"To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time for every purpose under heaven."
-Turn, Turn, Turn by The Byrds
Contrary to what certain glossy magazines might lead one to think, going straight to a bar first thing after an intercontinental flight is not my idea of a good time. It's 8 pm in Washington DC, and the only thing I want to do is head to my suite at the Four Seasons, bathe for a solid hour, and sleep on impossibly high thread-count sheets. But when Ootori Kyoya gets that look in his eye, and that set to his jaw, I know better than to argue. He'll wind up getting his way, and I'll wind up paying for it. He's bound and determined that Milord and I are going to meet the girl we've flown halfway around the world to deliver a necklace to, and we're going to meet her tonight.
"So you're serious about this one?" Tamaki asks, bouncing up and down in his seat in the back of Kyoya's Lexus LS. "I mean, you wouldn't have made Kaoru drop everything to make that necklace for her if you weren't serious, right?"
"Well, I'm serious about her father's biotechnology research." Kyoya's sitting in the front seat next to the driver, texting a mile a minute, presumably to this biotech girl. We just flew 12 hours, commercial, and this bastard can't even be bothered to make eye contact with us? Tamaki reaches forward and smacks the back of his head. "Quit it," Kyoya growls in response, never taking his eyes off the phone.
"He's serious, right?" The Boss turns to me for support.
"About her daddy's money? Milord, Kyoya's always serious about that shit."
"Let me see it again." Tamaki scrabbles in my front pocket for a small velvet box.
"No, give it to me." I know which side of the bread my butter is on, and fending off the overeager blond, I pass the jewelry box up to Kyoya. Inside lies a delicately wrought golden bird on a slender chain, made to exacting specifications. It might be the best work Kaoru's ever done. Kyoya snaps the box open, and while he only says "Took your brother long enough," I hear the approval and relief in his voice. Biotech girl graduates medical school tomorrow, and wouldn't it just be bad form for her supposed boyfriend to show up to the ceremony empty-handed? Still, he can tell us all he wants that he's only interested in this girl's company, but he never would have asked Tamaki to act as a delivery boy if he hadn't wanted his opinion on this girl—and the Shadow King has never asked for anyone else's opinion on anything. Me, I'm just along for the ride. I'm under no illusions that my old senpai gives two shits about my opinions.
"So," Milord settles back into his seat, serious again. "We finally get to meet your Laney."
"She's not mine."
"That's what we're here to fix," Tamaki shoot s me a knowing smile.
Kyoya's girl is waiting for us at a table in The Tombs, a restaurant tucked into a converted 19th century townhouse. The walls were covered with graphic prints on limestone, mostly depicting various ruddy-cheeked sportsmen involved in various sporty activities. It almost sets me on edge, but the place is full of students celebrating the end of term, and the atmosphere is light-hearted and infectious. Kyoya leads us past the packed bar and over to a corner booth, where he introduces us to Laney Johnson and her friend, Jennifer Shapiro. Laney's very pretty, I'll give her that much—she's tiny, with a great figure, her Japanese heritage coming through in the contrast between her dark hair and pale skin—and despite trying to play it cool for our sakes, Kyoya obviously can't take his eyes off her. "
I'm not terribly impressed by pretty these days. I've seen more than my fill of pretty over the last several years, working in fashion. But Jennifer Shapiro is not pretty. Her hair is pulled back in a sloppy ponytail, stray curls straggling out haphazardly. Her nose is slightly too large for her face, and she's carrying maybe twenty extra pounds on her frame. My immediate impression is that she is the classic plain sidekick to Laney's chic brand of beauty.
When Kyoya gets around to mentioning my name, Jennifer says,. "Hitachiin? Where have I heard that name before?" Her dark eyes scrunch up in concentration for a minute.
I kick Milord under the table as he starts to open his mouth, and instead just say "It's a pretty well-known name." I'm waiting for the recognition to flood over her face, but she just shrugs and turns back to Tamaki. I can't quite believe it. Who doesn't know Hitachiin? Does this girl live under a rock?
Tamaki naturally sets about charming both women immediately, telling them stories about our high school days before launching into full-on host mode. "So tell me, my dear Jennifer, have you ever been to Japan?"
"Don't call a woman dear, especially not one you just met. It's patronizing. We're in the 21st century, not the 1950s. And it's Jenn—no one calls me Jennifer unless I'm in trouble. And no, I haven't. Are you offering to take me?" She bats her eyes at him.
"He's engaged," Kyoya says flatly.
"Obviously," she rolls her eyes. "Otherwise he wouldn't bother asking me to go all the way back to Japan when he has a perfectly good hotel room right here in DC. Right, Red?" She finally turns her attention back to me. "I bet you never ask a lady to make an international flight before showing her a nice time."
"Depends on the lady. But I generally find I can broaden a woman's horizons satisfactorily without ever leaving the room."
"Just by talking?"
"Well, my mouth is usually involved, but the communication tends to be a little light on words."
"Okay, then," Tamaki splutters, "moving on …"
But Jenn is giving me a smile that can only be described as wicked. She takes a slow sip of her drink, never breaking eye contact. "That sounds promising," she purrs. And just like that, my evening starts to look a little more interesting.
"My girl's gonna eat your boy alive," Laney mock-whispers to Kyoya.
"I think I was just promised the opposite," Jenn says.
"Please," Kyoya signals the waitress to take our order. "Save it for your models, Hikaru."
"Models?" I don't think I'm imagining the subtle chill in her voice. I'm waiting for the realization of exactly who I am to finally kick in, but she just breezes on with "That's nice. I'm sure you get plenty of practice with your models." She turns to Tamaki, asking about how he and Kyoya first met, and of course he needs absolutely no encouragement to monopolize the conversation. I'm a little surprised at how much the dismissal stings—at how much I want her attention back on me. Milord picks up on it, of course, and draws me back into the conversation by asking my opinion of the art in the restaurant.
Before I can answer, Jenn tosses back her head, laughing. "Tamaki, no one comes in here for the art."
I nod my head over to the row of vintage military recruiting posters. "I don't know. That dude riding the torpedo looks pretty happy about staring at the hot girl in the Navy uniform all day."
She follows my gaze, considering the poster with Torpedo Boy. "The service for fighting men?" she reads. "Why not just go full bore and say Guys with big penises wanted?"
"I think that would attract a different kind of man that what they were looking for back then."
"Because spending day and night in a small enclosed area with nothing but other men around tends to attract red-blooded heteros?"
"That's why they had to specify 'fighting men.' Wouldn't want those sailors getting distracted."
"Mmm. And tell me, Red—what does it take to distract you?"
"Not much," Kyoya interjects, finally deciding to join the conversation. "Hikaru is not known for his dedicated pursuit of perfection."
"I know several women who could testify to the contrary,"
Tamaki rushes to clarify. "He means the couture gowns he's designed." But Jenn is giving me a speculative look, and I'm pretty sure she knows exactly what I was referring to.
Jennifer Shapiro is not pretty. She's much better than that. She's a challenge. I want to impress her, and, for the first time in a long while, I'm not sure of my success. She has me feeling keyed up in a way I haven't felt since I was 19 or 20; palms a little sweaty, pulse just a little too fast. It's been a while since I felt this kind of adrenaline rush meeting a woman.
When I come out of the bathroom a couple hours later she's waiting for me. The hallway is narrow and dark, and even though the restaurant is still packed, we have the illusion of privacy right here. "Hey," I wait for her to make the first move. I want to stretch the anticipation out.
"Hey," she breathes, moving in closer.
I hook a finger into the belt loop of her jeans, bringing her right up against me. More curls had escaped her pony tail over the course of the evening, and I brushed a stray tendril off her cheek, tucking it behind her ear. I let my fingers linger there. "You headed home?"
"Not sure yet." She gives me a heated look. "I'm not gonna find myself in the tabloids if I go back to a hotel with the enfant terrible of high fashion, am I?"
"Finally figured it out?"
"I may have Googled you while I was in the bathroom."
"That is so fucking romantic. Stalk me a little harder and I may just fall in love with you."
She laughs, and it's low and throaty, and I feel heat curling low inside me. I want to hear that sound again. I finally do what I've been fantasizing about for the last three hours and kiss her. She's warm and eager, tasting of peaches and vanilla ice cream. I feel her hands sliding under my shirt, her touch feather-light against my stomach, and suddenly my hotel room is way too far away. Plus, if she's really worried about seeing herself in print … "There actually is a decent possibility you'll be noticed if we go to my hotel. What about your place?"
She pauses, uncertainty flashing across her face and then disappearing just as quickly.
Damn it, damn it, damn it. I pull back, trying to remember how much she's drunk tonight. The last thing I need is for her to wake up tomorrow with regrets and then go telling her story to the press. "Listen," I start, "I didn't mean to pressure you."
"It's just that I don't usually bring people back to my place."
"I'm in town for a few days. We don't have to rush this. If you're not certain …"
"I don't want to be alone tonight," she says huskily. "I just want some fun, okay?"
"You've got the right guy for that," I back her against the wall, leaning down to kiss her again.
"This doesn't mean anything. You understand? It's just sex," she whispers as I move my mouth to her jawline. She lets out a breathy sigh as I kiss my way up to her ear, and I'm so ready to hear her make that sound underneath me.
On the cab ride back to her place, I pull back. I always feel bad about screwing around in cabs. I know how much it would drive me nuts to see couples making out in my office, so I can only imagine our cabbie must feel the same way. Instead, I settle for holding hands. The veneer of innocence over what I know is going to go down in Jenn's bedroom in approximately 20 minutes has my head swimming a little. But if I think this cab ride is going to pass by in silent anticipation, I am wrong.
"Let me ask you something. Your boy, Kyoya. Is he serious about my girl?" She bites her lower lip. "Or is he just fucking around?"
"Kyoya is complicated," I respond Setting aside the fact that assuaging Jenn's fears for her friend will make this evening go smoother, I'm picking up that if I get her on his side, I'll be helping Kyoya seal a deal that he has no idea he is desperate to finalize. And there are worse things than having an Ootori owe you a favor. "Things were always very … conditional in his house. He has a bit of a problem sometimes with identifying what he actually feels rather than what he thinks he should feel." This is almost verbatim what Kaoru said when he convinced me and Tamaki we had to hop on a plane post haste. I am not typically given to bouts of psychoanalysis beyond Is this guy going to punch me if I don't shut my mouth right now.
So I should be worried?"
"No, kitten, you should not be worried." The endearment slips out without volition. "Ootori Kyoya is smitten with your girl. And although he might not realize it, we flew halfway around the world to kick his ass into taking some action on that particular agenda item."
"I thought you came to deliver his jewelry order from your brother"
"Ever hear of FedEx?"
I'll be honest—I'm going home with her tonight because she's smart and funny and seems like she'd be down for pretty much anything, which is exactly how I like my women. But her loyalty to her friend touches something in me, something that says there could be something more with this one. I ignore it. The absolute last thing I have time for in my life right now is losing my head over a girl who is literally half a world away, and she's made it very clear that she's not interested in anything other than tonight. Which suits me just fine. Just fine.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story takes place somewhat concurrently with my other two stories, You Know The Night and S'Wonderful. It would probably fill in some blanks if you've read those first, but it shouldn't be necessary. Ideally I should be updating this every two weeks, but mann tracht un Gott lacht-man plans and God laughs.