he could add before it went under Takano's scrutiny.
Ritsu jumped as he realized Takano had left his desk and was now standing over his shoulder.
"Takano-san! Please don't creep up on me like that!" Ritsu asked exasperatedly.
Takano grinned smugly.
"Not my fault that you weren't aware of your surroundings."
Ritsu scowled before showing Takano the edited names. "Here." Ritsu mumbled.
Takano flipped through them before grabbing a pen and making a few changes.
"This scene could be done better. Add a wide shot to add perspective, then a close up afterwards. Draw this scene from the heroine's point of view. That way the readers can relate more to the character. This part…"
Time passed slowly as Takano talked through the improvements that could be made with the newbie manga editor. The rays of the setting sun filtered through the gaps of the window blinds, fading from a pale yellow to a rusty orange. As the last page was set down, the larger of the two men stretched before picking up his bag.
"So, ready to head back now?"
"Yeah. Just a sec."
There was a comfortable silence between the two as Ritsu hurriedly stuffed his computer into his bag. The two walked out of the office side by side, Ritsu quietly reaching out to grasp Takano's hand, his face burning at the simple action. It had been six months since Takano had first initiated the action, and since then, it had become a small habit between the two, that on the corridor between their office and the elevator, as long as no one else was around (a stipulation made by Ritsu), their hands and fingers would entwine around each other. It was a habit that still made Ritsu's heart beat faster, and he swore that Takano still smirked secretly when he saw the reflexive heat that burned red on Ritsu's face.
They entered the elevators, heading down, when Ritsu decided to break the silence between them.
"For what?" asked Takano, confused.
"For…for taking the time out to help me." Mumbled Ritsu. Ritsu would never admit it to anyone, but he loved those moments. It brought back memories of two people sitting in a school library, one of them reading idly, while the other struggled over mathematical equations.
Takano smirked as if he knew what Ritsu was thinking.
"Not the first time I've had to do it." He said with a slight tease to his voice. "But still, I've never had someone ask for extra training after going through the 'training from hell'."
"More like no one was willing to risk having to go through the ruddy thing again." Muttered Ritsu.
"What was that?"
"Nothing!" stuttered Ritsu hurriedly. The elevator pinged as the doors opened, and Takano released Ritsu's hand. Ritsu exited the elevator behind his boss, his hand feeling strangely empty.
There was another bout of silence as they both headed towards the front doors.
"Do you...ever regret..."
"RITSU!" The shout made the two men look up, cutting off what Takano was about to ask. Takano looked towards the source of the shout, only to see a tall, blonde, curly haired, blue-eyed, honest to goodness foreigner running towards Ritsu. He glanced towards Ritsu, to see recognition flash across his face.
"What took you so long?" he asked irritably in English as he came to a screech in front of Ritsu.
"Jack?! What are you still doing here?"Ritsu asked. Slipping into the foreign language without thinking.
"I'm here to pick you up of course. And to ask if I could stay over at your place."
"Wha…I mean…sure, but why?" confusion still written across his face. "Wouldn't a hotel be more comfortable?"
Jack shrugged. "I want to save up to buy a place back in England. Besides, you know how I am with hotels."
"Then rent a bed sit! My place is tiny!" exclaimed an exasperated Ritsu.
"Ritsu~~" Jack went into full-on begging mode. "Please? I really don't want to live alone in Tokyo. Besides, I recollect something about you owing me one?"
Ritsu groaned. He wasn't getting out of this. He grimaced before nodding.
"Great!"Jack said gleefully, cheerfully ignoring Ritsu's muttering, throwing an arm around Ritsu's shoulders."This is going to be so fun. It'll just be like old times again."
There was a cough behind the two men, alerting Ritsu to Takano's presence.
"Sorry to interrupt a reunion, but who are you?"Takano asked with a slight edge to his voice. His eyes narrowed on Jack's arm over Ritsu's shoulders.
"Sorry!" gasped Ritsu as he realized how impolite he had been and hurriedly introduced the two. "Takano-san, this is Jack Strugnell, he is an author from England and is here to co-author a book with Usami-sensei. Jack, this is Takano Masamune. My boss at Emerald and erm…my neighbor." He added lamely. There was no point in hiding it. Jack would find out sooner or later.
"You live next to your boss?" choked out Jack in amusement before sticking out a hand to shake Takano's. "Pleasure to meet you."
"Likewise." Replied Takano. And if he gripped Jack's hand with a little more force than usual, well, no one would know right?
"Anyway, I'm going to be living with Ritsu for the duration of my stay…"
Takano's eyes widened in shock at the statement before he struggled to school his face back into its' normal mask. Jack noted the movement with amusement before continuing on.
"…and so I suppose I'll be seeing you a lot. I'll be stealing Ritsu now if you don't mind. I would like some dinner before I settle in and I don't know many places around Tokyo." Jack said cheerfully as he grabbed Ritsu's arm and steered him towards the exit.
"Wait! Jack, wait!" cried Ritsu as he stumbled behind the stronger man. Ritsu managed a glance back and he couldn't stop the guilt welling up in him as he looked at the solitary figure of Takano standing at the entranceway.
Jack followed Ritsu down the apartment hallway, cheerfully dragging his luggage behind him.
"Come on in." welcomed Ritsu as they entered his apartment, flicking on the lights as he went.
"So this is your place huh?" Jack stood in the middle of the sitting room. It was sparsely though tastefully furnished in hues of cream and brown.
"Yeah. It's not much. You sure you want to stay here and not at a hotel or something?" asked Ritsu as he put the kettle on, and pulled out a jar of powdered tea.
"It's alright. I'm not too keen on staying at a hotel. Besides, it's still larger than our dorm rooms back in the day, so I say we'll do fine."
Ritsu snorted. "There aren't that many places smaller than those rooms." He muttered under his breath as he poured hot water into the mugs.
Jack chuckled slightly as he caught Ritsu's grumble, and stretched out on the sofa.
"Just leave your stuff here and go take a shower. Towels are in the cupboard over there. I'll lay out an extra futon. You can take the bed."
Jack scowled. "Hey, I'm the one intruding."
"And you're the guest." Snapped Ritsu, his voice stern.
Jack was about to argue, but decided against it. Opening his luggage, he grabbed a pair of underwear and pajamas when he noticed a large envelope in his luggage.
"Hmmm…?" came Ritsu's muffled voice through the bedroom.
"I've got a present for you! I'll leave it on the table yeah?"
"Sure!" came the reply.
Jack carefully placed the box on the low table, before heading to the showers.
The cool water hit his face, waking him up slightly. As he went through the automatic motions of washing, he thought about Ritsu's precadement. He hadn't meant to give Ritsu the letter, heck he hadn't even realize he'd be able to meet up with Ritsu. Because contrary to what Ritsu seemed to believe, Jack did understand Ritsu's need to return to Japan; and as he had told Ritsu, Jack wouldn't have objected to his choice.
"But this… this is different. Ritsu's in manga for god's sake! He's not even working at his dad's company! It's as if all the work he's done has been for naught! He'll be better off back in England. "Thought Jack determinedly. "And if I need to hit below the belt then so be it."
He turned off the showerhead and stepped out of the shower.
"Time for a little emotional manipulation." Thought Jack.
"So, are you going to the awards party tomorrow?" Ritsu asked as he handed Jack a beer.
Jack cracked open the can and took a long draught before answering.
"Nah. It's mostly for novel authors and mangakas whose works are being turned into animations. Not really up my alley."
"It'll be good for networking."
"My fan base isn't in Japan. S'not worth it. Besides, I hate those things."
Ritsu nodded, unsurprised by Jack's answer.
"I'll be rather busy in the next couple of weeks, so you'll need to entertain yourself. Is that alright with you?"
Jack nodded absently. "Sure. No problem. I've got a few things planned too, so I can take care of things myself."
They continued drinking in silence, the television showing some inane drama, the white noise of meaningless words swirled around the two men, creating a silence of a different kind. Jack glanced over to his friend, the flickering of the television light casting contrasting shades of light and shadow over his face.
'He looks haggard' thought Jack. 'Tired. Old in a way that he shouldn't be. He's thinner than I remembered. Frown lines more permanent than I recall.'
"So, have you opened the letter yet?"
Jack wondered if Ritsu had heard the question as the brunette remained silent. His fingers gently cradling the beer can clasped between his fingers, his eyes stared unseeingly at the television in front of him.
Jack decided to repeat the question.
"Ritsu? Can you hear me? Have you opened the letter yet?"
Ritsu took a slow sip of beer. His eyes remaining fixed on the electric box in front of him. Jack was about to wave his hand in front of Ritsu's face when he replied.
Jack relaxed back into the sofa. The girl on television had started to cry rather dramatically about how difficult it was to choose between two loves. It was getting irritating, so Jack grabbed the remote and switched the annoying box off, and in doing so, plunged the room into darkness.
"And?" he prompted the statue-like figure of his best friend.
"I have responsibilities."
"To my father. The company. I have obligations to the…"
"And it seems to me that you're the only one thinking that way."
"Won't want you to be unhappy Ritsu."
There was another pause.
"I talked to him."
Ritsu choked before coughing harshly to clear his lungs.
"You what?!" He gasped towards the blonde.
"He said he will support your decision, no matter what it is." Jack whispered quietly.
Ritsu sat there, stunned.
"At least think about it." Said Jack. He stood and stretched, popping his back as he did so.
"Man I'm tired! I'll go off to bed now. Thanks for letting me stay."
Jack padded towards the bedroom door, leaving Ritsu in the sitting room to ponder.
"Ryuuichirou-sama, Strugnell-san is asking to meet you as soon as possible."
Isaka looked up from his papers before nodding.
"Alright. Send him in."
Kaoru nodded mutely before leaving. Less than a second later, Jack Strugnell strolled into the room.
Isaka smiled before inclining his head towards a seat.
"So, Strugnell-san, how have you been enjoying Japan?"
"Please, call me Jack. Strugnell-san is a bit too formal." Jack said before smiling politely. "It's been good. I'm looking forwards to working with Usami-sensei."
"Yes, it's quite the opportunity for both parties isn't it?" replied Isaka. "So, not that I'm unhappy to see you, but what brings you here this morning?"
Jack paused before sighing.
"I was wondering about my editor."
"Yes." Frowned Isaka, shuffling to find the relevant paperwork. "If I'm not wrong, you've been assigned Aikawa as your editor. I thought it would be easier to get things organised if there's just the one editor between you and Usami-sensei."
"Yes, well, it's about that." Jack said, fidgeting slightly in his seat. I was wondering if it would be possible for someone else to be in charge of this project? Just for this book and while I'm here."
"It's not an issue. Aikawa-san has recently had to ask for stress leave and I was a bit hesitant to allow her to handle the project. But she was the best person I could think of. If you have a person in mind, then it shouldn't be a problem." Isaka hesitated. "But just wondering, has there been a problem with Aikawa-san?"
"No! Not at all! Or at least, I don't have a problem with her. It's just that, well, the person I had in mind knows my writing style very well. He's also good at English so it makes communication a little easier."
Isaka frowned. "I'm not sure I understand. There is no one in the literature department whom has worked with you before or is proficient in English. I'm sure of it. Otherwise I would have assigned them to you immediately."
"Well that's the thing." Jack leaned forwards slightly in chair. "The person I'm asking about is not part of the literature department."
Isaka's eyebrows rose.
"Not part of the literature….then why would you want to…" Ryouichirou's eyes turned sharp. "I apologise Strugnell-san, but I cannot, in good faith assign you a sub-par editor simply because he is your friend. The book is published under Marukawa. Surely you understand the need for us to maintain the quality of our works."
Jack scowled slightly.
"I'm as invested in this project as much as you are. I have my reputation as a writer on the line here! But the person I'm suggesting is not sub-par. In fact, I don't even understand why he's not in the literature department."
"I assure you, we assign each employee to where we believe suits them best."
"Look, I'm not here to question your judgement or to tell you how to do your work. It's not…look, just speak to the guy, assess him, and then tell me if he's suitable to be my editor. I'll respect your decision, whatever it may be, but I'm asking you as a friend and as one of the authors under your care, to at least consider it."
Isaka glared stonily at the determined glint in Jack's eye before caving with a grumble, causing Jack to suppress a delighted whoop of victory.
"Fine. But if this doesn't work out, I want no complaining from you alright?"
"Sure thing Isaka-san." Agreed Jack instantly.
"Alright then, who is this mystery editor?" sighed Isaka as he shuffled paper around his desk.
"Onodera Ritsu from the Emerald Shoujo Manga department."
A/N: I'm back! Sorry it took me so long. Exams are many, and multi-tasking is unfortunately not one of my better qualities. This chapter is shorter than usual, and that's because it's only half of the original chapter. I haven't written the other half yet, but I've the skeleton all set out, so hopefully that will be done quickly.
Also, NEXT CHAPTER WILL BE VERY BORDERLINE M. There will be a mature scene that will be posted AS A SEPARATE STORY (it will be rated M, and will be posted when the next chapter comes up). This is to protect this story because I believe that has been a bit pedantic about that sort of stuff.
Once again, sorry for the slow update. Please leave a review; favourite and follow if you liked it, and I hope you enjoyed the chapter. :D