For the people interested in COI-Redux, don't worry -- chapter 4 is almost finished. It just needs proofing and a few tweaks. It should be up in the next day or two.
As for this fic, I posted it in 2006 directly on the Love Mode LJ-comm, so I decided to post a copy on my own LJ, just for completeness.
Title: Proprietary Interest
Beta: totally un-betaed
Fandom(s): Love Mode, ViewFinder
Character/Pairing: Reiji/Naoya, Asami/Takaba
Disclaimer: Love Mode belongs to Shimizu Yuki; Viewfinder belongs to Yamane Ayano
Warnings: spoilers for both series series
Summary: An interesting conversation between Reiji and Asami about business and the care of pets.
Asami Ryuuichi took a drink of the very expensive liquor in his glass and asked in a deceptively casual voice, "What would you say if I asked to join your club?"
Aoe Reiji stopped in mid-sip and lifted an dark eyebrow at the sudden question.
"What would be the point?" Reiji demanded of the tall, impeccably dressed dark-haired man facing him across the coffee table.
"Blunt, to the point of rudeness. Typical of you."
Reiji snorted. "Truthfully, why would you even bother? The only reason that you could possibly have for wanting to join my club is to gain access to a specific individual in my employ. And if you're that interested in the person, why not approach them directly and spare yourself the trouble and expense of joining? You're certainly persuasive enough to make most people ignore a few rules."
"Bypassing you might be considered discourteous."
"As if a little thing like that would stop you from getting something or someone you really wanted," Reiji muttered under his breath.
"But I'm interested in your answer. Hypothetically speaking."
Reiji considered, then said, "Well, it would be somewhat difficult to refuse, of course."
It was Asami's turn to raise an eyebrow.
"You don't have problems turning other people down. Rather rudely, I may add."
"True," Reiji said with a shrug, "But we both know you're not like most people."
"Hmmm. So you're saying that you're inclined to say 'no', aren't you?
"As for my answer, it would depend on who you're interested in. Hypothetically speaking."
"Why?" Asami said idly, swirling the liquor in his glass.
Reiji said candidly, "Because most of my people aren't up to handling someone like you. And I prefer to avoid unnecessary wear and tear on my staff."
He gazed levelly at the man facing him. Yes, Asami was handsome, rich, intelligent, and extremely attractive on all levels. He was also a sexual predator down to the core, and one with a decidedly sadistic streak. Combine all that with nearly overwhelming charisma and that domineering personality of his....
In many ways, Asami reminded Reiji unpleasantly of his late, utterly unlamented father Aoe Shougo. Sadistic bastards, both of them. But despite that resemblance, he couldn't quite bring himself to dislike Asami, either. The man was ruthless, certainly, but at least he wasn't nearly so damn capricious as his late father had been.
Perhaps more importantly, Asami didn't allow his personal feelings or inclinations interfere with business. Aoe Shougo had possessed excellent business sense, but his overall goals were governed by an utterly overbearing brand of selfishness that denied consideration of anyone else's feelings except his own. He had nurtured every grudge, every perceived insult and slight, with a fanatical devotion he had never bestowed on his offspring. So after years of enduring his father's never-ending malicious whims, dealing with Asami was in its own strange way, refreshing.
But Reiji wasn't stupid enough to become arrogant or complacent with Asami, of course. As when dealing with any weapon or predator, a healthy respect for its capabilities was essential.
"Fair enough. I'll give you credit for an honest answer," Asami replied calmly.
"Besides, I don't relish the idea of having to pick up the pieces once you're through playing. It's a waste of my time and money," Reiji said testily.
This time, Asami smirked in amusement.
"So much for honesty."
Reiji eyed him somewhat irritably and said, "Are you calling me soft?"
"No, but you still have some scruples." Asami eyed the last dregs of the golden liquid in his glass before draining it. Putting down his glass, he said, "In that, at least, you're nothing like your father."
"Thanks, I suppose." Reiji said coolly.
"Consideration for others isn't necessarily a bad thing, as long as it doesn't interfere with business. And in your case, a certain level of empathy could be an advantage. After all, sex is not the only thing your club offers, and it pays to have a full understanding of the merchandise you're offering to your customers."
Although he didn't let it show in his expression, Reiji was rather taken back. For Asami, that bordered on the outrageously sentimental.
As Reiji tried to figure out what the hell just happened, Asami picked up the bottle and examined its label. "That scotch was superb. I'm thinking of importing my own supply. I know quite a few connoisseurs who would appreciate it." He turned to Reiji and added, "And now it's time for me to remove my errant pet from your property."
Reiji snorted, rose to his feet, and headed for his desk. Reaching into a drawer and pulled out a compact camera -- empty, of course -- and plunked it down rather hard on the desktop.
As he picked it up, Asami's lips curved up into a faint smile that somehow managed to be both cruel and oddly indulgent at the same time. Reiji felt a mild twinge of sympathy for the young photographer locked in the kitchen storage room, but that was more than matched by his severe annoyance at the idiot's brazen attempt to infiltrate and violate the privacy of the Blue Boy Club.
He began to escort Asami downstairs, but just as he reached the door to his office, the other man inquired with the same deceptively casual tone as before, "Did you have a good trip to Hong Kong?"
Reiji kept his own voice cool and bored as he turned to reply, "It was productive, I suppose. I met several interesting people. One of them turned out to be the son of one of my father's business associates."
To be more specific, he had encountered the new head of the Baishe group -- a tall, stunningly handsome young man with long black hair and an intimidatingly fierce gaze that warned Reiji that Liu Fei Long's beauty was nothing compared to his lethalness. The dragon motifs embroidered on Liu's black silk outfit had suited their wearer perfectly.
"Really?" Asami's voice was the epitome of polite interest, giving absolutely nothing away. "Your father had a formidable network of acquaintances and associates."
And he, Aoe Reiji, had maintained the network he had inherited -- with its complex web of favors and influence, obligations and debts -- and tended it diligently. Not merely for profit, but for whatever protection it could provide for those he loved.
But he was always careful not to become too strongly affiliated with, or dependent upon, any particular person or organization, underworld or otherwise. In this, at least, he followed his father's teachings, although his father had chosen that path not from any desire to keep his hands clean, but rather because Aoe Shougo had loathed the idea of submitting to anyone else's authority.
"That sort of network is essential in our sort of business," Reiji said with a careless shrug.
The Triad leader had certainly been personable enough, but Reiji had picked up a disturbing undercurrent in Liu Fei Long's seemingly casual questions about the various businesses Reiji owned and the Tokyo nightclub business scene in general. Something about Liu's particular interest, artfully hidden, in a certain business associate and fellow nightclub owner had set off the alarm bells in Reiji's head.
Yes, Reiji knew Asami Ryuuichi. Yes, they were business associates. Yes, they were also competitors. No, they catered to somewhat different crowds. And so on, and so on. His responses had been as polite and blandly noncommittal as he could manage, which had ended up amusing Liu a great deal. Their conversation had soon shifted to more pleasant and profitable topics.
Asami knew a lot more about Liu Fei Long than he was letting on. Reiji was now sure of it. Why else would Asami suddenly ask about his trip to Hong Kong? The man probably had spies planted in Liu's organization, and vice versa.
Liu was very interested in Asami. And not in a good way.
Asami was very interested in Liu. Again, not in a good way.
The very last thing Reiji wanted was to get caught up in some feud between Asami and Liu. The possibility of a war between Yakuza and Triad was worrisome enough, but there was something else going on between the two men, something very personal. And Reiji knew all too well that when the personal feelings of powerful men like Asami and Liu were involved, people were bound to get seriously hurt.
But not HIS people, damn it. He wouldn't allow that to happen.
He eyed Asami thoughtfully. How much did Asami know about his meeting with Liu Fei Long? Was he expecting Reiji to say more?
Not that there was really anything more to say -- Reiji had been careful to keep his conversation politely neutral, refusing to rise to Liu's bait and Liu had gracefully declined to force the issue further in the face of Reiji's obvious lack of interest.
Liu could afford to be patient. There would always be other nightclub owners who wouldn't be so careful, whose greed or personal dislike of Asami would lead them to hook up with Liu, the idiots. It would only be a matter of time before the Triad leader got the opportunity he was looking for.
If Asami specifically asked him for more details, like names and the topic of their conversations, Reiji didn't have a problem telling him the truth. He had no reason to lie. But he didn't think Asami would ask. He probably didn't need to. Reiji waited for a moment to see if Asami had any more questions for him, then opened the office door.
As they took the service elevator down to the kitchen, Asami glanced over at him and asked, "By the way, how did you know to contact me?"
"His cellphone had your number," Reiji said with a shrug, handing it over. "If he's so prone to getting into trouble, you might consider tattooing him with a 'Property of' label."
Now most definitely amused, Asami retorted, "Would you do something like that to your kitten?"
Reiji scowled at him, and replied curtly, "No fucking way." The elevator doors opened and he stalked out into the service area.
"But then again, my 'kitten'...." Reiji paused briefly for emphasis. "...doesn't go roaming around looking for trouble. Nor does he go sneaking onto other people's private property in order to poke his nose where it most definitely doesn't belong!"
Asami chuckled and dropped Takaba Akihito's cellphone into his pocket.
"Do you have your kitten so well trained?"
Reiji paused outside the locked storage room and glowered at Asami.
"Don't you know? You don't -train- cats to do anything. They just do things, because they want to."
Asami's expression of sardonic amusement became oddly pensive.
"So your kitten stays by your side...."
"... because that's where he wants to be," Reiji muttered and slapped the security card into Asami's hand. "And that's all."
He turned to leave, but halted when Asami said, "And what if your kitten decides that he wants to wander away? Would you try to stop him?"
Without turning around, Reiji said quietly, "I won't say that I'd stand by and do nothing. But in the end, to stay or to go, it's his choice."
The elevator doors closed, leaving Asami Ryuuichi standing alone in the corridor. He shook his head. Under that callous, hardened exterior, Aoe Reiji was soft, no question about it. But Aoe was one of those rare people in which softness did not equal weakness or stupidity. If it had, he never would have survived all those years with the elder Aoe.
"That kitten undoubtedly had Aoe wrapped around his dainty little paw," Asami said with a chuckle. "With a doting owner like that, no wonder he has no inclination to stray."
But what worked for Aoe Reiji and his kitten most certainly wouldn't work for Asami Ryuuichi and his own stubborn pet.
Perhaps some pets weren't meant to be trained.
But Takaba Akihito certainly could be, and would be.
He would enjoy doing so.
With a sharp swipe of the card, Asami Ryuuichi unlocked the door.