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Fanfiction > Romance > Barter > Author: MarieEiris Hits: 1441
Hi! My first fic posted on the site. My fist Gravitation fic posted anywhere, actually.

Um... this was written by me while I was avoiding studying for exams. So it's not as funny as I wanted it to be, or as logical, or... anything, really. I wanted to write something different but believable that didn't directly involve a canon pairing, and I think I've succeeded in the first and third areas at least. Not much is said about Maiko in the anime and the manga confused me, so I'm making up her personality a little. I hope I'm doing an okay job of that.
Also... is Maiko older or younger than Shuichi? I think I've written it here like she's younger, which is what I always thought, but I've heard both. It doesn't really make much difference to the story.

Anyway, anyone who reads this, tell me what you think! In particular tell me what you think I did wrong or what doesn't work. My ego could live with some deflating.
---
M.E.

Disclaimer: I don't own Gravitation. I'm saving up, though.

BARTER
@>--------------
Chapter One - Take Me Out... Please?


“Brother?” Tatsuha rapped on the door. “I need…” He pushed the door open and stopped himself mid-sentence, taking note of the extreme and unusual quiet of the room.

He poked his head in. “Hello?” The room seemed deserted. Its Spartan lines were here and there disrupted by the marks of his brother’s intriguing lover: the intestinal sprawl of a Gamecube system in front of the television, couch cushions on the floor or awry in place, a beanbag piled on the floor in exactly the way Tatsuha’s elder brother would not pile.

Carrying his gaze out into the kitchen area he saw the refrigerator door open and an open carton of milk sweating it out on the counter. There was a half-emptied bowl of porridge on the table and a clean glass.

Tatsuha stepped edgily into the apartment and shut the door behind him. He was never sure how his brother would react to seeing him. He supposed the animosity between them had something to do with how much of a prick he’d been toward Eiri growing up, which only annoyed him. How could he have known as a kid that his family was genetically predisposed to holding grudges?

“Hello,” said a small, feminine voice, its tone strident as if repeating itself.

“Huh?” Whirling in surprise, Tatsuha finally took in the one detail that had blended in with the décor on his first sweep: Shindou Maiko, the young sister of Eiri’s lover, Shuichi. She was sitting on the couch with her knees tucked inward, looking as awkward and embarrassed to be caught sitting there as he now was to be observed barging in as was normal.

“Hi, Maiko,” he mumbled. He offered her a short wave, dropping his hand when he registered exactly how stupid he looked. Instead he stared at her.

Tatsuha actually couldn’t remember a time when he’d had to interact with Maiko beyond niceties. They knew one another’s names, occupations and the odd bit of gossip that didn’t make for good conversation starters. He’d been interested in her because she was female and close to his age, but hadn’t felt right talking to her since she wasn’t really family, not in the way she was to Eiri. And he’d heard she was obsessed with his brother, which was about as far from a turn-on as Tatsuha could imagine.

Now that he had her all to himself, he had the time to notice that she was attractive. She had several features in common with her brother – big, sparkling eyes and well-defined cheekbones springing immediately to Tatsuha’s mind – and, in Tatsuha’s mind, looked more masculine than Shuichi. Her hair was long and thick and looked as if it had never been dyed, and though she was dressed somewhat over-properly for a relative of Shuichi, Tatsuha’s expert eye detected hidden curves in all the right places.

At that moment her intelligent eyes were probing his. She smiled shyly. “Your brother’s not here at the moment. Neither is my brother. He went out looking for him, I think, and left me here to watch his breakfast get cold.”

“Oh.” He wondered; what harm could it do to get to know Maiko a little better? Of course he’d get all kinds of flak from Eiri about imitation and flattery and so on, but he heard about that anyway. And Shuichi would definitely appreciate it. Most older brothers were seriously frightening about their friends trying to get into their sisters’ pants, but Shuichi was pleasantly oblivious to the signs of that.

“Mind if I sit down?” he asked, flashing a smile. He’d learnt his charming ways by imitating Eiri, too, and he had a dimple that came naturally to his face if he puckered it just the right way. He’d learned how to use that to best effect primping in his sister’s bedroom mirror, since his father refused to allow him one of his own.

Maiko shifted to make space, and Tatsuha gratefully flopped down. “I can’t believe it. I nearly get my immortal soul cursed to visit, and the two of them take an impromptu vacation.”

“Your father?” Tatsuha sensed her incline slightly towards him. For a second he felt guilt grasping at him. She would be so easy to win over, it was almost poor sportsmanship of him to attempt it. “I’ve heard he can be a little strict at times,” she added, her sweet voice carrying away any half-developed thought he’d had of abandoning the project.

“I can deal with strictness,” said Tatsuha. “Once my dad gets it into his head that it’s okay to let me do something, he’s done thinking about it. It’s affectionate concern that is a real killer. My sister, Mika, gets these bouts of concern about my well being, and even if she knows I’m not doing anything I shouldn’t, she’ll come check up on me. She has the worst comic timing, too. I just got this place in town, right? The first time she ‘visited’ me there, the same day this homeless guy turned up at my door and I sort of felt obliged to do a bit more than usual for him, considering my good fortune in snaring the apartment. Mika ran into him just as he was coming out of the shower.” Maiko giggled, clapping one hand over her mouth as she did so. Tatsuha thought that was the most adorable thing he’d ever seen.

“I think she still believes in her heart there was something more to that story than the truth, which I’ve told her many times since then. It’s funny how parent figures like to think the worst, isn’t it?”

“Oh, my mother and father always think the best of me,” Maiko replied lightly. “It’s Shuichi who gets mistrusted. It’s worse now he’s such a big star. Our mother thinks that all famous people smoke and do drugs and sleep around, so Shuichi doesn’t get any special treatment when he’s at home. It’s ‘Shuichi, dear, you and Yuki-san better stay where we can see you! Shu-chan, we’d better drug-test that sugar shot, just in case!’” Maiko did a droll pantomime of her mother that had Tatsuha struggling to withhold his amusement. He had to remind himself exactly who was supposed to lose control of their emotions in the scenario.

“Speaking of the famous Shu-chan, what brings you here to visit so early? Either it’s just before school starts or you’re skipping classes to be here.” From the way Maiko looked away quickly, Tatsuha knew he’d found his mark.

“It’s nothing,” she said quickly.

“You wouldn’t be house-sitting for him if you didn’t need to see him fairly badly.”

“Did I ever tell you I hate perceptive boys?” Maiko mumbled.

“So, revelations, already.” Tatsuha teasingly tugged at the sleeve of her cardigan. “Come on,” he urged. “I promise you that whatever you tell me never leaves this room.”

“Well…” Maiko considered. Several mental states Tatsuha was almost certain Shuichi didn’t even possess visibly crossed her mind. Her mouth quivered, then tightened with resolve. Tatsuha didn’t know what she was mulling over revealing to him, and he suspected he wouldn’t care, but the suspense was getting to him.

He was about to grab her and demand a decision, one way or the other, when Maiko turned to him and clutched at both his wrists. “Tatsuha, please go with me to Kiko Ayame’s party!” she begged.

“What?” For several seconds Tatsuha was without a ready response, a relative age considering the situations he’d had to fast-talk himself out of in his time. He couldn’t believe that he’d gone to all the trouble of laying the groundwork for his seduction to have her take over without even a token struggle.

“Don’t change the subject,” he snapped at her, realising even as he did it just how lame he sounded.

“I’m not,” insisted Maiko. “That’s what I came to talk to Shuichi about!”

“About asking me to the party of some girl I swear I’ve never heard of before?”

“Not you in particular.” Although clearly trying to hold back, Maiko was laughing. “Ayame is the most popular girl at my school. She’s arranged a big end-of-year party and invited everyone. But you’re supposed to come with a date, and because there are more girls than boys at my school all the boys I know got snapped up early. Not that they would think to ask me, anyway.” In the space of less than a minute she was beginning to tear up. “Some of the other girls are bringing along their rich, handsome boyfriends, and I’ve got absolutely no chance of competing!”

Tatsuha put up both hands to fend her off. He hated emotional situations with girls. He was good at dealing with them, he thought, but they wasted valuable time and emotion. “Slow down. This girl, Ayame, she actually told you that you had to come with a date?”

“No. But it was implicit.”

He resisted an impulse to roll his eyes. “Well, I know you’ve got money. Shuichi is useless at saying no; he must give you pocket cash all the time.”

“What’s that got to do with this situation?” Maiko demanded.

“Everything. Hire a good-looking hooker. That way, you get the control over what does or doesn’t happen after the main party.”

Maiko shook her head. “Won’t work. Ayame has resources. She probably knows the phone number and personal details of every good-looking hooker in the area, anyway.”

Tatsuha scowled. “Why are you so concerned about what she thinks, anyway? Don’t you realise that popular people are only popular because unpopular people make them that way?”

“Yeah, but in this case, it’s more than that,” declared Maiko. “That bitch has been putting me down ever since we were in grade school. This is my last and only opportunity to show her up.”

“Now you’re talking.” Tatsuha grinned.

“So will you go with me?”

“Well…” Tatsuha pretended to consider. If he’d known Maiko was such an intriguing character, he might have considered her sooner. He was actually enjoying sparring mentally with her, which was unusual enough without the fact of her being a girl, and pretty, and accessible. In fact…

“Look, once everyone else is too drunk to notice you can hook up with one of the other girls there,” Maiko suggested. “It’s really only about the entrance.”

That made up Tatsuha’s mind. “Okay,” he said. “I’ll go with you.” Maiko clasped her hands together gleefully. “But I have one condition,” he added. “If I go with you, you have to agree to marry me.”

Maiko’s already huge eyes bugged to an impossible size. “You’re joking.”

“I’m deadly serious. Hear me out.” Once again, Tatsuha was enjoying himself immensely. He preferred it better that way. “If you think about it, it’s a perfect arrangement. You’re clearly fine with being seen to be with me, or you wouldn’t have asked. Our families are at least reconciled to one another already, so what’s a traditional union going to matter to them? I need to get married so my family will start taking me seriously and stop bothering me. Preferably I want to marry a girl I can stand being around, and who’ll let me do as I want with other girls.”

“So it’s two conditions,” Maiko translated.

“You suggested the last part,” growled Tatsuha.

“Being stood up at a party when nobody’s looking is completely different to marrying someone with an infidelity clause,” Maiko informed him.

“Look, is it a yes or a no?”

“Okay. I’ll marry you,” said Maiko very coolly. Tatsuha suspected that tone covered a mind as blown as his. She was probably questioning their combined sanity just as much as him. “But if you can have a lover, I want the same privilege.”

“Done.” Tatsuha was astounded she didn’t want a prenup, or a fixed income in writing, or whatever other fiscal thing was fashionable among feminists those days. He suspected, as far as money went, she knew how to manage on her own. “So long as your lover isn’t ever Sakuma Ryuichi.”

Maiko rolled his eyes. “Other girls might die for his charming ways, but not me, thank you very much. My mother warned me to keep clear of men twice my age.”

“He’s actually quite fit and healthy for his age,” Tatsuha pointed out. He still felt obliged by bonds stronger than marriage to defend his idol, even to his future wife of two minutes.

“He is that,” Maiko agreed amicably.

A state of silence existed between them for a few minutes. Tatsuha studied his feet, already making plans. If he could swing the engagement idea, it gave him a plausible excuse to move into his apartment semi-permanently. He could plead time off from his monk’s training to be with Maiko. He’d need a job to stay in the city and that would be a nuisance, but training with his father killed any enjoyment he gathered from his prestigious position as a monk. There would be time to satisfy his ego once he didn’t have his old man breathing down his neck.

He glanced back at Maiko and found she was watching him, her face lit up with shy mischief. “You know, this is crazy,” she murmured.

Tatsuha was feeling quite philosophical about the whole deal. “Well, we only live once. And I think if we stick together, we can help each other get the most out of it.”

“Sounds sensible.” Maiko abruptly turned businesslike. “You know, now I’ve agreed to marry you, I expect a bit more from this date.”

“So do I.” Tatsuha leaned towards her.

She (literally) gave him her shoulder. “I’m not doing anything sexual with you after the party,” she informed him.

“What?”

“Like I said, if you want that you can pick up someone else while you’re there. I’ll marry you in a year or two if you want, but I’m not ready to go that far right now and I won’t be in the next week, either.” She folded her arms demurely. “I won’t even kiss you.”

Tatsuha scowled. “I thought you were interested in me!”

“I am interested in you,” Maiko insisted. “I wouldn’t have asked someone I didn’t like. I’m just not prepared to express myself in that way. Is that a problem?” Tatsuha had a definite feeling she was mocking him when she cocked her head to one side to peer into his face, looking collected and starting to look irritatingly, obliviously sexy. “People sometimes go on dates where they don’t do that at all, you know.”

He wasn’t about to admit he’d expected less self-control from a relative of Shuichi. Clearly, his parents were not the problem with his morals. “Okay. So no sex. What else is it you’ll be wanting? Or not wanting?” He would have to change her mind about that, he decided. The idea of taking his pick of Maiko’s inebriated classmates was good, too, but now that Maiko had laid down the challenge, his mind was made up.

“Well.” Maiko pondered. “You’ve got to act like a proper traditional date. Nobody else there is going to be at all classy, but it’s still important to me. I want you to come pick me up personally. You’ve got to pay really good attention to me until I can say you go.”

“Have you forgotten that I’m providing you with a service here?” Tatsuha complained, grimacing. “It seems to me I’m not getting much out of the deal.”

“You’re getting a wife,” said Maiko. “I think that’s quite enough.”

The sounding of a familiar shrill voice set that argument aside for another time. “Seriously, I was worried! I thought you’d run off and left me for good! I was so scared!” A low and grumpy voice responded, probably expressing the sentiment that he wished he had run off for good. “You’re mean,” said Shuichi, sounding pleased as if he’d researched the fact himself. He had, Tatsuha supposed. “You’d better be nice and say hi to Maiko.”

Shuichi’s tangled, tousled pink head popped in first. He glanced first at the couch, exclaimed, “Oh! More company!” and hurried in, dragging Eiri by the sleeve.

Tatsuha’s brother entered looking as mussed as Shuichi, but somehow managing to carry it off with a vague appearance of style. Tatsuha didn’t want to speculate on exactly what they’d been doing, even though knowing those two it was as likely to be nothing explicit as otherwise. He checked Maiko to see if Eiri’s appearance interested her at all, but she was focused on her own brother.

Eiri stared at Tatsuha and Maiko for a few pregnant seconds. Tatsuha scooted away from Maiko a little. “Nice,” Eiri pronounced. “An audience.” He was in the act of continuing walking but paused, glancing thoughtfully back at Shuichi. “I have to write now,” he added. “For my job, the one that’s going to maintain all of you when he loses his fickle recording contract.”

“Not a chance of that happening while you guys are still together and Seguchi Tohma is the front man at N-G,” said Tatsuha under his breath as Eiri disappeared into his study, leaving Shuichi mouthing a few world-weary sentiments in his direction.

“That man!” Shuichi shook his fist after him, and then just as promptly directed his full attention to his guests. “Tatsuha, if you came to visit Yuki, I’m sure he’ll come out and talk to you eventually. He’s just cranky because he went out early without leaving a note and made me come find him.”

“It’s okay,” Tatsuha said with a shrug. “I know I showed up. I don’t need to actually talk to him.”

Shuichi shrugged and turned his attention to his sister. “Maiko, you wanted to talk to me?”

Maiko grinned. “It’s okay now, big brother. I don’t need to find somebody to take me to the party, because Tatsuha’s agreed to do it.”

The door to Eiri’s study flew open. “What have you done?”

“That’s great!” said Shuichi. “Now I don’t even have to do the big brotherly thing and go interrogate the guy, because I already know you, Tatsuha.”

Eiri stalked out of his sanctum and began to advance on Tatsuha, who was finding it very difficult to remain implacable the closer his view got of the look in his brother’s eyes. Shuichi intercepted him a few paces away by latching affectionately onto his arm and leg. Clearly he had no idea what was going on, but appeared to have developed some instinctive methods of detecting and defusing trouble.

“How did this come about?” Eiri asked, after trying a few times to escape his somewhat confined position.

“Simple,” said Tatsuha before Maiko could have a chance to say anything that would incriminate him. “Maiko needs someone to take her to a party. I need a party to go to on…”

“Next Saturday night,” Maiko supplied without even needing a cue.

“Right. Next Saturday night. It made sense that we should go together.”

“Just so long as that’s all you’re doing together,” Eiri mumbled with a significant look at Tatsuha. Maiko blushed.

“I think I’d better get going,” said Tatsuha. “If I stick around here any longer I sense there will be fratricide.”

“I’ll stay around for a while to chat, brother,” said Maiko. "I've missed my class anyway."

“The fridge!” squealed Shuichi! “I forgot to close it!” He dashed off.

“You dummy,” mumbled Eiri. “Fratricide is not an acid that drips from a refrigerator after it’s been left open too long.”

“You didn’t really leave it open,” Tatsuha helpfully volunteered on his way to the door. “You just forgot to return a few things before you closed it.” He glanced back at the couch where his now fiancée-in-secret still perched, looking even more uneasy than before if it were at all possible, and watching his departure expectantly. “I’ll see you soon, Maiko,” he added.

Her face lit up. “Pick me up at seven from my house. Shuichi can tell you where to go. And remember everything I said.”

“Perfect gentleman, don’t get too amorous before midnight, yeah, I know. See you all later.”

He left, making a big show of slamming the door behind him, and then paused in the hallway to assess the damage he’d done. A woman dragging an over-laden shopping trolley with one hand and two kids with the other didn’t even glance at him. Tatsuha suspected she was used to much less covert doings outside that particular door.

“And what the hell is that supposed to mean?” Eiri was raging. Apparently, Tatsuha’s usual antics with girls stopped being funny when the girl in question was his lover’s sister.

Tatsuha shrugged and took off. With any luck, he wouldn’t have to think about Maiko and the issues at hand until Thursday or Friday of the next week.
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