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Sleepless Hearts

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Sleepless Hearts

Tanahashi sighed deeply. He liked his job. Only there where times when some of his tasks were less than pleasant. He rubbed the bridge of his nose, pushing the glasses back in place. As a small company, Sigma Pro's employees were extraordinarily forthcoming when it came to their clients' needs. However, some of the clients certainly weren't very considerate. Shuffling the documents on his desk around for a while, procrastinating before completing the unpleasant task, Tanahashi finally gave up and dialled the number of one of the seiyuu he managed. Kokubu-kun would not be pleased with him.

'I am sorry to disturb you, Kokubu-kun,' Tanahashi apologised as the Kokubu replied. 'It's about the audition for Hearts Planning... Yes... The one you went to at Kayac Studios... For the part as Klaus in Guardish. They just called. They have chosen someone else for the pre-assigned... for your part. That means-' Tanahashi stopped himself from talking, allowing his seyuu to let out an angry outburst.

'No, no... Do not worry, please.' Tanahashi pulled out a file from one of the piles on his messy desk, flipping through it with one hand. 'We have a few other possibilities. If you could come to the office tomorrow evening? I'll take care of it.'

With yet another sigh, Managing Director Tanahashi put the phone down. He suppressed an urge to wipe off his hands in his trousers. No, Kokubu Touma certainly wasn't happy about losing both the part and his time - Hearts Planning had chosen him to begin with, which had kept Kokubu from signing up for other major parts in other series. Tanahashi pulled off his glasses, turning them slowly as he pondered upon how to calm things down. Perhaps a consolation dinner at a nice restaurant, plus of course a few new suggestions for auditions would smooth things out? Anyway, Kokubu-kun was a hard worker, diligent and serious. Tanahashi did not mind using a little time on one of his better seyuus. As Kokubu's agent he had a responsibility in this too, and the actor had been with Sigma for a long time. He was a part of the company family, and Tanahashi would make sure that Kokubu-kun was compensated for the trouble Sigma had caused him.

Tanahashi picked up the phone again. He could always call in a favour or two, if necessary. As for now, he'd just see what he could do without them. Luck was that Kokubu-kun was a sensible man. He understood that changes had to be made once in a while. An apology in the form of a new, generous offer plus a splendid meal as well as a late night at one of the posh bars in Ginza would do, Tanahashi was certain. Yes, Kokubu-kun would understand.

o 0 o

'It'll be late. Please, go home. I just have a meeting with Kokubu-kun later. Nothing I can't handle,' Tanahashi usually worked late, and contrary to most employers, he did not want his secretaries and other employees to stay late. The office noise died down as people left, and Tanahashi puttered around in the office's tiny kitchen, making coffee before he sat down to look over once more the offers he had managed to collect for Kokubu: a minor action series and two BL CDs for two different, but popular tankoubons. The latter would pay well, and probably boost Kokubu's popularity with the female fans. Kokubu was popular enough as it was, however, and truth was that he would not have received this kind of service otherwise, at least not from the director himself. As it was, only the top seyuus - or those who surely would reach the top - were handled by Tanahashi personally.

If he had to admit it, Kokubu-kun was one of Tanahashi's favourites. Kokubu had developed from an immature brat into a hard-working actor, always looking out for the best interest of his company and his progress as an artist. It was worth all the work and the frustration to see such a successful development - from ugly duckling to a full-fledged swan. To tell the truth, Kokubu was not only a favourite, but also a bit of a soft spot for Tanahashi. How much of a soft spot had always been something that Tanahashi had avoided to explore.

The buzzer rang and disturbed Tanahashi in his musings. He pressed a button, letting Kokubu in.

Kokubu looked tired and worn out as he walked into the office, looking slightly dishevelled and not as neat as he usually appeared. 'Are you all right?' Tanahashi asked, pouring a cup of coffee for his guest. Kokubu probably needed it. 'Didn't get much sleep?'

'Thanks, but I'm fine,' Kokubu belied his appearance. 'I did. Sleep.' He paused. 'I don't precisely appreciate being cast aside for a newcomer, no matter how good.' He took the coffee and sat down without being asked to, unusually brief and to the point. 'Damned pizza-boy,' he muttered, almost inaudibly.

'At least it is a talented newcomer,' Tanahashi agreed. As Kokubu had already met Jouchi-kun who had snatched the part from under his nose, he knew that already. 'I am really sorry that they put you through this, Kokubu-kun.' He pulled out the proposals he had prepared. 'I have three other offers for you, if you want them. Two of them pay really well; CDs for two of the famous BL mangaka... Perhaps a bit explicit compared to what you usually do, but-'

'But just work hard, please?' Kokubu laughed. 'It's fine. I am glad you are handling this, Tanahashi-san.' Kokubu combed a hand through his messy hair, making it look even more like a bird's nest.

Tanahashi couldn't help it, but he truly thought Kokubu looked cute, slightly dishevelled as he was. Relieved that the actor was not entirely devastated by the refusal from Hearts Planning, Tanahashi smiled, pushing the contracts and free samples of the tankoubons in question across the desk. 'Please look them through tomorrow.' He hesitated. If Kokubu was tired, then a night out was perhaps not the best suggestion. 'Have you eaten?' he asked, watching Kokubu's thin hand resting on top of the gaudy covers of the tankoubons. 'You should take better care of yourself.'

It was as if the face Kokubu had worn was nothing but a mask which suddenly cracked, leaving only ruined pieces in its wake, contradicting his formerly so calm facade. 'No... I...' Kokubu hung his head. 'I am sorry, Tanahashi-san. I thought I had learnt to handle the rejections by now. Seems I haven't.'

Tanahashi hadn't been wrong when he thought there would be trouble. He closed his eyes for a second, thinking about what he could do for Kokubu. 'Don't be,' he said softly. 'We'll handle it.'

'We?' Kokubu's face was neutral, smooth again. Such a brilliant actor.

'It wouldn't be the first time that I took care of you,' Tanahashi said softly. 'But it has been a long time since it was necessary last. And usually because you were drunk or in a fight.'

'There is that,' Kokubu agreed bitterly. 'And here I am now; nothing but a sensitive old man, beaten by an unreliable youth.'

'Kokubu-kun, you are twenty nine. That's hardly old.' Tanahashi laughed, despite the serious situation. 'But sensitive... a little, perhaps.' He stood, buttoning his jacket. 'I think we need to get you to eat a bit, and then you need a good night's sleep.' It was impossible for him to keep the tenderness he felt for Kokubu out of his voice. He put a hand on Kokubu's shoulder, signalling that this kind of unusual intimacy was all right.

The gesture made Kokubu startle. 'My flat is a mess,' he admitted. 'Since yesterday-'

'Get up,' Tanahashi demanded, a gentle push to show he meant it. If Kokubu was falling apart, it was Tanahashi's duty to see to it that the pieces were collected and mended. 'If you don't mind, I'll take you home, get you a decent meal and some rest. I have an extra futon, so it is no hassle. Or I can get you a hotel room, some peace and quiet?' There was no way he could let Kokubu-kun go home by himself. He was too tired, too exhausted. Tanahashi did not want a scandal on his hands, just as he didn't want Kokubu to get in trouble. This, Kokubu's state, was too close to disaster. The best course of action would be to take care of the man himself.

'But won't your wife be annoyed?' Kokubu asked, a questioning expression on his face. 'I appreciate it, but I won't cause problems for you if I can help it.'

Tanahashi raised his eyebrows. He actually thought that people knew he wasn't... that he did not have a wife. 'It's just me,' he volunteered. 'And you won't. Please, Kokubu-kun... I'd have taken you out to dinner tonight anyway, just to pay you back for the mess with Hearts. And I don't mind cooking.'

Kokubu looked a bit like a wet puppy. 'Thank you, Tanahashi-san. I don't know what got into me.'

'We're leaving,' Tanahashi said, suddenly glad he never had any children. Clearly, people never grew up. Then again, when they were as pleasant as Kokubu, he could live with it. 'You don't mind oyakodon, do you?' Tanahashi asked on their way out. It was his own idea of comfort food, and that was definitely what Kokubu-kun needed. Comfort and rest.

'I like chicken and eggs,' Kokubu replied, trying to get back into his coat with slow tired movements.

Slightly pathetic, Tanahashi thought, almost automatically helping Kokubu putting on his coat. The boy really needed someone to take care of him.

o 0 o

The drive to Tanahashi's flat was short, but Kokubu was almost asleep before they arrived.

'I'll run you a bath,' Tanahashi offered, ushering Kokubu inside. 'Then dinner, and bedtime for you, young man.'

The insolence that had once been Kokubu's trademark peeked out. 'Yes, dad.'

Tanahashi made a snort, keeping himself from laughing. 'I'll read you a bed time story if you're good.' Nice to see that Kokubu's usually so good mood hadn't disappeared entirely. He'd be fine in a few days, Tanahashi was certain.

'One of the BL manga? Didn't think you had it in you, boss,' Kokubu said, yawning, trying to manage one of his usual cheeky grins at the same time. 'Perhaps you should have told me earlier, that you were into Boys' Love?' he called after Tanahashi as he just shook his head and went to ready the bath.

'Bath. Now.' Tanahashi pointed at the door to the bathroom as he returned to the genkan where he had left Kokubu, ignoring the slight implication of something Tanahashi did not want to consider. Even when the implications in question were suggested by his favourite seiyuu. If he did, he would have to question his own motives, and he was not ready for that. 'There is a clean bathrobe behind the door.' he added, pretending he didn't hear the question.

Kokubu disappeared; a few moments later the sound of the shower's running water signalled that Kokubu at least was obedient.

Tanahashi went into the kitchen, pulling groceries from the fridge. He was used to cooking for himself, preferring a home-cooked meal to Lawson's bentos anytime. Usually the fridge was stocked, and today was no exception. It didn't take long before the rice cooker was turned on, and chicken, onions and eggs were simmering on the stove. Soon a delicious smell of meat and miso spread in the flat.

'I'm hungry,' Kokubu moaned as he, dressed only in the bathrobe and a pair of slippers, entered the large kitchen. 'I am surprised that you can actually cook, Tanahashi-san. I truly thought you were an elite salaryman.'

'And I can't do both?' Tanahashi placed bowls and chopsticks on the dining table, his back to Kokubu. 'And I'm not really a salary man. Not unless you count paying me my own salary, that is.' Sigma's Tokyo branch wasn't the biggest company in the city, but it was his. Tanahashi had worked hard for what he had now.

'Sorry, boss. Didn't mean to imply-' Kokubu looked a little confused. 'It's just unusual.'

'Don't think of it.' Tanahashi put a brown ceramic bowl filled with rice on the table. 'You need rest. Eat, please.'

'Itadakimasu!' Kokubu took the bowl and helped himself to a healthy-sized portion. At least he hadn't lost his appetite. Tanahashi sat down across him. They ate in silence for a while, before Kokubu began yawning again. 'I'm so sorry,' he said, between yawns, making Tanahashi think of a kitten, trying to keep itself awake. Kokubu-kun really was a little cute. Hurriedly, Tanahashi dismissed the thought again before it settled. He had not got where he was by preying on his actors. He took care of them, calmly and professionally, but that was all. There was no difference and no favouritism in Sigma. There was of course a difference in talent and ratings which was why he personally handled the best voice actors. Both for their sake, and for the company's. Sigma could, just as so many other Japanese companies these days, not afford mistakes.

And, so, neither could Tanahashi. He had guarded himself, fortified behind suits and glasses, being the poster child when it came to kind and understanding employers - he was a director before everything else. His personal life did not count. So, being a human fortress, it didn't take more than half an hour before Tanahashi realised that the barricades he had built so carefully had fallen; that he might have made the mistake of his life.

Tanahashi had laid out the futon in the tatami room, put Kokubu in it and gone to bed himself after doing the dishes. The flat was quiet, only the muted buzzing of traffic from outside disturbed the silence. That was until somebody opened the bedroom door.

'You promised me a bedside story,' Kokubu was standing in the door opening, an expression of discontent on his face. He was sulking, pouting. It was clear it he wasn't entirely serious, but the basic problem, at least for Tanahashi, was that he stood there in his boxers, bathrobe half open, with a Boys Love manga in one hand, looking delectable and sexy.

Suddenly, Tanahashi couldn't really remember why it had seemed as such a good idea to have taken the firm decision that the company's actors were more or less sacred, untouchable.

More urgently, the question was why Kokubu-kun suddenly appeared, awake and rather tempting, in Tanahashi's bedroom.

Tanahashi put down the book he had been reading. 'Is something the matter? I thought you were tired.'

'I was.' Kokubu raised the hand with the manga he was holding. 'But I couldn't fall asleep, too tired... So I thought that I would read a little.' He eyed the manga suspiciously. 'And now I definitely cannot sleep.' He turned the book in his hand. 'Did you read it, Tanahashi-san?' Kokubu let the bathrobe fall even more open, revealing a smooth chest and a taut stomach, and - worse - something that resembled an erection hidden behind the flimsy fabric of his underwear.

Tanahashi sank. No, there was no doubt why Kokubu had difficulties sleeping. The bedroom suddenly seemed very hot, and Tanahashi pushed the duvet back a little. 'No... I...'

'Perhaps you want to read it now?' Kokubu suggested. 'It is really quite... catching. I don't think I should be the only one who've read it.' He sent Tanahashi a tired but cheeky smirk. 'Perhaps we could discuss the finer details... in detail?'

'I have a book.' Tanahashi didn't really know what to do. He was used to being in control; used to take things quietly, without fuss, and especially without half-naked men in his bedroom.

'Not this kind of book,' Kokubu said softly. 'It is actually about voice actors. The drawings are very good. Realistic. There is a very handsome elite salaryman in it. Quite catching.'

'Oh.' Tanahashi knew he should have looked it over, but the name of the mangaka had been more than enough to accept the offer in the first place. 'Is it now?'

'Mhmm. Would you like to see, boss?' Kokubu stepped closer to the bed, and Tanahashi considered if this was how a rabbit felt when it was caught in the light from a car.

Kokubu sat down on the edge of the bed, his expression suddenly serious. 'Can I ask you something personal, Tanahashi-san?'

Trying to win back control over his life, Tanahashi sat up, pushing the glasses back in place. The duvet rustled lightly as it slid half-way down the floor. 'Kokubu-kun, exactly what are you playing at?'

'I'm not. Playing. Can I? Ask?'

'I suppose I owe you for today. For the failure with the contract.'

'So, the reason you don't have a wife-'

Oh, no. Please! Tanahashi wanted to beg Kokubu on his knees not to go there, not to ask that particular question. Not a word emerged. He just sat there in bed, watching his life fall apart. He had taken such care never to let his actors know.

'Is that because you-'

'No!' Tanahashi couldn't stop himself. If that question was ever answered, he would have lost. He didn't know what had prompted this entire situation, perhaps the stress and exhaustion had made Kokubu-kun braver, more careless than he usually was. Berating himself silently, Tanahashi should have known from the moment the young man set foot in his bedroom what it was that Kokubu wanted.

The problem was that on the bottom line, this was what Tanahashi himself wanted. He took off his glasses as if it could restore his blindness, his ability to not see why he had taken such good care of Kokubu-kun for so many years, why he had kept up with his horrible behaviour when the boy was younger, and why he, now that Kokubu was an adult, a beautiful man in his prime, had acted so rashly as to invite Kokubu to his flat. Tanahashi had believed was the tenderness he felt for his employee, or at least he had pretended to believe it.

'No?' Kokubu smiled, his face so very tired. 'Methinks the lady doth protest too much,' he said, quoting an English poet.

'I don't have time for a wife,' Tanahashi attempted, feebly trying to regain his foothold.

'And here I thought it was because you perhaps liked a husband better.' Kokubu reached out, hesitating a second before he stroked Tanahashi's cheek. 'I'm really tired now,' he said quietly, in a tone of voice so intense that Tanahashi was unable to breathe for a moment. 'I am thinking, Tanahashi-san, that if I maybe slept in here, I'd fall asleep much sooner. And wake up to a much better day.' It sounded like a promise that might include Tanahashi as well.

There were moment in one's life when words were overrated, Tanahashi realised. Against that voice, against the tired vitality of his favourite (and quite determined) employee, Tanahashi gave up. He simply pulled back the duvet, held out his arm and waited until Kokubu, slightly surprised, had arranged himself next to him before he turned out the lights.

'You didn't answer,' Kokubu whispered hotly against Tanahashi's ear. 'But that is all right. I really am tired. But-'

'But tomorrow,' Tanahashi murmured, accepting his defeat to the odd fate that had changed his day, and as it was, probably his life. 'Tomorrow I'll give you a reply. If this one isn't enough,' he whispered, his arms around Kokubu's slender shoulders, finally pulling him into a deep kiss, at last unleashing his hidden desire for the beautiful man in his bed.

Yes. That was how it was, Tanahashi decided. Tonight would be a wonderful night, and tomorrow would definitely be a much better day.